I had been in Devon a week and still not seen my land – so when the time came for Zena to attend her new Brownies in a nearby village, I felt the time had come to tread on my own turf.
We set off in high spirits and in good time for Brownies. After a while the conversation in the car turned to aliens. Did they exist? If they did, were they on planet Earth? Matty contemplated this for a while, and reasoned that they might be on Earth, but not here, not in mid Devon – because here was too far, even for aliens. A long time and many miles later we were heading in the wrong direction, Brownies had already begun and the atmosphere was tense. As the car groaned up narrow lanes that inexplicably ended in crossroads with no signs, I reached the depths of despondency. ‘Who wants to live in this shitty, bloody place?’ I asked, possibly aloud. But answer came there none, even the children had been shocked into a stricken silence.
Brownies finally found, we headed to the field. More lanes – only even more narrow than before. This wasn’t the sticks – it was a death sentence. Finally we found the village – a few houses, bungalows with clipped lawns, no pub, no shop, no people visible under the age of 70. At the land, one child refused to get out of the car and whimpered. A brief respite in the gloom while the other ran happily over the field.
‘You’re very quiet,’ Gully said later that night. ‘It’s very, er, isolated,’ I said. There was more I wanted to say, like, why couldn’t we start a business and live somewhere a bit busier and more accessible – like, Ealing, for instance. But there was no point. I had bought my field, now I had to lie in it.
And it wasn’t just the field that was disturbing me. This didn’t feel like a brave new world, it felt like a backwards step. Hadn’t I left Devon in triumph many years before for London? Why now was I back in Exeter sitting in its endless traffic jams, walking its rain-soaked dreary streets again. I felt no sense of coming home, no affection for the city – its familiarity, far from being welcome, was instantly tedious. What on earth had I been thinking?