City to Country: having what it takes

Empty shelves in Tesco Leith during the 'Beast from the East' snowstorm 

Empty shelves in Tesco Leith during the 'Beast from the East' snowstorm 

When I tell folk I’m planning on moving out of the city and back to where I grew up in the Scottish Borders, I generally get one of two reactions: the raised eyebrow, or the slightly glazed expression that tells me they’re doing an internal eye-roll.

The former comes from those incredulous that I could possibly intentionally want to cut myself off from all culture, 4G and the ready availability of decent flat-whites.

The latter comes from those who’ve heard this kind of nonsense before, and have already decided I’m one of those idealist back-to-the-land-wannabes looking for a great Instagram opportunity, but who ultimately won’t last 5 minutes beyond the glow of street lights.

It’s easy to respond to the first concern. I’m know I’m happier when trees replace buildings, and I don’t feel bereft of urban comforts when I have clean air to breathe, hills to tromp, and mud to get messy in.

But as to whether I’m just a country poseur - and imposter in posh wellies? Well, part of me worries that maybe that’s all I’ll amount to. I know there’s a difference between visiting and living in the country, and I haven’t lived there full time since I was 16. Despite being ‘from’ there, I am no longer ‘of’ there, and feel very detached from the immediate reality of that world. Also, having worked a desk job in a few different cities over the past 10 years, I wouldn’t be surprised if my hands have become just a little bit too soft for the kind of life I would like to live there. I admire and respect those I know who have the ability to manage woodland, the wherewithal to build shelter, the strength and sensitivity to husband animals, and I aspire to do the same. I know you don’t need to be able to do these things to live outside of a city, but its important to me to be able to take part, to make, to do, and to feel like I’m exchanging with the people and place around me, rather than just hanging out in pretty surroundings.

Sure, I can chop wood. But can do it well enough to keep myself warm through the winter? I dream of having a garden, but when the aphids, pheasants, rabbits and deer inevitably make a salad bar of my veg patch, will I crumple and give up? 

I dwelled on these queries while we were being visited by the so-called 'Beast from the East'. Here in normally clement Leith, we had ferocious winds that rattled my windows and seemed to pierce the walls. There were snowdrifts against buildings and mucky slush piles lining the pavements. The city stopped for at least a day. I got to hole up in my house safe in the knowledge that I could still go down the street to the shops, that I'll still be able to work online, etc.

Bumble the dog

Bumble the dog

But life during those days was pretty different for my parents. They were absolutely cut off from local towns and villages, and had to make do and keep warm with what they had stockpiled in their tiny cottage. (Luckily, this included several crates of wine.)  And as fate would have it, when the snowstorm was at its peak, our old dog Bumble fell seriously ill. Despite knowing it was unlikely he’d be able to reach them, my parents called the local vet. Undeterred by weather conditions that had brought the entire city of Edinburgh to a standstill, he commandeered a tractor and got as close as 2 miles from my parents house. He walked the rest, arriving at our house in order to make Bumble as comfortable as possible before they made the decision to put him down. My dad, saddened by the sudden loss of his wee friend, still had to dig a grave in the hard ground, while the storm raged and the snow grew deeper.

On hearing this story, I was full of admiration for the vet and my parents, and was struck by their strength and ability to cope. I have doubts as to whether I would have been able to summon the same courage.

These doubts are real, but of course they are a no reason not to try. It’s worth looking like a bit of a twat and having a whole new set of folk raise their eyebrows or mentally roll their eyes while I try and fashion a life in the country.