When I moved to a quiet south Wales village things started to happen to me. That sounds like the premise of the novel I wrote but that tale, like most on this website, is semi-autobiographical but let me tell you more of that odd, exciting and ultimately heart-breaking time.
In 2015, after a couple of years physically and then emotionally estranged from one another, my partner and I, moved into a tiny little cottage on the edge of a small village. One pub, one church, one tiny little shop and that’s all the area offered, except a huge expanse of fields and forest that stretched for almost as far as we could see.
Before, the idea of moving to a rural, or even semi-rural location seemed ridiculous. I’d always been a city boy, and the city with its transport links, job opportunities and social outlets was a good fit for me. Then, four years ago rental prices in Bristol went absolutely bananas! The prices rose steeply, and without reason (way above inflation). I’ve never managed to get on the housing ladder, I’ve only ever rented so, with buying being a non viable option, and rents getting silly my partner and I really had no choice but to move out of the city. We became commuters.
It was late October when we moved into the tiny cottage called The Nook. It’d been empty for months, we could tell because it smelt stale and damp, there was also a lot of moisture in the air. As we adapted to our new home, we hoped to be able to see more of the lush countryside we’d enjoyed when viewing the property. Eventually, about three weeks after to moving in, the mists and low cloud lifted. Finally see what was around us; Trees and fields. Fields and trees. It took us no time at all to fall completely in love with it.
As the winter months approached I kept playing a particular song in the car during the commute home. Dominique, my partner, has long learned to enjoy or ignore my choices of songs in the car but this song had been extremely overplayed lately so, I felt a little bound to explain. “I like this song, it makes me feel kinda… funny,” I said displaying my writer’s eloquence(!). When she asked, “in what way, funny?” A little private concern I’d been harboring spilled forth uncontrollably. “I feel like I’m experiencing a change,” I said, “or about to undergo a change.” Now, she was a bit concerned. “What kind of change?”
I didn’t know how to answer Dominique’s question. The answer I gave was unsatisfactory, and it remains so. “I feel like I’m on the cusp of something…on the edge of something that’s about to be revealed to me.” Understandably, she didn’t comment. I brought the subject up sometime later when the change I’d so badly alluded had finally became something I could feel. In the months that followed, the bad weather gave way to an early spring and we were able to explore the area a lot more.
On bright evenings, Dominique and I would finish our dinner and stroll out into those fields. Sometimes we’d take some wine and play music as loud as we liked, knowing there’d nobody around to complain. We’d enjoy the views, the air and the openess. At first we laughed that all we could hear was the sounds of birds and sheep, and commented on the lack of sirens, horns, revving engines and all the other noises we, as former city dwellers, had become so accustomed to. It didn’t take us long to miss the sounds of the city like an extra hole in the head. In virtually no time at all, we became country people.
We became a little resentful of the city people that came our way and didn’t respect the forest, the fields or the village. On warm summer days the place turned from a peivate backwater to a busy hub with cars, bicycles, horses, hikers and people escaping their city chains for the day.
Yes, we used that word “chains”. At first it was an unconsciousness use of the word. One day I commented on this somewhat loaded use of the word to Dominique, “is that really how we see our city living, nowadays? Were we metaphorically “chained”? As time went on, we decided that yes, the city had chained us, and like anyone who escapes a manacled existence, you never really notice until the shackles are suddenly gone one day.
In April 2017, I lost a good job but ended up with a company and a group of people who appreciated my work so much, they allowed me to work part time so that I could, with Dominique’s blessing, write and work on becoming a paid writer.
At this time my head so was so full of ideas, and possibilities, I bored her silly talking about them as I dived headlong into local history, ancient history and, current affairs, politics, new music – you name it, I soaked it up like a sponge. I read about physics, nature, developing technology, performance art and I wrote a hell of a lot in the months following. It was brief, however, because amid this explosion of activity and inquiry, we were dealt a severe blow that would change our lives completely; The landlord wanted his cottage back.
What could we do? We’d been given 3 months notice and then we’d have to leave. Still unable to get on the housing ladder, we searched in vain for somewhere to live that would be comparable to what we had. Something small and semi-rural, comfortably within budget. We soon realised how lucky we’d been to find the cottage in 2015 because there was nothing in, or out of our price range. The city had become too expensive for us, even if I went back to full-time work. The only course of action was to house share and save to get on the housing ladder.
Having worked solidly since 16 years old, something a lot of people I know can’t claim to have done, I felt a tad bit of annoyance at the predicament we found ourselves in. My shock turned to anger, back shock and then a mixture of the two. Determined to get creative mileage out of these emotions, I took to my keyboard but it didn’t help.
We got notice to leave our damp, high-maintenance cottage, in October 2017. The months leading up to our departure and the months afterwards were a time of personal crisis, one from which I am only just beginning to emerge. The new job I so enjoyed enforced some changes shortly after we moved back to the city, and with plans to save for a home of our own, I felt I should explore higher paid opportunities elsewhere. I was concentrating on finishing my book amidst this upheaval. In some ways it helped, but in other ways it merely served as a daily reminder of what I was losing.
Just before the move, before I went to a different job, I felt myself begin a change again. I became quite desperate about it, as a world of creativity and openness began to contract and shrink in on itself. At the time, I was pretty vocal about this – to anyone who would listen. “I won’t feel the same,” I said. “I’ll feel different, everything I am will fade”. I was told, “Don’t be silly.” Trying to assure me otherwise, they said. “No you won’t,” they said. “Perhaps you’re right I replied” but I knew then they were wrong, and my fears have been borne out. I do feel different.
You’d think being a writer, I’d be pretty adept at explaining myself. Most of the time I’m fairly eloquent, if a little verbose, but then, and to some extent now, I cannot explain just what exactly changed inside me.
The fact is, living in the countryside did change me. Or to be more specific, changed something about me, and to this day, I don’t really know what. I know that I wrote a hell of a lot more when we were living in that village. I went from having completed virtually nothing for a decade, to completing four short stories, one novella and a lot of work on the book I worked on solidly until I completed it, six months ago.
Writing the novel was a weird experience as I began to unexpectedly live parts of my created fiction. I will write more about that another time, but when I eventually finished the book (I started writing it in April 2016) I felt as if a glowing light inside me was fading. Sometimes something, a song or a photo or something would remind me of things and it would intensify the light, and at times it burnt strongly as I completed parts of the story, and went over polishing bits that still needed work. Since finishing the book six months ago, the stuff I was feeling, that glow, has faded completely, despite my efforts to keep it going. Just as I knew it would.
The two and half years living in our cottage on the edge of the forest changed both me and Dominique. She lost some of her sharpness, her prickliness and morphed into a softer person, with an easy-going approach to life. I became very eager to create and learn – about everything and anything remotely connected to where we lived. The area is so fascinating I wrote a story set there and dozens of poems and other orphaned prose.
For want of a better word, I found magic in my soul and lit a fire underneath it. Now, the magic is all gone. I can’t recapture what I felt there, no matter how hard I try. In the summer, we did a bit of rogue camping in the fields and forest we’d enjoyed so much before moving back to the city. We went to lots of the same places we always used to, but whatever feels I’d clawed back during those brief returns, were lost or faded shortly after.
I just don’t have the words to describe the difference in my mood and creativity now, compared to those countryside days. Frankly, I’m feintly embarrassed by the whole thing because I just can’t explain it. Nonetheless, I’ve spent eight months mourning the life I had, and contemplating the truth of not ever getting it back. I am trying hard, doing my utmost to get back to the country life (itself becoming more grossly expensive) and re-light that fire in my soul, but it’s slow work, with setback after setback plaguing me.
At a loss to explain any of this to anyone, least of all myself, I’ve cut myself off from friends. Friends who no doubt will ask by now “how are you doing? How have you been?”. I can’t answer them. I can’t bring myself to say the words, “yeah we had to move back to Bristol,” and all the questions around why we simply didn’t do something else. We couldn’t do anything else, not really but I cannot answer those questions, I haven’t got the patience to explain the same thing to several different people as we go about our inevitable catch-ups. I can’t bear telling them how utterly miserable I’ve been. I can’t tell them the depression I fought hard to keep at bay for years is encroaching ever further into my days and providing it’s own brand of blockade upon my social life. Today, now as I write this, my eyes sting like I’ve been slicing onions for an hour. I simply can’t get anyone to understand this awful, gut-wrenching feeling, and even after writing all of this, I am no closer to understanding. Worse, I don’t think I’ve even explained very well.
Starting No Script for Life has helped because many of the things I wrote during those happy years find their way here and I’ve had some positive feedback from those that have enjoyed reading it. The passion and creativity of that time is still alive here. Of course, I am still creative, and I do still write a helluva lot but I do it with a head full of cynicism and moderately bad temper. I think there’s very little natural cheer in my writing lately.
I mentioned depression a few paragraphs back. I suspect reading this you may reasonably infer it is depression fueling these words I write here today, but I must tell you, I’ve lived with depression for ten years, at least. I’ve had friends and family suffering long and short term depression. I know the signs. I know what it looks like. I know what it feels like. It ain’t depression. This is different. Depression feels like anger, sometimes. It feels like loss, like desperation, sometimes. It encourages stagnation, lethargy, loneliness and pushes its sufferers into corners they feel they cannot paint themselves out of. I’m not experiencing any of those symptoms, except maybe some simmering resentment.
Those fields, forests and views opened my mind like the petals of a flower in the first blooms of spring. Or like a door opened to personal discovery. I was in full flight, full bloom when the hammer blow was dealt. I had learnt and was learning more. I was getting closer and closer to….something. I don’t know what. When I first tried to explain to Dominique nearly three years ago when we drove home the odd sensation of change I was experiencing, I used the word ‘enlightenment’. Was I on the cusp of personal enlightenment? I was close to an understanding of some kind, profound, deep, possibly spiritual understanding. I was close to caressing with my fingers, the trembling uncertainty in my confused soul. I was so, so close.
It’s gone now and all that’s left is hope that it, whatever it was, will return to me, in time.
Copyright Martin Gregory