Last night at a party, quite by surprise, we bumped into the couple who used to live in our flat. I’d met the lady once before, on our second visit to view the place, when she was visibly stressed by having strangers in her home. He baby was crying and all she wanted to do was to get rid of us and feed her. She wasn’t rude, but I could see that she’d not had any warning of our visit and like any busy mum could not put her mind to discussing the practicalities of living in the flat while her children needed her.
This time both she and her husband were more relaxed. Lubricated by wine and good food, we had an excited discussion about the weird and wonderful ways of the washing machine in the flat (the earth moves when it does a spin cycle), gossiped about the neighbours, and generally had one of those conversations which could have been awkward but wasn’t. It was amazing how much in common we had – she was trying to pass on her native language to her children while trying not to force it down their throats. I remember that phase so well and tried to encourage her not to give up (like I did).
While we chatted she asked how I was finding life in the city. I gave the standard answer, ‘I miss having a herb garden, but I don’t miss the work involved, or being so isolated, or having so far to come for theatre, art museums and cinemas. I also don’t miss having to drive everywhere – it’s fantastic that we can walk to a pub like this!’ She nodded and smiled but I could see I hadn’t really convinced her at all.
A few moments later we were both introduced to another lady who had recently moved out of London to the country. Her tales of gardening, bread baking and jam making made me smile. The awful phrase, ‘Been there, done that, got the T-shirt,’ was about to escape from my lips when we started talking about what vegetables to grow. Before I knew what I was doing, the words, ‘swiss chard,’ were uttered. Suddenly I found myself giving these two unfortunate ladies all my tips on how to grow the vegetable from seed, what to use them for and how Daughter can’t even look at a swiss chard now after years of being subjected to soups, pies, salads and even bread made out of this versatile vegetable. I started rambling on about how I also loved growing chillies, lettuce of all kind, especially Chinese varieties in the winter. I couldn’t be stopped now, I was on a roll. I did have to pause occasionally to take a breath and during one of these brief silences my new friend said, ‘You do miss the country, eh?’
I stared at her. I could only nod and agree. So here we go, I’ll come out of the closet: I admit, I do really, really miss the old house.
But I also love our new life here. Though even in the city a garden would be nice, or just a small balcony where I could have a pot or two of herbs, one for swiss chard and one for chillies; perhaps a few tomato and cucumber plants.
Oh, will I ever, ever be happy where I am?