We’re in the process of doing something we swore back in 2017 we’d never do again – buying a house. Anyone who’s read Andy’s book The Banana Road will have a good idea why we made that vow. But here we are, five years later, doing what we said we wouldn’t.
And I’m fretting about it.
I’m not fretting because of interest rates (maybe a bit), or because we’re taking on a financial commitment. Renting is expensive, both here in Britain and in Portugal. We’ve paid out a lot of money on rent over the last five years. Money we’ll never see again. Plus, trying to find a good rental is increasingly difficult in a country where second homes and Airbnb are killing some rural and coastal communities.
No, what I’m fretting about is the fear that by buying a house we’ll end up somewhere very normal.
On Tenerife, our house was a converted livestock shed in a strange little oasis in the middle of a banana plantation, a mini golf course, and a cat sanctuary. In Portugal, we rented a converted wine press in a small sheep farm beside a cork forest (see my book Camel Spit & Cork Trees).
You get used to living in quirky surroundings where amenities can be basic – during our last winter in Portugal the temperature in our kitchen at night was 5C – but experiences are priceless.
Returning to Britain itself ignited a fear of embracing the easiness of familiarity, that everyday life would be too normal, whatever that is. There’s an addictiveness to living somewhere where your environment forces you out of your comfort zone on a regular basis.
On Saturday, we walked across the fields to see our neighbour’s new pond, which is more of a mini lake; although, he says that’s too grand a title for it. The people who dug it out also created the most beautiful Devon hedge, a specialist rural craft.
A few days ago, our neighbours appeared on the driveway with a dead sheep on their tractor, the victim of eating too many acorns, Adam told us. Apparently, acorns are toxic to sheep who, unfortunately, love eating them. There’s a bumper crop of acorns this year, and local farmers are losing a lot of sheep to acorn overdoses. Who’d have thought? We learn all sorts of fascinating snippets of farming life from our neighbours, often during chats when Adam or Caroline lean through our dining room window to share rural nuggets.
A couple of days ago, we popped next door to their house to tell them the news we’re buying a house, something we have mixed feelings about as we love it so much here on the farm. But there’s only one bedroom, and that restricts who can visit. After we left their house, I looked as though I’d been traipsing across the fields. My trousers were covered in mud as were my shoes. The reason was an assault by two soggy and mucky collie pups and a brace of Jack Russells who wrestled themselves noisily in their excitement at having visitors, rolling across my feet as they did so. A few months ago, a goat would have formed part of the melee, but she’s been banished from the house after eating through the telephone cable. The thing is, I was hardly even aware they were doing it as batting off exuberant animals has become almost a subconscious action – the norm.
All these places have been great for helping fire up the imagination, a bonus when writing is your game.
I’m now worried leaving this chaotic environment for a ‘normal’ house might mean swapping the colourful for the mundane.
The new house is in a conservation village with a population of less than three hundred. It’s also on the site of the village’s forge, the old pump is right outside the front door. When we went to visit last week, we couldn’t actually find the village again.
But it’s a lot more conventional than we’ve been used to over the last couple of decades, and that worries my creative cells.