May 7, 2006

I've lost my escape fantasy.

There are times I'll be walking down the street and think: "If only I lived in a house in the middle of nowhere - I bet then I'd be happy." I'll walk along thinking this, comforted by the idea that, at any moment, I can leave my city life behind for a rural, peaceful one.

Last weekend I visited a friend who lives in the north English countryside. Before I arrived he told me the house had no doors. "You mean it's a loft?" I asked. No, he said, he ran out of money and the builders left early. Nothing has happened since, except that he's lived there. This made me nervous. A house on the moors with no doors? It sounded draughty. But there are times when one has to take a leap of faith. I decided to go anyway. It would be an adventure. But adventure isn't always a good thing - I need to remember that. My friend's house is made of millstone grit, a stone quarried from the Yorkshire moors and used for pavements in London. I don't mind pavement when I'm standing on it, waiting for the lights to change. But as a kitchen floor, surrounded by walls made of giant slabs, it was prehistoric.

I felt like I was visiting Fred Flintstone.

Especially with Barney Rubble living next door. I was introduced to a man who waved hello while holding a bucket of eggs he'd collected from the chickens living inside his house. That can't be sanitary. Suddenly my neighbour in New York with the smelly cat didn't seem so bad.

My friend told me that his house was built in 1836 and, as we climbed the stairs, I could tell that some of the original dust had been kept intact. He pointed out that the house had never been cleaner. In honour of my visit, he'd gotten rid of "most" of the cobwebs, and washed and hoovered the walls next to the bed. Hoovered the walls? What sort of creatures were living in the gaps in the stone that would need to be hoovered out? Just then I noticed a framed giant black beetle.

As we reached the first floor, I gazed at the ceiling: there was a hole in it the size of a foot. I was told the floor had woodworm and in certain spots it was weak. "It shouldn't be a problem," my friend said. "You're small and light." I felt better already. What woman doesn't love to hear she's thin enough not to worry about falling through the floor?
So the wood had worms, the walls had nests, the only thing missing was mice. "Oh, I haven't seen one since I put the poison out," he said. Turns out that what I thought were fresh herbs near the breadboard had been green pellets of Alphakill. Good to know.
I would be sleeping in a room where the window had been opened for the first time in over a year. It was like camping indoors. I piled on my clothes, stuffed cotton in my ears to stop anything from crawling in, and went to the loo-with-no-door to brush my teeth. That's when I was handed a screwdriver. Hot water was a treat.

My friend doesn't want new taps: he wants the old ones restored. But the parts from salvaged taps are in short supply, so he's lived for two years turning the hot water on from under the sink. Either that or skipping it entirely.

You never think about how much you appreciate a tap until you don't have one. Same with a door. My trip to the country was brief but meaningful. Only now, I've lost my escape fantasy.