After being here in Herefordshire since January, “trying it out”, we’ve decided we’re staying, officially moving here from London. We’ve really enjoyed being here, it was time for a change, and we’re looking forward to making this our home more permanently.
In some ways this doesn’t feel like a big decision or a big change – we’re just carrying on. Of course, this hasn’t been quite the experience we were expecting, for better and worse, but we’ve enjoyed it and we’re pretty sure we’d be keen to stay even if there wasn’t a killer virus around.
In other ways this feels like a huge, still scary decision. Properly leaving London! Apart from the brief stint in Houston I’ve lived in London for 25 years and in the Barbican for 15. Why move from the centre of it all for the middle of nowhere?
I was definitely ready for a change of some kind. I’d felt stuck in a rut for years. Everything was fine but little was changing and I didn’t know what to change. I didn’t feel like I was making the most of being so close to so much. I’d see friends once, maybe twice, a week. I was only going to the cinema, a gig, a play, or a museum or gallery once every couple of weeks (I thought it was more but the stats don’t lie).
But it’s still hard to leave. I’ve placed a lot of importance on being around interesting things happening. I’ve lived in cities – Bristol then London – for three decades and being aware of the life of a city and its culture feels like part of me, as if a vague sense of “keeping up with what’s happening” is an essential part of life.
I think part of that comes from doing a design degree, where I could justify almost anything cultural – movies, comics, music – as required parts of education, work, living, and it felt like finding the new stuff could only happen by proximity, by being in a city.
I must admit to a fear that in leaving an interesting city I will lose touch, transform from one kind of person lampooned by Half Man Half Biscuit – a vaguely hipster city twat – into another – the mundane and mediocre small town bore of Paintball’s Coming Home.
When thinking about leaving London properly I kept thinking of Adam Driver’s character in Marriage Story and how he can’t quite believe his wife has moved to Los Angeles with their son. “But we’re a New York family!” he says, as if this is an immutable biological fact. It’s who they are, he thinks: New York is part of them and they’re part of New York. I’ve never felt like “a London person” in the same way. There are parts of it that, having left, I realise felt as familiar and as like home as anywhere I’ve lived, but I wouldn’t describe myself as a London person, indivisible. But I have felt like “a city person”, as if cities generally are where I expect to be.
But maybe, with the benefit of time and distance, that’s not who I am. Maybe we’re not defined by where we live; maybe we’re made of all the places we’ve lived. I grew up in a small town in Essex, and I’ve lived in Redland, Clifton and Southville in Bristol; in suburban Houston; and in Clapham, Hackney and the Barbican in London. And now rural Herefordshire. Maybe there’ll be more places after that.
Of course, I’ll miss friends, movies, gigs, acting, all of that, but it’s not like I’ll never visit London or other cities again. Whenever I get The Fear about the increased time and expense it will take to get to more populated places I remember the many people who live happily in far more remote locations. The very use of “remote” indicates my remaining metropolitan bias. Remote from where?
So, it’s time for a change and this is a lovely place to be. It’s great to have more space, silence, and beautiful views. I step outside and I feel happy and relaxed which, if it was ever true in London, hadn’t been for some time. It’s a welcome change and I’m very fortunate to have someone I can enjoy this new stretch of life with. So, while we’re lucky enough to be able to live somewhere like this – in terms of work, health, family, independence – we are.
§ I had an enjoyable few minutes the other day imagining what it’d feel like to have deleted everything I have online. All the websites, social media accounts, GitHub account: burn it all. Reduce communication to a lite version of Donald Knuth’s regime, like only checking email once a week.
I’m not planning to do any of this – I mean, there’s work for one thing – but imagining the feeling of being free of it all was great. I can see the appeal of a Mark Pilgrim style digital disappearance. No longer keeping sites updated and upgraded! No longer enduring the small but relentless drip of emails about websites and old projects! No constantly feeling behind with uncreative digital chores!
I don’t know what I’d do with my free time if I didn’t exist online but there are plenty of choices. But, to go back to how we define ourselves, without all this digital stuff who would I even be? Why is this teetering invisible structure of nonsense a requirement of being me?
§ I groaned inwardly a couple of weeks ago when I saw the news about Shane Carruth, director of Primer and Upstream Color, being accused of abusing his ex-girlfriend. Ugh, men. I love those movies but maybe now I’ll have to put them in that bulging bag of cultural artefacts that, at best, I must feel queasy about, with the Woody Allen movies, the Louis C.K. routines, and all the rest.
But, still, at least those movies weren’t a big part of my life for decades, things that I frequently returned to over and over again. Not like the music of, say, Mark Kozelek…
Come on guys! What’s even the point of liking anything by men if, one by one, they’re going to be like this? I don’t expect everyone to be saints or even be likable. There are plenty of grumpy, crotchety, objectionable people who have made great work. OK, sure, if you really must, be a bit of a dick. Just don’t be all rapey!
This is the third thing this week where that’s had me questioning what makes me. Kozelek’s music has been a strong favourite since I bought Red House Painters’ first album, based purely on an NME review, while other favourites have waxed and waned. The music’s still, often, just what I need.
§ In simpler news, this week we finished watching the new Perry Mason series, which we had to end up waiting a week between episodes for, like animals. It was good. Not change-your-life good, but very entertaining, with lots of welcome familiar faces, and it looked great. It was interesting to watch someone I only knew well as one character – Philip in The Americans be someone else. Some physical tics are obviously Matthew Rhys while others come more from the character.
We also finished season two of What We Do In The Shadows which was very silly fun and I think I enjoyed it even more than the first.
§ That’s all, and more than enough of me questioning my very nature. I hope you’re doing OK being you.