Cold Comfort Farm

Berkshire, 5:30am; the cats awaken.

It is the Osterferien, and while the children of Berlin frolic in their German spring breezes for the next two weeks I am at home in the UK reeling with a kind of post-term jetlag. Having been striding around the veins of a big pulsating concrete metropolis this could not be a better antidote; I am now plunged smack-bang in the middle of the British countryside, able to gaze out of my glorious panoramic bedroom window onto partridges and sheep instead of a rusting barbeque and the woman opposite’s kitchen rack. I am rediscovering all the old things I forgot I owned and old hobbies I forgot I missed, sitting outside with my toes in the grass and wearing clothes I had buried with a derisive snort four months ago when I was filling my suitcase with jumpers and hats preparing for the next stint in the Big Fridge. It does not take much to make me happy but simply access to all my crafting tools, unlimited tea and my cats is enough to sink me into a dopey bliss. 

If you, like me, were raised in the countryside, you will know by now that it sort of gets installed into your wiring like a preset phone theme. No matter how much I long for nearby shops and excitement and big buildings while I am here in the midst of the fields this is nothing compared to the definitive and rather sorrowful pangs I get for long grass, farm animals and wild flowers when I have been immersed in the cool urban grittyness for a long while. Here I drive past tiny baby lambs, I feed the ducks and I have lunch in the garden basking in the sunlight. It is slow, lazy, twee life, and I am drinking it in while I can. At least, up until sunset, at which point coldness descends on everything as if heralding the attack of some evil dark magic and I am forced with whimpering reluctance to change my colourful summer dress and bare legs for that colossal jumper I had hoped I would never have to see again.

So. I have been away from home for months. What has changed? Precious little, as it happens. My cats seem to remember me well enough to remember that I am the best person to go to if it is 4am and they fancy having a fight or chasing a moth directly on the body of a reclining human being. Thanks to the warming weather all my clothes have already been covered with a substantial mat of hairs which I can now take back to Berlin and gradually transfer onto all my other uncontaminated clothes. My parents still chortlingly make jokes about my grandparents’ tendency to keep food for years past the sell-by-date even while there is, at this very moment, a half-carved roast chicken which has been residing in our own fridge since the dawn of time. Continuing their new habit of impulse-buying DVDs in bafflingly large batches ever since I left home, there is a new stack on the coffee table which is relatively uninspiring and now means that we own two unopened, untouched copies of Blazing Saddles for no good reason. On a grander scale, Britain itself seems to be much as I left it, although the girls have swapped their inappropriate jeggings for inappropriate hotpants and the television schedules have become so embarrassingly dull that I find myself filling and emptying the dishwasher as a preferred alternative. The cute, twee British Summertime spirit is out in full force and when I was by the river the banks were thronging with cheerful families and chubby infants playing cricket and barbequeing good old British bangers. Britain has embraced the credit crunch as a excuse to “keep calm and carry on”; while things are more expensive and the news warns that nothing is going to get better soon, the people themselves don a cheery smile of denial and happily lick their Mr Whippy in defiance of any looming austerity. It is wonderful. The ice cream, however, is not.

Rose T