When I was seven we moved to Devon
When I was eight I thought farms were great
When I was nine I wanted mine
That purely having a love of animals and outdoor work doesn’t necessarily earn you rights to a farm; and that considering the difficulties faced in agricultural rural England during the eighties and nineties, who would want one?
Of course I didn’t understand such things at that age. All I knew was that I loved being up at the farm – helping out with the lambing; picking fruit at harvest time; following the farmers around asking questions; and probably actually just being a bit of a pain.
All I knew was that I was happy there. I went there when I was sad and sat with the animals and their calm and simplicity made me feel nice inside. But the farm was never to be. The eternal quest in search of my own happiness was only just begun and as my mother told me, I had to find it for myself.
So adult life instead took me through a trail of adventures and occupations in my pursuit of internal contentment and the meaning of life (for which I have much to thank for books, yoga and meditation and an innate esoteric bent that I inherited from my Grandmother) and in my habitually faddish way I fluttered through my early teens wanting to be a piano teacher, a singer and by sixth form college, a translator. My parents and brother were not, or at least did not to my young understanding seem, spiritually inclined like me.
Then wanderlust overwhelmed me and I worked day and night in shops and restaurants to pay for tickets and travelled twice around the world, finding myself in India where I stayed for nearly a year. I say ‘finding myself’: That was of course my intention, but I have since come to understand that my brother, in his infinite wisdom, was right: that I was in fact down the back of the sofa the whole time. Doh!
The meaning of life, by the way, I later worked out to roughly what my Father told me it was: ‘Forty-two’ (or somewhere round there). For many years subsequently I pondered this fact. And in questioning why, I have since discovered that he was also right on the second count: ‘Because it is’. And remaining ever-mindful of that simple acceptance has provided me with the inner contentment I’d tried so hard to find in my earlier years.
I loved my Devon roots but I wanted to be with foreign cultures. But with the advancing years of my late twenties the longing for a career was setting in. I wanted to be a homeopath. So I went up to London and successfully earnt a degree and a license to practise.
My yearning for the countryside resurged and I returned to Devon. Making a living as a homeopath proving an impractical way of paying the rent, I moved into a hippy community there. I loved working on the land, growing vegetables and keeping animals. It was a learning curve for all of us!
Then I met the Pixie and settled down.
For a bit. Then we moved into an annexe of an old Devon farm and I got an office job in a school for a few years which, although engaging, had set me on a treadmill. And allowed me little time to practise homeopathy. We were lent a piece of land to grow vegetables on, which I tended with love and attention. But it wasn’t mine. And my piano was still in my parents’ house.
We loved being at the farm. But we wanted to buy our own place. But house prices were rocketing and we were quickly priced out of the market. All that remained was the chance of little more than a small flat. That was it. Was that all that my life was to be? I was already in my early thirties. I had already come to know myself well enough to know that this life, these prospects: none of this was my chosen destiny.
We bought a prison van and converted it into a motor home. We handed in our notice. We sorted out our finances. We put all our things in storage and we drove to Dover and got on the ferry and we emigrated.
It was December. I have to say, I did not know that France could be so utterly eye-wateringly, toe-curlingly cold in December. So we headed South. The Pyrenees… even colder. Spain? In January? Ooh, my!
The truck did us proud. But travelling was not as I had remembered it. In our attempt to provide ourselves with the greatest degree of comfort possible and with little travel money to spend, we had left ourselves with little reason to venture out of the truck and brave the cold.
There was not the money for campsites. Nothing was open in the winter anyway. We stayed on the open road in truck stops and lay-bys, at beaches, outskirts of towns and areas of natural beauty. But wherever we visited, wherever we stayed, there was barely a soul about. We had all that we needed in our luxurious wagon, except social contact. There’s only so much scrabble a person can play. Finally it got the better of us and by February we gave in and drove straight to Portugal to meet up with some similarly emigrated friends.
It was great to see some familiar faces at last and we were made very welcome in their village by their neighbours, who supplied us with somewhere to stay in the truck. This was just the first glimpse of the lengths to which the Portuguese people will go to welcome, provide for and assist the foreigner in creating a new life on Portuguese soil.
That was five years ago. In that time we have bought a house. In learning how to rebuild a house, negotiate, obtain materials, manage land, grow crops and keep animals in a foreign culture and climate I have been led by the hand in every imaginable way by my neighbours. Their spirit never ceases to amaze me. And still it continues…