Notes From the Country

I was born in a city. I have always lived in a city. I grew up with a street lamp outside my window and the sound of a train passing by every twenty minutes. I’m used to light, and noise, and shops that are less than five minutes of a walk away. I’m used to lots of people going about their business with earphones in, purposely not making eye contact and completely ignoring the existence of anybody else on the road.

So when I take a trip to the countryside, I’m always reminded of the things country people take for granted that are – for me – hugely abnormal. Every so often something happens and I feel like I’m surrounded by Dothraki nodding and muttering “It is known” about something that is decidedly not known. At least, not to me!

Here are a few of the many things I don’t understand about life in the country:

  1. People letting themselves into your home with absolutely no warning.
    • Not so much as a knock on the door! They just turn the handle and walk in. I once got out of the shower, wrapped myself in a towel and padded down the corridor to the kitchen to grab my hairbrush only to find the parish priest sitting at the table casually making himself a cup of tea. I reversed myself back into the corridor at the speed of light, believe me. I stood in the corridor frozen with horror before deciding that my best course of action would be to speedwalk back to the bathroom where I locked the door and listened for the sound of the door.
  2. The lack of convenience stores.
    • I mean really, the clue is in the name. They’re convenient. Usually they are open all hours of the day and night and they sell everything you could possibly want at 2am when you’ve only just realised you’re in dire need of a pack of kitchen roll, a carton of milk, a bag of basmati rice and a tube of toothpaste. Here in the countryside there is only a single shop, it is the size of a large bathroom, and it stocks a wide variety of random items that you might – or might never in your life – require for any reason at all. It also closes at six and the walk there definitely takes more than five minutes.
  3. The silence.
    • It is unnaturally silent. The only time you hear real sound is if the rain is pounding against the window or the wind is making the house creak. The cars are too far away to be heard and so instead there are only inside-noises; the ticking of the clock, the hum of electricity, the sound of the pipes kicking into gear… It’s uncanny.
  4. The darkness.
    • It is onyx outside once the lights go out. Unless the moon is working as God’s own spotlight, you can see absolutely nothing at all. Although I don’t mind this, it does have the peculiar effect of imposing a sort of natural curfew on me; at home I think nothing of leaving the house after dark, but here I suddenly feel like it’s so much later. As soon as the windows become opaque black rectangles, I am ready for my pyjamas. There’s no way I’m going anywhere. I am not afraid of the dark, but if I were I would be terrified because it is black as pitch.
  5. The country hello.
    • In Dublin, I can happily spend half a day surrounded by people without acknowledging even a single one of them. In the countryside, on the other hand, you can’t pass a single person without them nodding their head and saying “Hello there!” or “Fine weather we’re having!” or “How are you?” or making some other kindly, weather-related utterance. When they know you, this greeting is usually accompanied by a smile, but when they don’t it’s often delivered with a suspicious, gimlet-eyed stare. If you make the mistake of coming to a standstill in front of them for any reason, it’s even worse; they try to entangle you in a sideways game of twenty questions in an unsubtle attempt to find out who you are, where you came from and what you’re doing there. Any unfamiliar face is treated to the same gentle interrogation, as if they’re trying to make sure they have a full character profile to hand over to the police for when you, the suspicious stranger, start up some nefarious business and threaten to upset the quiet community vibe.

There are things I love about the countryside too, of course.

I love the animals.

There are lambs in all the fields now, springing around in a wobbly way as if they’ve been made from cheap pipe-cleaners. There are friendly little robins that don’t look as if they should be able to take flight at all, they’re so rotund. There’s Charlie, the cat, who sometimes greets me with a bloody mess of a breakfast outside my bedroom window (usually one of the aforementioned rotund robins). There are crows, watching carefully for leftovers, and wagtails bobbing across the patio. There’s even a hefty badger that trundles up the path at night to eat whatever Charlie’s left behind. He gobbles up anything in the bowl before trotting back into the darkness. As a city kid whose only exposure to wildlife was cats, dogs, red foxes rooting through wheelie bins, and roadkill… the badger in particular always delights me.

I love feeling ‘away.’

Although it’s inconvenient not being able to go anywhere or see anyone at a moment’s notice, it’s also nice to be here. It’s nice to feel removed from the normal. It’s nice to be out of my everyday timetable; it’s not hugely productive, mind you, but it is nice. It’s like hitting F5. I’m ready for the city again. I’ve had my break and now I’m ready to put back on the robes of routine.

I love how clean the air feels.

I mean, I think the air in Dublin is pretty clean too, but here it feels healthy. When I inhale, I feel like I’m doing my body good. It’s nice.

I’ve been doing a lot of inhaling and exhaling, thanks to your many suggestions on my last post. It’s helped! Thanks guys. Sometimes I just need the reminder to breathe.

If you also need the reminder, here it is: Breathe!

And now if you’ll excuse me, it’s starting to get dark, so I’m off to put on my pyjamas…!

14 comments
  1. I very much enjoy the convenience of convenience stores and being able to ignore the masses too. To be honest the annual exchange of a Christmas card with the people next door is more than enough interaction and if they hadn’t started it I definitely wouldn’t have bothered. I do enjoy a break to the countryside but I spent 2009-2012 living in the middle of rural nowhere and it was such a relief to move back to the bright lights of the nondescript largish town I now live in.

  2. Do people not have sex in those parts! People just walk in like no one can possibly be in the middle of sex in the bedroom or on the kitchen table for that matter… so strange! I remember my first time going camping. I was an adult and it was the first time I’d seen so many stars outside of photographs and the movies. I stood there staring up like a true city girl. I learned that cows make more sounds than moo. It’s so cool how we are all living on the same planet but our lives can be so different even a few hours away. I’m glad you’ve got yourself some fresh air for all the newfound breathing. And may

  3. The silence is deafening in the country! Although, I don’t know what your bugs are like over there, but in the States we have cicadas and when there is no other sounds to drown them out, it will drive you mad!

    1. Lovely post, as always. It’s funny when you were listing the negatives, if you will, I thought of that brilliant scene in Trainspotting where the city lads are in the countryside. “It’s no natural,” says the Tommy character in bemusement to the others. My ideal us a smallish enclave near a big town. Especially since I don’t drive!!!

  4. See I could write this in reverse. How anyone could live in a city is beyond me. Too much light, noise, traffic, people. For visits they’re great but for life…

    I’ve never encountered your peculiar people who just walk in without knocking thankfully. That I would find to be weird and fairly scary. But then on the farm you have the dogs who feel that they have to bark like crazy things if strangers are about. This puts people off wandering around freely and gives plenty of warning.

    All those seeing people/things at a moment’s notice are relative. The car makes it all possible for the places I’ve always lived anyhow.

  5. Because I build a giant wall around myself, I can navigate my town without a lot of unnecessary conversation. My wife, on the other hand, can go nowhere without getting into multiple conversations with people who look familiar to me but I have no idea who they are.

  6. This sounds like something I need in my life. Lovely post!

  7. The local priest popped in for a cuppa and you didn’t talk to him ? !

  8. Okay, if you ever make it to the States, you’re coming to stay with The Mr and I because you’ve literally just described our life here – but we have coyotes and turkeys!

  9. I feel lost in cities. The noise is deafening, and there’s sirens all the time – impossible to hear yourself think, let alone sleep. There’s no escape from people, and there are only 5 stars in the sky. 5! I counted! Sirius, Arcturus, Vega, Capella, Rigel and that’s it. At least, I assume it was them, I couldn’t actually see the other stars to check their relative positions, so they could have been anything. Give me the countryside any time. Rural Ireland has got some of the most beautiful dark skies that I’ve ever seen, I’m very jealous of you!

    Well, except for the whole vicar thing. That would freak me right out…

  10. Haha the priest!!
    Thats exactly my life staying at my parents! My Dad is in a wheelchair, all the locals know the family so instead of having my Dad answer the door, everyone just walks in – I’ve had a few half naked run-ins with postal workers, nurses, even the window cleaner! I’ve started locking the doors if I’m going for a shower or getting changed, well if i can find the keys!

    I’m a country girl through and through but I do miss the convenience of the town/city life – I miss not spending a months wages on a taxi home on a Saturday night, I miss street lights that allow me to go running after work and I miss the pizza place that was open till 4am two doors away from my flat but the fresh air and quiet (when its not lambing or calving season) it can’t be beaten!

  11. I’m in rural Wales and when I first moved here it was so quiet that I had to buy a clock that ticked loudly before I could get used to it! But I don’t find it so quiet anymore… I guess you get used to things and start hearing (and seeing) things you wouldn’t have noticed before. I’m also a born and bred townie… its so different, but I rarely miss city life. (People don’t enter people’s homes without asking, here, btw. Maybe you need to educate them, lol!)

  12. This is funny.. I was just visiting my sister in Nashville last week and I found the whole place to be overwhelmingly ENORMOUS. In the grand scheme it’s a medium-sized, trendy American city, but I’ve gotten quite used to living in the mountains in Arkansas and the two fingered wave from the steering wheel and the silence and darkness and wide open spaces. I love not worrying about where I’ll park or feeling like I need to close the blinds.

    I also was stricken with how much easier it was to find good coffee and vegetarian fare and live music and the like, but I enjoy making my own fun.. Lots to think about, but I think it’s good to truly live both lives and learn the contrast and charm amongst each!

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