When I read the following I knew I would have to stalk the author to the ends of the earth and ask her whether she had been hiding in my head:
"I think axe murderers live in the countryside. I think I've read that somewhere. Maybe in my book"
"I think that's probably right. Axe murderers. Gun owners. Hat wearers. Cows. It's a terrible place. And do you know what else? They don't have shops".
Kate thought for a moment and then said "They must have some shops. How do they get things?"
"No, they don't have shops. They have these things called Spars. They look like shops but they don't sell anything except maybe some swede and a packet of custard creams. The owners pull a gun on you if you ask for anything else".
(Catherine O'Flynn, What Was Lost. I love you, Catherine.)
There are a couple of reasons: my mother and father. Yes, we're back to the seventies childhood misery memoir. Although separated, both pursued a sustained campaign of country holidays, stretching over a decade and more, in the bleakest and most remote corners of the British Isles.
Look, internet, where I spent my summer holidays aged 14:
The Isle of Eigg
Fourteen! And looking at this site, let me say it is a masterwork of creativity, implying that there is a shop, a tea room and a craft centre on the island. Sneaky self-publicists. They are all the same place. Study the photos, you will see I speak the truth. Note the absence of settlements. Roads. Anything. It is a lump of rock in the middle of the North Sea, visited once a week by a small boat. I remember standing staring at the phone booth for several hours one day, wondering if a 999 call would do any good, and concluding it was unlikely.
Also, the sunshine on that picture? Photoshop. It rained solidly for three weeks.
I feel I can say with total honesty that staying with my family in a bothy without electricity on the Isle of Eigg at the age of 14 was the closest I have ever been to suicide. If it had been possible to die of boredom and despair, I would have done so.
This was not a one off. It was a pattern of abuse that lasted from early infancy to the age of 18 when I finally broke free from my abusers, in places like the Lake District, Ardnamurchan, the Yorkshire Dales. The Bearded One still likes to get out the pictures and laugh merrily at images of the infant Jaywalker, propped in a gorse bush, swathed in layers of cagoule in driving sleet. Or, wiping tears of mirth, to tell the tale of how I used to eat sheep droppings, thinking they were chocolate. He gets mildly hysterical when he tells the tale of the walk in the snow and driving wind where my elder brother asked what the symptoms of advanced hypothermia were. Or when he and the Oma took us up a mountain with nothing but a packet of coarse oatcakes, intended, according to the Oma 'to separate the hungry from the greedy'. Not funny. Child cruelty.
So why the fuck am I now fantasising about St Job. OK, it's not the real countryside. It's a village within a city, and it passes the café test better than my current house. But still! There are fields. And cobbles. And sheep. And a whole lot of fuck all. But we went there last weekend for a wander round the artists colony and I fell in love. It was a rural idyll full of pissed hippies and feral children wandering round from house to house and garden to garden. And what gardens! Giant fields more like. I bought bowls, was offered booze, pondered sculpture, while a precocious 8 year old asked Lashes and Fingers to estimate the size of the world's largest bat. The CFO and I looked at each other moist eyed and wondered whether we could organise some kind of vicious land clearance to steal their houses.
Ok, so I'm genetically conditioned to warm to aged hippies. So far, so predictable. But seriously? Must I reproduce the sins of my elders? Condemn my children to a bitter, empty childhood hanging around the bus shelter with the other rural outcasts? It's biological determinism at its cruellest.
I think I need one of those advanced life directives.
Internet, if I ever purchase anything made of Goretex, or talk about vegetables, or use Dubbin, you have permission - nay you are obligated! - to kill me. Ok? Ok. Glad we've cleared that up.