To begin with

How to begin? Not at the beginning, that would take too long. Perhaps now – a bright day, a cold wind, 56 miles and a world away from the city. I have been watching birds in the garden and my tea has gone cold.

I am a country mouse again, after 5 years in Edinburgh and Leith – I have left behind tenements and traffic and crowds, cinema trips and pot luck dinners, the beckoning smells from Leith Walk restaurants, flat and flatmate and parties, buses every 7 minutes, offices and colleagues and decent coffee. I am at least 8 miles from a cappuccino. (I don’t think I’d heard of a cappuccino until I visited a student friend in Marchmont 10 years ago, but now I feel a pang).

My friends and my sister are not just around the corner, but a 3 mile walk and a bus and a train ride away (so far, I’ve scheduled trips to coincide with Mum or A’s errands in town or city). Just a phone call away, we say. I’ll visit – you’ll visit – and when I go further afield, we’ll keep in touch. I’ll write postcards, letters, send them at erratic intervals and call out of the blue.

The garden birds make unsuitable confidantes – quick to gossip and to squabble, quicker still to leave in a thrum of wings. But I am surrounded by yellow tête-á-tête narcissi half a thumb high, who nod in the breeze, and pale snowdrops line the woodland path. Ring the first one you see in a year, it will bring you luck, I read somewhere once.

To begin with, I have come home – though I’ve never lived here – to help renovate the house and tame the garden, learning to point and plaster walls, planting and pruning shrubs, sourcing materials – or Wombling, as Mum calls it. Cooking and cleaning and keeping the wheels in motion. I do not look too much ahead, for now, but behind – the history of the village in neighbours’ recollections and census records – and at what I am doing with my hands. Pinging missiles are an occasional hazard of denailing wood, and they must be found swiftly or lie as lurking menaces for car tyres and wellies.

On our walk today we heard geese honking before we saw them, four skeins passing overhead then disappearing into the distance. There are badger prints on the muddied path in the field. We’ll come back one evening and wait downwind. It is spring.

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