FOR most of my adult life I’ve awoken each day to the blare of car-horns outside or maybe some verbal spat going on in the street below. These days things are very different.
Four years ago I uprooted my young family to go rural. Now I wake up most days to horses stamping their feet in the stables, or the clip-clop of others passing by on their morning exercises outside on our country lane.
No more, for me, the diving in and out of bustling coffee shops while trying to dream up my next column. Instead it’s a barn, a byre, six acres of sloping Ayrshire farmland and – quite a bit of the time – up to my knees in dungy muck.
Country living is exhilarating. Never before in my life, beyond the orange haze of the city, did I realise the sky was so beautiful at night: vivid, twinkling stars set against the inky darkness. Nor has air – tangy, pongy, wafting in on fresh westward breezes – ever felt as fresh as this.
We live in an ageing country house, a fine old joint, which is freezing in the winter until we get our fires going. But then, in the mid-evening, the place is aglow with wood-burning, suffusing our living space with a heat that makes you think you are inhabiting a blast-furnace. I open my beer and my books at night, my face slowly turning purple in this heatwave.
My kids are growing up in a semi-1950s environment rather than the fetid technological terrain of 2013. In the mornings they leap into their woolly longjohns and then, amid plummeting temperatures and clutching hot-water bottles, dive under duvets in wintry bedrooms at night. And they appear to me to be deliriously happy wee guys.
In the countryside you lose track of time and sequence, and a certain shambolic routine sets in. Because I can go days without really seeing anyone, and am just sitting writing, I’m sorry to admit I’ve started dressing like a tramp.
“Goodness sakes, can’t you spruce yourself up a bit?” my wife will ask as I come wandering through in an unkempt alliance of torn jumper, ripped breeks and old (but very comfy) golf shoes.
Sometimes I will have to nip out to the local supermarket 5 miles away for provisions, and will suddenly and alarmingly become aware of the dire state I am in. But the truth is, if you live rurally and are largely self-contained, what the heck does it matter what you look like?
I used to wake up, draw back the curtains, and look out over a domestically-tense array of West End flats and houses in Glasgow. Now I look over frost-tinted fields, with the farmers already up and about their business, their relics of ancient agriculture dotted here and there.
Farmers are hard-working, essentially very decent people, and the countryside has taught me this: be more respectful and careful towards money. I used to chuck £20 notes about like there was no tomorrow, happy to wallow in my seemingly unhindered wealth.
This was disgusting, showboating sloth. Now I decree every day “not to waste the harvest” and try to manage my affairs more soberly. Every day I see men and women going about their disciplined country business in a way that puts my luvvy media life to shame.
We bake a lot, we pick wild berries in summer and autumn, and now, after vats of homemade soup, I cannot look at another tin of Baxter’s cock-a-leekie except with a thinly-veiled contempt. Some mornings we dive out into our garden to pull up shoots of rhubarb for stewing in our porridge.
I sometimes wonder if this is all a very vivid dream I’m having. As if, one day I am going to bolt up in bed and shout: “My God, what a dream that was! I dreamt we were living in this old house and there were horses and cows and…”
Last thing at night, for years, I’d venture out to a city bar for some frivolity – and perhaps even a catch. Now, under winter starlight, I wander along our lane and gaze out over the fields and the twinkling farmhouse lights, appreciating anew the authenticity of rural life.
I won’t ever go back to the city to live. Never. This is too good, too real, too spiritually uplifting to turn your back on. They will bury me in these fields, I hope.