The North Devon part of my West Country holiday has once again put me in mind of quitting Sussex and moving here. It's the people. I haven't had the chance to post much on the blog in the last week or so because of (a) the thirteen Appledore Book Festival events I booked; and (b) the social life flowing from them. I have made more friends. In fact what is clearly on offer is this: that if I set in motion a plan to sell up in Sussex and buy an equivalent property here, then I already have a sufficient friend base, and sufficient connections, to make the process reasonably easy, and assured of a good outcome.
So let's take stock.
I'm retired, with an adequate pension income, and I have:
# A Sussex home worth around £300,000 that I could put on the market as soon as I like.
# No mortgage or other debts.
# No dependents.
# No current romantic relationship I'd have to break up.
# No medical issues to anchor me where I am.
I am as free as a bird. That doesn't oblige me to go anywhere else, but I can make all the necessary arrangements to take wing at pretty short notice.
I've been at this point before, thinking seriously about That One Last Move; but now I've made a definite promise to myself to fully look into it and reach a decision. It's really a straightforward choice between remaining where I am forever, or embracing an alluring life for my remaining years in Dad's county of birth, albeit not in his part, but certainly a part I've personally known and liked for more than fifty years. And I do know North Devon quite well. I've driven around it a lot, in all seasons, assessing what I like, and what aspects might be a problem. I've imagined how I might feel about a wetter climate. About the lack of major shops, and major cultural venues, except in Exeter, Plymouth or Taunton. There's plenty going on at a local level; but, subtracting music and poetry events, what is actually left, especially in winter? Would I miss not having Glyndebourne nearby? Supposing there was never a reason to put on posh clothes and look chic and cosmopolitan? Would that irk me? Would I miss the buzz of Brighton, and the occasional day out in London? Or not having Gatwick Airport handy? Bearing in mind my special medication requirements, could I find a group medical practice to my liking, or a dentist that suited me? Where could I get Fiona serviced? (I actually do already know the Volvo dealer in Barnstaple) Or the caravan?
Retaining the caravan would be an essential part of this. And buying an 'equivalent property' means a bungalow on level ground with space for my hotel-room-on-wheels. It must be a bungalow, because a conventional house has stairs, and any new home must be future-proof, should I ultimately become too infirm or disabled to cope with steps. During my remaining active years, the caravan would be the means to visit regularly those I'd leave behind in Sussex, Hampshire, Kent and south-west London. In fact the move is off if I can't accommodate the caravan. I'd want to tour in it year-round, just as I do now. And North Devon is better-connected to the nation's motorway network than Sussex is, bearing in mind that I can get on the northbound M5 in just an hour. Sussex looks well-served by fast roads, but it isn't. It's tucked underneath London, and to some extent cut off from the rest of Great Britain because London is in the way. To avoid congestion, I have to travel westward for two hours before heading in any other direction. All my holiday travel normally requires getting to Winchester, and fanning out from there. I detest London's orbital motorway, the M25, which if not a white-knuckle racetrack is a frustrating and soul-corroding crawl.
I'm not simply caught up in a sudden infatuation with notions of escape, novelty, and a warm and welcoming network of nice people in North Devon. I want to embed myself in a community of my own choosing. I am where I am because I inherited Mum and Dad's house. To be sure, it's a nice home. And I have lovely neighbours. And great friends in Brighton. There are lots of local amenities. But I'm not in a place that speaks to my roots. My roots are (on my Mum's side) in Wales and ultimately Sweden; and (on my Dad's side) Devon. Devon calls loudest; it commands; and that command has now become difficult to ignore.
There is also a big practical issue about remaining where I am. My ex-partner lives close by. We manage to avoid each other, but I can't embed myself in local life - as I will increasingly want to - without risking an embarrassing and upsetting encounter. The hurt and the pain must not be revived. It would be awful for both of us. One of us must go, and, if I am being called, it might as well be me.
I will gain the freedom to get involved with any set of people I fancy in North Devon, and live a completely normal life. That's the core allure: a normal life entirely on my own terms, with nothing to fear or avoid. Yes, that's it. The gorgeous scenery and the enhanced quality of life are secondary: I want a local life with local people I can get to know without thinking 'do they also know M---?' It's no fun living as I do now, with nearby roads I'm reluctant to walk along, and village activities I keep away from, just in case I run into someone I don't want to.
And what about the Brighton trans scene? Any Brighton scene? Well, I think it's time to detach myself, and be only an occasional visitor. In North Devon I can be a woman without labels. I know that having a label is the lifeblood, the essential identifier, for some of my Brighton friends. Not for me. In North Devon, everyone I meet, male and female, local or visitor, has been greeting me, and swapping contact details, with unhesitating smiling warmth. Privately, I think They Realise. Surely they must. Or then again, however unlikely it seems, perhaps They Honestly Don't. Whatever, they embrace me. I am being reached out to. I want to respond.