Around 16 years ago, my husband was starting to become familiar with a phrase I constantly repeated: "I've found us the perfect place to live in the Yorkshire Dales"... The places I showed him varied, but the intention remained the same. I really wanted to move back to Yorkshire, and I was desperate to be in the countryside. I missed the hills. I missed the people. I missed being able to breathe.
All I needed to do was convince my only-ever-lived-in-big-cosmopolitan-world-class-cities-husband that he'd love it.
The urge to return to Yorkshire had crept upon me suddenly. We'd spent New Year with family in the Yorkshire Dales and the weather was terrible, really freezing, lots of sleet, snow and gales. It felt fantastic - like coming home. It brought back childhood memories of chapped legs when my socks kept falling down and the rain pelted on to my knees (why didn't we just wear trousers?), of struggling home from school through blustery winds. Horrible weather is really just a mindset. Weird as it may sound, I loved the feeling of battling the elements. That was the moment when I started to think that maybe a cosy cosseted life in London wasn't for me any more.
But what really made me realise it was time to move was when a Parish newsletter dropped through the letter box, and I spotted details of a forthcoming village celebration and a request for volunteers.
I wanted to be there. I wasn't from that village but I liked the fact that some one had wanted to spread the word about what was happening in their Wharefedale village enough to deliver local newsletters in a blizzard. Some one loved their village enough to plan a celebration which depended entirely on goodwill and volunteers. I still remember feeling tearful reading about that event. It reminded me of years ago how my mum had cajoled my sister and I into helping her run local events, into wrapping presents for 80 children in the local nursery, into sitting dressed as Mary Quite Contrary on the back of a float in a village procession.
Contrast that with my life in London at that time. We didn't know the names of many neighbours. One time my young daughter and I baked biscuits and took them round to an elderly man living next door. He was so moved, he burst into tears because he never talked to anyone. If the local nursery needed to fundraise they wrote to parents asking for cheques. Entertainment meant expensive tickets at a West End Show. A "sense of community" was just that - a sense but not an actual thing.
As a teenager I longed to get out of my village, to escape the chatter. I didn't want to spend ages waiting in a village shop while the person in front of me exchanged stories and laughed with the butcher. I wanted to be on my way, exploring and discovering bigger places.
And yet when I read that newsletter I realised the things I most wanted were the ones I'd once wanted to escape. I wanted to swap my heels for the comforting feel of wellies.
It was very different for my husband. He'd only ever lived in big cities in different parts of the world. Being able to buy harissa and haloumi was important to his happiness. He'd never worn wellies. He wasn't sure how country people would react to "Johny Foreigner". It took me a while to convince him, and over a year to find exactly the right place to live but we did it. We moved back to Yorkshire eleven years ago.
The local butchers reminds me of the one from my childhood. Shopping takes ages because people know each other and stop to talk. I've turned into my mother, volunteering and cajoling my daughter into community activities.
Johny Foreigner is also happy: it's getting easier to buy haloumi (thanks to Rezan).
It's February 2018, the temperature is -3, and we've had a lot of snow. Schools and some roads are closed. There was just a knock at my door. It was Liz, a lovely lively lady always full of anecdotes and fun. She was taking advantage of the break in the blizzard to deliver the local Parish News! Remembering how we came to live in this wonderful Dales community all those years ago, I invited her in for a coffee. After exchanging news about a neighbour, making university recommendations to my daughter, telling me about her poetry and inviting us to a 91st birthday celebration she's organising, Liz was on her way again.
If you are considering a move to the Yorkshire Dales, don't deliberate. There's a lovely Liz in every village, ready to make you feel welcome.