Did I ever tell you about the years we lived across from Windsor Castle? Our flat was the top floor of an old guard tower, with views to the Castle, exposed, black beams and the changing of the guard disrupting our weekly garbage pickup (they were deemed a security risk). We spent our weekends wandering the town and Great Park, drinking coffee at this little cafe in the station we liked, joking about how many tourists' photos we were inadvertently in the background of as we wandered the streets
I worked for the NHS at the time, in Public Health - a field I'd been passionate about since I was a teenager, but the passion was slowly leaking out of me - my skin worn thin by the constant brushes with bureaucracy of the health service. On one hand I felt like I was living in a chic lit novel about an American girl finding her feet Across the Pond (though my meet-cute had been years previously)and on the other I felt unbelievably out of place. When I wasn't looking for an escape at the bottom of a wine bottle, I was doing every self help course I could find, studying for Master's degrees I never finished, trying to imagine a life outside of the one I had. Outwardly things were so perfect, but I still drew pictures of cottages with chickens and dogs and wanted something else. That desire would move us 5 more times in 8 years, forever looking for a place where we fit.
We had this small roof terrace that I was determined to fill with flowers and vegetables. With no car, we would drag bags of compost up the three flights of stairs and through the flat, leaving a trail of dirt behind us. I wanted an english country garden, with mismatched pots and blousy flowers, so when an old butler sink appeared on Freecycle, I made kevin take the train with me across Berkshire to get it. It was the day before the wedding of Charles and Camilla and we had to wheel this enormous sink across the town, through thousands of tourists and reporters all so I could have my little patch of earth.
I've been thinking about that flat a lot recently - nostalgia being a common occurrence at the beginning of a new year, I suppose. Now, rather than being the chic lit novel itself it is the flashback in another book about a woman that goes back to the land, makes her own cheese and deodorant and collects sheep. When things get hard here, I imagine wandering down to the station and ordering a flat white and a bagel.
In truth though, those moments of sentimentality are few. I make my own bagels now and there is always a pressing need that keeps me out of my head and in the thick of life here. I've traded castles for mountains and tourists for a raggedy band of Soay sheep, wine tends to be of the home brew kind and my commute takes me 8 steps across the courtyard to a cold, converted barn. I think Windsor Kat would be delighted that this is where Part 3 of her book took her.