How I moved from urban hell and embraced rural heaven.
The man behind the counter was clearly uncomfortable with my request. I waited politely while he moved some papers around on the counter of the small village shop. Moving 250 miles in one day was thirsty work and I was keen to put my feet up on a packing crate and down a glass of restorative red wine. I could see said bottle nestling comfortably on a shelf just behind the shop owner. But although he seemed friendly enough, nothing was happening. Patiently, I repeated my request. ‘A bottle of the French red, please.’ I pointed to it for emphasis. He nodded and looked even more embarrassed. I toyed with the possibility that he thought I was underage, and then discounted it. I was 37.
‘You’ve just moved in across the square,’ he said. I agreed that was the case. ‘It’s been a really long day,’ I said, brightly. ‘And I’m so looking forward to winding down with a nice glass of red.’
‘Ah,’ he said. ‘But the thing is…’ he hesitated. I smiled, and tilted my head on one side encouragingly. There was clearly some kind of barrier between me and the tipple of my choice, and as a brand new blow in to this tiny village, I recognised that diplomacy was the key to finding – and removing it.
‘Your husband’s already been across and bought some wine,’ he blurted out.
We gazed at each other for a moment. The brand new blow in from up country, who had yet to prove herself worthy of small community life. And the village shop keeper, whose gentle demeanor showed merely his concern that either we would unwittingly overspend during our first 24 hours in his parish, or that he was in danger of colluding in the kind of reckless indulgence that could only have negative results.
I briefly considered driving fifteen miles along dark, unfamiliar country lanes to the nearest supermarket. Then I summoned up my most charming smile.
‘But he got white, didn’t he?’ I said. ‘He forgot that I only drink red. So the white’s gone in the fridge for another day.’
Visibly relieved, the shop keeper handed over the much needed beverage, accepted payment, and welcomed me warmly to the village. I was still smiling a minute later when I opened our new front door and found that my husband had lit the huge log fire. He was sitting cosily beside it, drinking his second glass of white wine. Passing me the corkscrew and a glass, he watched as I opened the red. ‘What are you grinning at?’ he asked.
‘I think I’m going to like living here,’ I said.
It was October 1995 and our North Devon adventure had just begun.