Why Dorset is the new south London

3 May

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It’s nearly a year now since we packed up our city pad and decided to have a go at country living. Every time I think I’ve got the hang of it, something springs up to remind me that I’ve still got a long way to go.

I may have two pairs of wellies (house and car), be a fully fledged member of the National Trust (which we tell ourselves we joined for the parking) and know the difference between a shag and a cormorant (not a euphemism) but finding weeds shaped like Exhibit M (see pic) in our back garden still makes me raise an eyebrow… And I still have absolutely no sense of direction.

How can this be? All the country folk I know can find their way around. Even the chap who wrote to the local paper to dismiss our (breathtaking, dazzling, planetariumesque) night sky views as “lots of stars and a few lifeless planets” managed to find his way across the fields in the pitch black to the nearest pub afterwards.

My dad could navigate his way to the sea from anywhere in the world and he grew up in bloody Hackney, for crying out loud.

And this is the main reason why Dorset has become my south London (and those suspiciously shaped leaves in all the hedgerows don’t help matters).

I once spent a miserable three hours in the borough of Lewisham trying to find my way to a friend’s house in Ladywell from less than two miles away. Despite having an A-Z *and* a mobile phone (although this was about 10 years ago so they didn’t do much) I simply could not get myself from where I was to where I needed to be – now there’s an epitaph.

To this day that lost weekend epitomises the complete blind spot I appear to have when it comes to anything directional. I can’t remember whether I ever made it in the end or whether the mean one-way streets and identikit terraced houses drove me home, frustrated and alone, to my comfort zone north of the river.

I jumped on the term “dyspraxia” as a possible explanation after reading about it in Vogue (which is where all the best disorders come from) but to be honest, I don’t think I have a condition. I think I’m just a bit crap. I grew up in London where almost everything is navigational by Tube stop. Who cares where Victoria is in relation to Euston? Pale blue line, four stops. It was an utter shock to me to discover after 20 odd years that Leicester Square is within spitting distance of Covent Garden above ground. I simply never knew.

Today I found myself in deepest darkest north Dorset for work, trying in vain to find a particular farm, the proverbial needle in a haystack. I drove through endless country villages with picture postcard thatched rooves and double barrelled names like Bishop Caundle and Sturminster Newton, which sounded more like Shakespearan characters than geographical locations.

Even on the happy occasion where I managed to get both a mobile phone signal *and* 3G (because of course the farmer’s number was stored on my email) I was at a loss to explain my surroundings.

“I’m… by a field,” I said miserably. “there’s… another field on the other side of the road.” It was Lewisham high street all over again. Only prettier.

Somehow though, despite all the odds, I made it and was greeted by a chorus of 200 expectant organic cattle at the farm gate. And that’s something that never happened to me in south London.

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