By Alex Russon
Alex Russon lives with his family in the Howe o’ the Mearns in Scotland. His most recent book “Stoney Baloney” was published earlier this year.
‘Relocation, relocation, relocation’, this was the reality facing our three young children twelve months ago when we left our urban existence in the sprawling West Midlands for a rural life in Aberdeenshire. We told people we were doing it for the children (aged 9, 8 and 3) but were we? And if so, why? What is it that persuades parents to turn the comfortable world that their children live in upside down and impose upon them a new beginning in an alien setting?
It’s a question my wife and I asked ourselves countless times before taking the plunge, what were our true motivations? It seemed such a giant step, although relatively speaking was nothing of the sort, not when you consider refugees live, minus their worldly possessions, in foreign lands accessed over oceans via death defying vessels. By comparison, a four hundred mile move from one comfortable part of the UK to another is hardly earth shattering but to three young pups it certainly ran that risk. We proceeded however for three reasons; adventure, security and peace.
We felt stifled amongst the heaving masses populating the West Midlands. While a myriad of educational and leisure pursuits were at our disposal, not to mention the immediate convenience of any medical or retail outlet we might require, we felt somewhat suffocated. The conurbation brings with it endless roadways crammed with moving vehicles, the walkways too are rarely bare, it’s a world of perpetual motion, bystanders become exhausted simply by looking on. Take time to smell the roses they say, fat chance when you feel you’re in the midst of bedlam. Buildings commercial and residential alike, fall over each other pouring forth people, some welcoming interaction, others not, you often discover the hard way which camp they fall into. There seems to be no hiding place, you’re constantly on parade, it’s never long before you brush shoulders with someone else’s and while a community spirit is to be admired, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be when the bulk of that community shuffles silently and morbidly forward, unwilling to share the time of day. Our hope was that the village life we were embarking upon might foster tighter, more convivial relationships with our fellow citizens since folk depend on each other more in such an environment and so far this has been borne out. Mark you, it’s true what they say, ‘you get what you give’. While being cautious not to impose ourselves upon people, we’ve recognised the importance of mixing with the village folk, making the effort to converse and, I confess, ingratiate ourselves. Village newcomers can be treated with suspicion, an effective way to dispel this approach is to mingle politely and not be aloof, provided you don’t confirm their preconceptions the moment you open your mouth.
We remind ourselves don’t we that ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ is a futile pursuit, nevertheless it’s a trap most of us slip into. It has been liberating to live in a village where pretty well anything goes, provided it’s not at the expense or consternation of others. Living in an affluent part of Walsall (yes, such a place exists!), it’s easy to get sucked into the middle class mindset of materialism, achieving the second car status then upgrading it to a classier model, moving up the ladder from three bedrooms to four until the shame of a semi-detached dwelling becomes too much and the coveted detached property is secured. Kids (and adults let’s face it) insist upon the latest fashion label or gizmo, living in a rural village doesn’t entirely protect us from such covetousness however we have found it dilutes it. There’s less implied pressure to conform, different lifestyles and values are embraced it seems, we don’t feel like we’re in the heat of competition anymore but instead sense a freedom we didn’t previously have. It’s liberating. The village shop engenders as harmonious a conversation between local farm worker and well heeled solicitor as it would two mates propping up a bar, the importance of getting along with your community is highly valued and it’s reaffirming to know this to be genuine, not a pretence.
That ticks two of the motivational boxes for our life decision; adventure and peace. Adventure, because that’s precisely what it’s been to each of us, a new life, a new beginning. Peace, because we feel we’re being ourselves and not impersonating the people others want or expect us to be. At school our two older children are in composite classes since the school is so small, they therefore have no choice but to get along with one another, there’s no place to hide. Similarly as adults we don’t feel the need to compete, ‘take us as you find us’ has become the mantra, warts and all. It’s a shame that it took a distant house move to a village lifestyle to drive such an approach out of us but, in part, it did.
But what of the third motivation; security? Has this measure been met? To this I’d answer yes with the caveat that life can never be considered entirely secure, none of us know what lies around the corner, but in the sense that we feel safe and contented in the here and now then we are indeed secure. Insecurity is debilitating, inhibitive, a place of great discomfort, my wife and I strive to reach a mindset where none of our family feel threatened either physically or emotionally. Here in Aberdeenshire we hope to have the security of mind to live our lives in a less pressurised environment, even if we partly brought that perception upon ourselves when living in the West Midlands. Time will tell whether we made the right decision, but it’s ginging nae affa bad so far if ye ken fit I mean.