you can't take London out of the woman - or something like that.
Living in the French countryside, well any countryside really, is something that I never thought I would ever do. I was a confirmed city type, a paid-up member of the 'spend your monthly salary on clothes and going out and to hell with the future'. Whilst my friends were sensible and bought themselves flats (apartments for you lot over the pond) or houses when prices were reasonable, I spent spent spent. I would go to Harvey Nicholls, Browns, Liberty or Selfridges to buy my things. I was a consumer and I consumed.
Between the ages of 20 and 30 I have no idea how much money I spent. I had indulgent parents, no siblings with whom to share the spoils, I took taxis everywhere (I only learnt to drive when I was 28), in short I had no idea of the value of money. I was a generous spender though and regularly picked up the tab in restaurants or bought my crowd tickets to things that we couldn't blag our way into.
We lived very near Highgate Cemetery and that used to be my 'walk in the country'. It was atmospheric, I had to wear sensible boots (my definition of the country is somewhere you have to be sensibly shod - stiletto or kitten heels get stuck in the mud) and some of the people buried there are quite famous. Take Karl Marx for instance, whose tomb is the photo above. He was buried on the Eastern side of the cemetery, the entrance to which was in a road called Swain's Lane (which was where my best friend lived). It was a short skip over the road - in our sensible boots - to have a stroll around, go and see Karl and count how many people would be there taking pictures of his iconic monument. It wasn't always so - he actually had a much more modest grave in a rather overgrown, seldom visited part of the cemetery; it is only since the fifties he has been in his famous plot (not that I ever saw the original plot, I'm not in my dotage yet).
But anyway, that was my country walk, followed by a stroll in the adjoining park (Waterlow Park - Mott the Hoople wrote a song about it) and then tea at the park's cafe which was in Lauderdale House, a 'country house' bought by Charles II for his then mistress, Nell Gwynn (her with her famous oranges). You could star spot as you sat outside the cafe; you would regularly see Sting with his first wife - Frances Tomelty; Alan Rickman (Prof Snape from Harry Potter but at that time a well-known stage actor); Annie Lennox; I could go on and on.
This part of London is so very lovely and it is a shame that most tourists stay in the centre and don't venture out to the suburbs. If you are reading this and are planning a trip to London in the future, make a note - get out to Highgate and also to Hampstead (another haunt of mine). You will love it and sometimes I yearn to be there again. But my memories of London are through a soft focus neuron. At this time of my life I am happier in the peace and quiet of the French countryside, a place I never thought I would be so happy living in.