Margaret needed to escape the grind so she took action
By Peter R
On a roasting Friday afternoon in rural England, while the trees baked and the only sound is that of a distant stream, Margaret is busy pruning an unruly hedgerow.
Once a diligent office worker in the bustling heart of a major metropolitan city, Margaret now maintains a significantly less frantic existence.
Margaret tells me: “I’ve been messing about with this for a few days now. I’m too much of a perfectionist sometimes.”
The hedge looks fine to me, but Margaret’s standards are clearly a little higher.
“When I first moved in this was a wild overflow of undergrowth and shrubs and untamed trees,” she continues.
“It took me a while to get it under control. The grass was so long and thick I needed goats to get it down to a reasonable level.
“Then I could attack with a petrol lawn mower. Luckily I had plenty of time to do all of these things. There was no clock to watch; it was a natural process.”
Escaping the chaos of the rat race to the beauty of a garden
Natural processes seem like the order of the day in this beautiful garden. Wildflowers and weeds live in harmony. There is no battle for space or supremacy, at least on the surface. Everything has a place.
Everything is allowed to grow and thrive. That said, there is a strange order to the perceived chaos. Perhaps Margaret -or “Maggie” as he prefers to be known- would agree?
“Chaos is an interesting way of putting it,” she smiles. “I know where everything goes so it is an ordered chaos for sure. The outside world is full of chaos right now so I am trying to create my own little corner of happiness. Somewhere I am in control.”
“I feel in control here. But not like a control freak”
The smile returns.
From the outside it is hard to fathom Margaret’s struggle for control in such a natural environment and her concerns about the state of the world when she is so uniquely separated away from it.
“Even though things are pretty perfect for me, I do worry that one day the world will go completely crazy and “they” will come out here taking places like this, living out here to avoid the troubles of the city.”
I enquire about the “they” she is referring to.
“Ah you know…the richer people, the more powerful people. It might get so hectic in the city that they all start coming out here to avoid the dystopia. It’s a strong word but city life is so stressful, it is becoming a bit of a nightmare.”
An imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalypticEscapers
The 55-year-old paints an interesting and slightly surprising picture. While physically escaping from the hustle and bustle of the city, the mental concerns still follow her to the sanctity of the countryside.
“I wouldn’t describe myself as paranoid, just cautious and always prepared,” she adds as the soil beneath the immaculately pruned hedgerow receives a healthy dose of water from an old can.
After working for banks and in investing for decades, Margaret became disillusioned with the lifestyle and secretly plotted her escape.
Unbeknown to her co-workers as she steadily withdrew from after work drinks, weekend dinner parties and other high cost social events her mindset had changed, her priorities and values were no longer aligned with the culture of the office.
The big exit: Plotting a means of escape
Despite being unmarried, with no children, a hefty salary and minimal debts, Margaret began to despise the grind and looked for alternative ways of living.
“I got a pen and paper and started writing down all of the changes I could make in my life. I cut my spending way down, increased my savings and started aggressively paying down the remainder of my mortgage.
I traded my car in for a more economical model and started looking for a second home which would soon become my first and only home.”
What did her co-workers think of all this?
“They didn’t know all of it but on the face of things they thought I’d gone bloody mad!”
While Margaret looked like she was going through a midlife crisis on the outside, really, on the inside, she was beginning to feel as free as a bird in flight.
“It’s hard to avoid the trappings of society. I wasn’t going out anymore or joining in with the group. They thought something was wrong with me.”
Once Margaret had eliminated the mortgage and settled all debts she consolidated her money, ran the numbers and worked out a day in the future when she could leave her job.
Exiting the stage was not an immediate option, it took her years of planning before she finally escaped. Her dream of quitting the rat race was becoming a reality.
“There wasn’t a huge rush of exhilaration when the day came and I decided to hand in my notice,” she recalls. “ I actually felt a little nervous and second guessed my decision. I knew the finances were in place and I had a place to go at that point.”
Setting up a small holding
Indeed, a small holding awaited Margaret and she couldn’t wait to up sticks and begin her fresh life in the country. The plot of land is in an isolated spot. Idyllic when, on days like today, the sunshine illuminates the area.
Tall trees line the outskirts, enclosing the dwelling house from view of the road. If you weren’t looking for Margaret then you wouldn’t know she was here. That’s exactly the way she likes it.
The dwelling house was uninhabitable when she first brought it, but working weekends and on days off for the best part of three years helped turn it into a living space.
“I used to come down here with my sister and we would clean, paint, do all sorts really. My sister is pretty handy so she was fixing cracks in the wall with filler and clearing out the drain pipes.
“I obviously got someone in to hook up the water supply and the electric. That would’ve been a step too far even for us.
“A few weeks before my notice ran out and I was ready to move in I packed up all of my stuff, which had been significantly downsized, and bought a chicken coop off a local man who makes them. Getting the chickens in, a few ducks and geese, then the cats, made it feel homely.
“There was a lot of life about the place and I continued putting some touches to the house and garden to make it my own – put my stamp on it.”
Escaping to the country is not without its problems
It’s not all plain sailing. Predators stalk the livestock and sometimes escape into the night with a fresh chicken hanging from their jaws. Mold can quickly spread along the inner walls if not dealt with swiftly.
The moderate electricity supply can fail, especially in bad storms or colder weather. Persistent rain usually finds a way in through a crack in the roofing slate.
“I have problems, just like everyone else but the positives far outweigh the negatives,” says Margaret. “Come five o’clock in the evening I used to be sitting on a packed train commuting home or stuck in a car during rush hour. Now I sit on a chair outside and sip tea, listening to the birds or reading a book. That can’t be a bad trade, can it?”
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