It is 350 miles from Hampstead Heath (via the ferry at Pembroke) to East Ferry, where one of my bridesmen has offered to lend me his cottage near the Irish coast.
I leave my life packed in a 50 sq ft storage unit and head off with a suitcase and enough cash in the bank from the sale of my flat to flee to Barbados. I am a woman on the run. A one-girl Thelma and Louise. It feels like I’ve got away with murder and in a way I have – my own. Except this is better because now I can start again.
If it weren’t for the minor inconvenience of a global pandemic I could catch a plane and disappear. Instead, I make do with cheap thrills: I celebrate with a drive-through McDonald’s and by cancelling all my direct debits: the mortgage, the water, the council tax, the gas.
Now, for the first time, I have no bills, no place to be, no one wondering where I am, no man calling or editor hassling me. My life has imploded, or I have exploded it – depending on the mood I’m in.
For my road trip I have prepared a Dolly Parton-heavy break-up mix. I put it on and hit the M1 in the rain, with all the enthusiasm of someone setting off on Route 66 – following the road into Wales under purple skies, taking detours for fun, climbing the Brecon Beacons, on and on until I reach a tiny mountain village and rent a room over a pub.
I buy a bottle of wine and head to the park. The sky is black, the air clean and fresh. I swig my £5 screwtop bottle of malbec. It is delicious as a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It tastes of freedom.
I finish the bottle and stagger back to the pine DFS single bed I’m staying in for the night just as drunk-panic sets in: ‘What the hell have I done?’
The next morning the ferry blows me to Ireland, where I sleep for a week. Then spend a month scoffing Guinness bread and making briquette fires, claiming I’m practising for my new life – although I’m doing it in an exquisitely furnished house with central heating.
By the time I return to Land’s End it is autumn: the air is muzzy and the red bracken drenched. I drive to my beautiful house – ready to move in.
Anyone who knows anything about buying property will realise what a fantasy this was. Despite all the episodes of Grand Designs I’ve watched, I was still naive enough to think that I could move into my listed dream home, hiccup-free, within two months. I can picture Kevin McCloud’s incredulous face.
As it happens, I return to Cornwall to find we are months from exchanging contracts. Replies from the bank are taking forever; solicitors are overloaded. Now half of the city is following me to Cornwall and the local council office is overwhelmed with Down From London-ers demanding searches.
The delay is agonising. I find myself homeless in a pandemic. My friend Tanya offers to let me move in. In all my fantasies of leaving my fiancé and driving off into the sunset to start a new life, in none of them was I quarantined in a family home, sleeping in a seven-year-old’s playroom on a sofa bed.
At night, I tip-toe through Lego pieces, jabbing my feet on blocks of an intergalactic space ship. I lie awake wondering how often is too often to call your solicitor – and beg.
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