I loved my flat in London - it was zone 1 and I could get cigarettes and a decent bottle of red at any time day or night. It was Victorian but its high ceilings were a perfect backdrop to my contemporary commissions - and as a curator in a contemporary craft gallery I had great assess to some great artists and designers. I could go out wearing my Parisian pink stetson or my electric blue leopard print trilby and appear stylish but unremarkable.
Then came the relationship - first the cigarettes went (blame that on the theatre - but that is a whole different story) then I - gasp - started to plan to to have the occasional night in. After a while I realised I had a problem - I had serious jaw ache. On closer consideration of my symptoms I realised that I had not stopped grinning for weeks - I was terminally happy.
I was an independent career woman with friends, a flat and a credit card and a relationship was not going to change me. But, my father was terminally ill and working for a gallery was not helping me support my Mum, with long hours and constant the private views in evenings and weekends. So, I had a great idea - why not do and MA. So, two weeks after the decision was made I was still working and enrolling onto a full time course in Arts Criticism.
So now the career was on hold and the independence was slipping away too. 'I will' soon became 'I do' and my happy ever after was waiting. Meanwhile, Matt's work gave us an offer we could not refuse. It was basically redundancy or be paid handsomely to move to Reading.
He brought home the Reading property pages and nonchalantly suggested I take a look. I scoured the thick tome, the only variant on the homes seemed to be the price as they all looked the same and I had no idea as to why one should cost more than another. I had passed Reading on the M4 but there my local knowledge stopped. Hidden amongst the endless smart, but dull, new houses was one tiny cottage that called out to me: 'buy me, or I will be bulldozed'. After one whole day of house hunting we put in the offer. True, it was not every one's cup of tea - the estate agent almost put on rubber gloves to get through the front door and she was assiduously careful not to brush against the walls for fear of contamination.
A few weeks later we were the proud owners of a tiny seventeenth century cottage. It was pretty but with no heating, hot water or inside loo or any other creature comforts that may have crept in during the twentieth century. Even walking up stairs was a hazard - the old lead electric wiring was short circuiting and if you stepped on certain stairs it would cause the hall light to flicker on.
As I ploughed on with my dissertation, however, the cottage offered a sanctuary away from my London social life. The worst distraction was a dove who sat atop of the chimney cooing and her call was amplified as it echoed down into my room.
Then we got the first of our animals and I was totally and contentedly trapped. I was getting used to stoking up a Rayburn all day for a few inches of bath water. I survived by using my imagination - I remembered a wonderful holiday on a croft in western Ireland and if I wallowed in the historical romance I could cope with the day to day trials .
Rather than rushing headlong into renovations we slowly, researching historical homes. Slowly we brought our faded beauty of a home back from the brink. I can no longer get away with the extravagant hats, but I do admire them as I pull on my muddy boots and beany when go to walk the dog. However, I have every intention of growing old disgracefully, to in a few years time when I am going grey I'll dye my hair bright blue, embarrass the kids, pick up those hats again and go out in style!