I am country mouse. I work to the sound of birdsong instead of a seagull pecking at my window sill. I make calls outside the house because the reception inside the house is disastrous, and the person on the other end asks, distractedly, surprised
“Is that birds in the background?”
I fancy she imagines me in my country getaway, colourful chirping creatures flitting onto my shoulders… or maybe she imagines a more Hitchcockian scene.
I walk for miles on near-empty beaches and watch the summer breathe green into the hills and the trees. I walk down country lanes and see the lambs leaping in the fields. I do dishes at the sink and hear their bleats a few fields away. My son feeds the lambs in his nanny’s neighbour’s house.
I am town mouse. I own a cat who never goes outdoors. Our third floor apartment means nowhere to go but straight down, and she is to savvy for that. On our way home from creche, I show my son the rabbits, the hamsters, the snake, the birds in the petshop.
“Can I get out of the buggy Mommy?”
Leaning towards the fluffy rabbits in their pen. Caged animals all.
I push the buggy down the street at pace, clip the heels of the man in front. Tired, unfriendly. Both of us. He scowls, complains. Now I am even more tired, more unfriendly now.
I have my favourite cafes, order flat whites and cinnamon scrolls. Buy berries and granola from Fallon and Byrne on my way to work. Buy sushi sometimes for my lunch, sit in Merrion square with a sandwich on Sunny summer days.
I cycle down O’Connell st as the rain starts on a November evening, inhaling fumes from the buses crawling past. Turn right and down towards Marlborough street where the Luas works make a mess of everything. Struggle up Parnell street and onto North great Georges St. I hug my boy and we journey home, he perched in a red seat between my arms, shouting with excitement as we pedal our way home.
I made a list. Two lists.
Why the city is better than the country.
Why the country is better than the city.
I wanted to answer the question of why I’m here. But other questions arose. Does it depend on the city? Why is it a competition? Can’t I love both, but live in one? For now?
Can’t I be both town mouse and country mouse?
So I made a new list.
Things I love about the country and the city.
I love the enery of the city and the calm of the country. I love to be carried along in the rush hour flow and I love to amble down a country lane. I love to hear the whisper of a breeze in the trees, the ocean roar on a deserted beach, and I love to swim in the sea of hundreds of dreams and thoughts and words, and catch snippets of conversation as I cross a Liffey bridge and save them up for later musings.
I love the coolness of the city, the sense that this is where ideas begin, trends emerge, decisions are made; and I love the friendliness of the country, where I see less people but get more conversation. In the city I could fill my days with art and theatre and film (if they weren’t already full to capacity with babies and work) and in the country I go to buy milk and I come home with stories, invites into a neighbour’s for tea and scones.
In the city I love to walk, to exit my apartment building and be on the street, not having to move babys and boys in and out of cars; and in the country I love the space, in my home, in my garden. Space for my children to run, to play with mud, to kick footballs, to pick flowers and pretend to be aeroplanes. In the city I walk from work to home and home to yoga and home to cinema and cinema to restaurant and pub to friends place and zoo to the park and I have tired legs but I feel fit; and in the country I have space that doesn’t cost the earth, that isn’t the preserve of those with more money than me, a view of the sky and the sunset and the full moon that isn’t obscured by buildings
In the city I love the proximity to shops, services, all the things you need. I pick up fresh flowers on the way to work, nip out for an hour to buy a birthday present, meet friends for lunch in a neighbourhood cafe; and in the country, I love that grandparents and aunties and cousins are people who call in on the way home from work, people we visit for the afternoon, providers of last minute babysitting and coffees after grocery trips. Fresh flowers are provided by my garden and by friends’ fields.
I travel back to the city for work and I love the feel of familar pavements. I meet friends and we have beer in the sun at Trinity College. I visit one of the old haunts and drink my fill of good wine and good conversation, and leave no room for the taste of nostalgia. My footsteps follow old paths and my daydreams carry me back to an old home.
An old life. I miss it. Or some part of it. Some part of me.
But I get on the train and I don’t look back.