I am neither an outdoors nor a countryside person. I am an urban-bred bookworm and TV addict. My bones are soft, my flesh is pallid and fresh air is my nemesis. I like my blood caffeinated, not oxygenated.
But habits are there to be broken. Sometimes – especially in unusual or extreme times like what we (I think we can generally agree no matter which side of the various divides we fall) are living through now – even the softest, pallidest of us need to shake things up a bit. So I did. I left south-east London last week and deliberately took myself off for a long weekend in Norfolk. And I didn’t just reproduce my normal life inside a cottage either. I disconnected the Wi-Fi, threw a sheet over the telly, and went out walking instead, without even so much as an emergency book in my bag, let alone my phone.
It was real countryside. Blimey. Grass. Sheep. Gnarly trees and gnarlier farmers. There were birds flying around that were not diseased pigeons. I even saw a deer and it looked so much like it does in pictures that I thought I was accidentally watching TV again.
I have, like most of us, done digital detoxes before, been on mini-breaks before and so on but this felt so much odder – and better. I gradually realised (you have a lot of time to think when you’re walking without a Pret to duck into every eight minutes), that I had never added Nature-with-a- capital-N to my city escapes before. I’ve only ever gone as far as stripping away the most obvious facets of modernity – and that, it turns out, is only half the restorative battle. What I really needed to do was get out and see some green things growing.
Some say that we’re all suffering from NDD – nature deficit disorder – and while everything in me rebels against such a formal, semi-medicalised label, there is no denying that supplementing my customary all-concrete diet was good for me. My brain quietened. My steps slowed. I stopped lurching from cortisol spike to cortisol spike. I had forgotten this could be done. I have come home seized with the desire to address my NDD more fully. I suspect I’m never going to be a wild swimmer or a great booker of month-long safari holidays but nevertheless, I got me some plans. I’m gonna get a bird table. I reckon birds are definitely a way forward. Have you seen their bright little eyes and cocked heads? Excellent! And I might lever up a few of the paving slabs in the patch of land outside my back door that is technically a garden and plant something colourful. Imagine having actual flowers to look at come the spring! And I’m not going to stop there. Come that spring, I’m going to see as many bluebells in as many bluebell woods – which someone who overheard me enthusing about my new natur-thusiasm told me are a thing – as I can.
More immediately, I’m looking forward to the promised cold snap. Not – as I usually do – as an excuse to retreat further but as a reason to go out. This year I embrace it. Winter is meant to be cold. We understand that. We need that. It’s how we know, deep in our softened bones, that the world turns, and life – in its best and largest sense – goes on. Try it. I’ll hope to see you out there. Especially if you’ve got rudimentary carpentry skills. I have a bird table that needs building.