It's been a chaotic two years - but I've no regrets

·5 min read
'Stories are not timeless, things move on and change – and I’m glad,' says Katie - Jooney Woodward
'Stories are not timeless, things move on and change – and I’m glad,' says Katie - Jooney Woodward

The kind older lady, Betty, on whose land I once lived in my caravan (while I was waiting for the purchase of my cottage to go through) gives me a pile of her vintage, 1950s women’s magazines. Sepia-edged, with curled corners. Inside, they have beautifully illustrated articles with headlines written in swirling calligraphy and advertisements – for Babycham, Bird’s Custard, Palmolive and TCP – that look like they were designed by Mad Men.

I peel through the pages thrilled to find pictures of immaculate women who look like a young Liz Taylor and advertisements – in colour! – imploring readers to “Go gay in a pinny” and buy Camp coffee. There are short stories with dramatic headlines like “The man who wouldn’t marry”, between advice columns and articles about how to arrange flowers, how to craft gifts, what to cook for your husband and how to care for your children.

There is a particular article that catches my attention, a regular feature called “Young Success – the sparkling stories of girls with glamorous jobs”.

I planned to rip out the magazine pages and use them to make wallpaper for my study, thinking it would be fun to paste them up on the wall in the room where I keep all my own magazine cuttings.

Betty, watching me peruse them, remarks: “The adverts are out of date of course, but the articles are still good.” This makes me laugh. If magazines articles remained relevant for 70 years, surely we wouldn’t have to keep writing them.

When I started this column, it was very much of its time. During the Covid pandemic, we all found ourselves in an unprecedented situation, facing problems we’d never conceived of. Like many people during the pandemic, I lost my job; long lockdown days led me to reconsider my life – and my relationship. It led me to leave my fiancé.

Later, when I advertised the spare rooms at my cottage, I was struck by how many other people were in similar positions to me. Now, in one room my new flatmate Rob is negotiating a separation with his wife. Sometimes his children visit, snuggling with him while he shouts at the rugby. My other spare room, where once I sat alone at my desk, is crammed with my flatmate Claire’s belongings, who also went through a break-up after Covid.

'Mine is a story of its time because, as I did during the pandemic, so many people were reassessing their lives, keen, like me, to try something different, often in a rural setting' - Jooney Woodward
'Mine is a story of its time because, as I did during the pandemic, so many people were reassessing their lives, keen, like me, to try something different, often in a rural setting' - Jooney Woodward

Mine is a story of its time because, as I did during the pandemic, so many people were reassessing their lives, keen, like me, to try something different, often in a rural setting. So many people got in touch with me via email and Instagram, where I’ve also shared my journey. Like Marian, a Frenchwoman from Somerset who sent me exquisite toile sheets, my new friend Jules – who runs Oxfordshire’s secret supper club – and Raj who lent me his car park to park my caravan in.

I have written before about the way the internet has revolutionised rural life, allowing me to find dates on sites like Tinder and Muddy Matches, get DIY done through Taskrabbit, and discover Workaway, my favourite new website, which connects me with travellers from all over the world who have come to stay at my cottage, trading work for accommodation. Without them perhaps it would have been much harder for me, a woman alone, to move to the country.

Instead the Workaways have brought me a house full of stories. The woman who came here having run retreats in Kenya and helped paint my bathroom pink. The Argentinian engineer, who hung second-hand chandeliers from the cottage’s beams. The Brazilian guy who helped me put up a gate in between cryptocurrency trades. Right now, a Mexican and a writer from Philadelphia are insulating my barn.

In the garden, I am turning a little stone barn into another writer’s room, with the Workaways’ help. It’s being cobbled together from random items I’ve found online – French windows (eBay), an old stable door from Gloucestershire and glass panels from Devizes (Facebook Marketplace). I hope the barn, like my caravan, which I offer to writers to stay in for retreats, will bring more people to the cottage.

All these connections mean that a journey which I embarked on alone has rarely been as lonely as it once would have been. This weekend my cottage was packed: filled with flatmates and friends and Workaways, barbecuing and digging flower borders in the sun.

When I started writing this column about leaving my life in London – and with it my relationship – for a random road trip in a VW van, I didn’t quite understand how I was also going on an adventure that for generations of women before me would have been inconceivable. Perhaps this is why so many women have written to me encouraging me on. And why women in particular have been the ones to reach out and support me in my journey.

I decide not to use the magazines as wallpaper. They feel too precious. Instead I just cut out one ad – “Go gay in a pinny” – and frame it for the kitchen wall. Rifling through the journals again I find a letter, written in the form of a ditty. It is called “The Spinster’s Creed”:

I wonder why my friends should all think, 
That I should sit a kitchen sink?
Why won’t they just accept my plea
That I want one thing – to be free?
It seems the folk right here at home
Can’t understand why I must roam;
My married friends don’t realise
There’s friendship without marriage ties.
Or is it just (do you agree?)
The merest tinge of jealousy?

Stories are not timeless, things move on and change – and I’m glad.

Read last week's column: 'I moved to the countryside to escape Londoners – now I'm surrounded by them'

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