Here’s my current dream, if my life was my own (no bills, no debt, money in the bank to emigrate, etc…):
I’d move to Brampton in the UK. There are several towns with that name, I think. The one I fell in love with is in Cumbria, right along Hadrian’s Wall and on the rail and bus line between Newcastle and Carlisle. It’s a mile walk through lovely forest from the train station, though the bus is more convenient…and far less romantic.
Just on the edge of town is an old hill fort, which is where you start the two mile walking tour past the 12th century Lanercost Priory, along road and creek, through forest and farmland, up to Hadrian’s Wall, where another half mile or so will take you to the Birdoswald Roman outpost. That old hill fort is hemmed in by houses and a nice little spread of rustic looking townhomes. I’d like to live modestly in one of those little townhouses. A butcher’s and Co-Op are about a block away, as are two of the more enjoyable pubs – the Howard Arms and the White Lion. Those two spots ring the city center, where the ever helpful TIC sits with their somewhat unfriendly banker’s hours (if you’re thinking about a day hike and did not plan ahead).
I’d start each day early. 5am, or thereabouts, and hike at least as far as Lanercost. The Priory is an incredible building, and you can almost spend a day just touring the graveyard. The homemade orange rhubarb preserves on sale for cheap in the entrance hall are to die for, as well. I’ve been to Brampton four times since 1995, and that walk never changes. The town has grown slightly, but it still seems pretty static. The Priory calls to me, though. Almost every day, I think about that walk, and visiting Lanercost.
On good days, I’ll continue on to the Wall, then back again. Healthy brunch, then get to work writing (or publishing, or selling weapons to warlords in Africa…whatever pays the bills). I would only work till 6pm, then I’d head to the pub for dinner and drinks, then back home to read or watch horrible sci-fi, which is what I do now. Except it’s the wilds of Silver Spring outside of my window, with car alarms and people screaming on their cell phones and potty dog and ice cream trucks. And I have to face that commute the next day. Always the commute…
Ideally, except for ordering drinks at the pub, I could spend most days in Brampton not speaking to anyone. Just quietly shuffling through my day, away from the hustle of the city. A nice, simple routine. Walking alone in the woods, working quietly in a small townhouse, eating alone at an isolated corner table. The Brits have the lovely habit of ordering at the bar, so eating out at pubs is always a wonderful experience. No wait staff to constantly spin by and ask how you’re doing, only to vanish when you need something. No waiting for drinks or refills – just get up and order for yourself.
There’s a bar in my old college town – the Jabberwock – that doesn’t suffer wait staff. You can sit in the window seats all day and sullenly drink, and it’s up to you to walk back up to the bar for another. Beautiful. The way a bar should be.
Try to find that in the DC area. Just simpering, underpaid wait staff who hate you. The only escape is to actually sit at the bar, but then we have a whole different breed of bartender in the US. It’s up to the customer to amuse them, if they’re the sociable sort. If not, then they’re inattentive, passive-aggressive, and can’t make a drink. I watch for the sociable ones, because they load you up with booze. Small price to pay having to talk to them, which does dampen the experience. But if I’m paying six bucks for a drink, it had better knock my socks off. I’m not battling crowds and commuters and faggots in the seat next to me just to pay six bucks for a glass of whiskey sour mix.
This is why I drink at home. I steal booze from my weekend job, so it’s free, it’s at the right strength, and I can take off my trousers and stand on the porch and stare people down. Staring people down while fully clothed doesn’t work for me…but, man, put me up there in a filthy, unbuttoned house shirt and boxers with a pint glass of gin and from four storeys up and, yes, I am the King of Silver Spring.