Teenage Life in the Country

Yep. It really was like this.

Sitting cross-legged on my side of the bed in our old bedroom writing this article, the downstairs television and wafts of conversation reverberate through the thick farm-house walls. The blustery Devonshire gale rips through an open window, closed doors rattling through the rooms. A call comes up the stairs “Callum, Lauren, diiiiinnnnerrrr”.

Visiting home is like being taken back in time. Nothing really changes in the small seaside town we’re from but it seems a lifetime away from our ‘new normal’ in West Sussex. Coming home provides the opportunity to reflect on my teenage years spent in the country and identify the differences to those who grew up in central towns and cities.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I know that West Sussex is hardly the Bronx. But the close proximity to London means ‘city-life’ feeds into the mindset of most who live there. Life is fast-paced, energetic, always on-the-go. Whatsapp, Deliveroo and Uber are ways of life. Devon? 3G is a rarity, your only takeaway option is a 25-minute drive to the nearest fish-and-chip shop, and convenient public transport means waiting an hour for a bus (and you’ve got no chance on a Sunday).

In my teens, a typical Friday started by mucking out the horses (usually in my school uniform), before our parents ferried my sister and I to the top of the country lane where we’d catch the school bus and not go home until Monday. Our parents never worried. They knew we’d be somewhere locally with friends, confirmed by a passing conversation with the postman who’d mention he’d seen us in the park earlier in the day, or with the barman who’d joke at our failed attempts of buying cider with awful fake IDs. I didn’t think twice about spending two hours on a rickety bus to travel to see friends in a nearby town, however the anger of missing said bus and waiting an hour for the next was a constant source of frustration. Our time was filled with the dramas each teenager experience: school, parties, relationships. But, we took for granted the horses, the beach parties, the freedom – because these things were all we ever knew. Until the age of 21, my life was spent with salty hair and minimal makeup, driving around in my 1987 classic Mini Mayfair called Beethoven.

Living in South Devon was an idyllic place to grow up. The pace of life was – and still is – most definitely slower and, although we lived in an expensive tourist trap, the cost of living was a fraction of that in London. However, it soon became clear that well-paying jobs are like gold-dust and, if you want to pursue a career, relocation (or a 4 hour daily commute) is necessary.

It wasn’t until we were propelled into ‘urban life’ upon our move to West Sussex that I understood just how different my upbringing made me to my new colleagues: I’d never been to London. Wearing heels and bronzer were alien to me. I was genuinely excited about being within walking distance of a train station. This period of adjustment was huge and it’s taken me two years to find a balance of ‘country’ Lauren and ‘professional’ Lauren.

I’ve learned that no city bar beats a beach BBQ and that life is a hell-of-a-lot simpler when there are fewer people around. But, I also have come to appreciate the beautiful surroundings of my hometown far more than I ever did when I lived there, and know when the time is to leave. It’s true what they say about living in small towns. Nothing really changes and that feeling is claustrophobic. I love now living somewhere which is vibrant and ever-changing. I love working in an environment full of energetic, young people who reflect my mentality.

Living in the deepest corners of the countryside before moving to ‘civilisation’ has taught me a lot about the qualities I want to maintain, no matter where I live. I’ll always hold on to the dedication it takes to live on a farm and appreciate early mornings. I’ll never forget the brilliance of board games and evenings spent with the family around a roaring fire in the depths of winter when nothing is open because all the tourists have gone home. I am only really calm when in open green spaces or on the beach, and I know to give myself the dedicated time each week to find my ‘calm’.

Moving away from your hometown is something everyone should do at least once. But, don’t forget what you learned from living there, and use that to help shape who you want to become.

How Writing Changed My Life

But by all means, do it

At the ripe age of 24, I’m still embarrassingly proud of winning a ‘performing arts’ award at eight years old. The award certainly wasn’t for my artistic prowess nor my shining acting ability, but for my writing.

I always had a book in my hand as a child: eating breakfast, cleaning my teeth, sat in the crook of light which came through my propped-open bedroom door after bed-time. Put it this way, there was never a struggle for my parents to know what presents to get me. I read Joy Adamson’s ‘Born Free’ age seven, Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ not long after, and the highlight of each week was a trip to the library with my nan.

After reading Anne Frank’s Diary at a similar age, keeping my own became my first creative outlet. I was traditional in my style: ‘Dear Diary’, ‘Love Lauren’ with the now-hilarious anecdotes of an 8-year old child to read back on. My language was indicative of my obsession with Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ and reflects my idyllic childhood of horses, Devonshire caravanning holidays, and a roast dinner on a Sunday.

It wasn’t long before this love of creative writing became apparent in my school-work. I’d write story after story, using books I’d read as inspiration. This was always encouraged by my family and school teachers, providing me with the support and motivation to continue doing what I loved. Growing up I was on the school journalism team, frequently contributed to the local newspaper, and started my career working in the Sixth Form I’d studied at, supporting students in university applications and sourcing career opportunities. I started an Open University BSc (Hons) Psychology Degree in 2015 which taught me what I loved and most definitely hated (neuroscience and I will never be friends). But, with my studying came the realisation that staying in Devon was never going to offer me the career path I so craved.

My partner and I moved just south of London in 2018 to chase higher salaries and fulfilling career opportunities. This move meant subconsciously creating a new identity to fit in with these unknown surroundings. I stopped reading, stopped writing, changed how I looked and before long was living a life that definitely wasn’t mine.

The irony of getting ‘gnothi seauton’ (know thyself) tattooed on my arm in the midst of all this has not been lost, and a recent wake-up call meant working on actually knowing myself before I started really disliking who I saw in the mirror.

The last year I’ve focused on re-familiarising myself to areas of my personality I’d nearly forgotten. I’ve read more books in the last three months than I had in the prior two years. I dusted off my diary and committed to writing for fun at least once a week, and have published well-received articles on LinkedIn.

Re-igniting my passions has achieved so much more than simply putting pen to paper – it grounded me. I no longer feel like I’m chasing the life my current situation requires of me. I am living the life I want.

My partner loves an analogy and once told me “if you don’t talk about how you feel, you stack each problem on top of each other like unstable china plates. The longer you don’t talk, the more precarious your stack of plates becomes.” But, each time you talk about a problem, you remove one of the plates from the stack. This is how I feel when I write: I get my thoughts into coherent words and then deal with them.

Right now, I’m more happier with myself and my life than I have been in a long time.

Give yourself time to do the things you love, and the rest will work itself out.