By Kia Abdullah
I was lucky, I suppose, to grow up in London, scarcely four miles from the Charing Cross plaque that marks its very centre. There was always a sense of momentum: the drone of distant traffic, the snatch of a stranger’s conflict, the pixels of light from Canary Wharf filling the screen of my bedroom window.
In this city, I could be someone, or anyone, or everyone, I wanted to be — but there was a cost. What I gained in glass and concrete, those totems of opportunity, I lost in natural spaces. I did not even know to want them until I read Anne of Green Gables, my favourite book in childhood.
In L M Montgomery’s classic novel, Anne Shirley, a garrulous red-headed orphan girl, is sent to Green Gables, a remote farmstead on Prince Edward Island off the eastern coast of Canada. On arrival, Anne is dismayed to learn of a mix-up. Her would-be guardians – stern spinster Marilla Cuthbert and her tender-hearted brother, Matthew – had actually requested a boy from the orphanage. They plan to send Anne back but, after a day of deliberation, decide they would like to keep her.
After being allowed to stay Anne falls swiftly in love with the Cuthberts and their “big, rambling, orchard-embowered house”. She is charmed by the briskly snapping wood fire in the cheerful kitchen, the old Waterloo stove with its “soft mingling of fireshine and shadow”, and the scent of lilies that “entered in on viewless winds at every door and window.”
Like Anne, I am enchanted by the east-facing view from her gable room: the cherry tree outside “so close that its boughs tapped against the house”, the brook in the hollow below, the low-sloping fields filled with “ferns and mosses and woodsy things” and, beyond that, the “haunting, unceasing murmur” of the sea.
Deprived of space and nature in childhood, I imagine lounging on the porch in the evenings, the door propped open with a conch shell behind me. I would revel in the smell of mint and listen to the rustle of poplar leaves, hoping, perhaps, to correct a lifelong deficit. Can a long drink of nature compensate for years without it?
Though inspired by a real house (main picture, above), Green Gables is sadly fictional. In lieu, I could content myself with this six-bedroom island retreat, listed at C$2.9m ($2.3m). Located in Ontario’s Thousand Islands archipelago, the charming gabled cottage offers peace and solitude. I would place my desk by the balcony and gaze and write and think. Evenings would be spent on the porch with a pitcher of something cool.
I would be equally happy in this four-bedroom home on the west coast, on the market for C$3.95m ($3.14m). With naturalised gardens, heirloom orchards and wonderful sea views, it would be an ideal place in which to reset, preferably with a glass or two of Marilla’s raspberry cordial.
After a year of lockdowns, I, like everyone, am aching for normality, but I also know that London in its natural state is likely to exhaust me. I imagine the fraying tempers of commuters packed on to the Underground — the dense, artificial air and pulse of sulphur-like lights — and I am sure that I will need more space and time. I will long to retreat to my own “quiet, unmysterious Green Gables” across the Atlantic.
Photographs: Alamy; © Maisna/Dreamstime.com; © Adwo/Dreamstime.com; Canada Sotheby's International Realty