When you write a column for a long time, you tend to repeat yourself. More than once, I’ve told the story of Nancy Astor returning to Virginia after her honeymoon and introducing her new husband, Waldorf, to her beloved Aunt Liza. ‘Why, Miss Nancy,’ her old nurse cried, ‘you sho’ done outmarried yo’self.’ And how many times have I hauled out my grandmother’s dictum that ‘manners are more important than brains’? Even this, my last column for the time being, has a déjà vu feel to it. That’s because I wrote one along these lines a while ago. On December 17, 1998.

Which might make you think that I have a restless heart. The thought worried me so much that, when I returned to this space two years later, I promised myself that I’d match my first three-year residency. In fact, I’ve almost tripled it. Other things also happen when you write a weekly column for 12 years. You see the world through a 700-word lens. You think that you can set the
world right.

You accumulate heaps of papers and newspaper clippings and Post-it notes scrawled with ideas and facts. And when you read other writers’ reflections on the subject of columns, you stick those in a box marked ‘save’. Inside mine is Ellen Goodman’s des-cription of writing a weekly column: ‘It’s like being married to a nymphomaniac. As soon as it’s over, you know you have to begin again.’ And William Safire, a master of the form, who likens it to standing under a windmill: no sooner do you feel relief that you have ducked a blade than you look up and see a new one coming down.

And yet, even as the weekly deadline smites the conscience, races the mind, adds to the anxiety quotient and punishes the ego, it is one of life’s great privileges. Writing in this space is the most gratifying job I’ve ever had. I’ve been blessed with an understanding editor, who gave me complete freedom. I’ve had patient sub-editors who tolerated endless last-minute ‘tweaks’ when, on reading the final proof, I suddenly encountered an errant noun or verb that sounded to my ear like
a needle scratching a record. And I’ve had the pleasure of knowing that my words would appear on the best piece of real estate any writer could desire. I feel as reverent towards Country Life today as I did when I first arrived back in 1996.

So why am I leaving again? I turn to another writer, the scientist Olivia Judson, who compared having a column to owning a pet dragon: you feel lucky to have it, but ‘it needs to be fed high-quality meat at regular intervals’. I need to work on my meat supply, to read a book from start to finish, to walk out into the morning without seeing my journey as an exercise in which to turn a flimsy idea into one substantial enough to fit the page.

My hero, the writer E. B. White, once described his hero, Henry David Thoreau, as a man torn all his days between two awful pulls: ‘the gnawing desire to change life, and the equally troublesome desire to live it’. I know the feeling. I long to change the world and I love to write about life, but the time has come to give in to the desire to live it.

And finally, to my readers who wrote me wonderful letters. That unanswered pile hurts me every day of my life. Every time I sat at my desk, I had to choose between writing letters or writing this page. Ruthlessly, I chose the page, consoling myself with the words from Emily Dickinson, writing in her narrow spinster room: ‘Here is my letter to the world.’ That’s what the ‘Spectator’ column has felt like to me, a letter to the world of readers, seen and unseen, who have become friends, who know me almost as well as I know myself and who have brought out the best in me. My gratitude is beyond words.

  • Helen Porter

    My Country Life issues can take a long time to reach me in the Bahamas and my last few copies were lent to a friend in hospital, so it has taken me a good while to realise that you are no longer writing the column! I often used to go to the back of the magazine to see what your thoughts were that week. You have given great pleasure to me and so many readers and I wish you a very happy and peaceful retirement with no deadlines! Thank you and Happy New Year,

  • Karen Heniger

    Yes, you have left us before and come back. You’ve been a part of my reading life for a long time. We completely understand and wish you well; but are open to an occasional “fill in” perhaps.

    I have kept all of your Christmas posts, as they are spectacular. I lost the one about your aunt wanting to stay at the Holiday Inn for Christmas. Last year’s was so special; my sister and I shed a tear over the story about passing along loved possessions. We had just lost our mother. Best of luck to you, and we will await your return. Enjoy your freedom.

    Connecticut, USA

  • Melinda Bargreen

    Because my Country Life issues are sent across the Atlantic and we were traveling in November, I have only just discovered the dreadful news that there will be no more Carla Carlisle columns. [Loud moans and pathetic whines ensue here.] I always read the magazine back to front, so as to launch Country Life with Carla’s brilliant and kind-hearted observations. While I understand the desire to stop (I was the music critic for an American newspaper for 31 years), it’s still the most appalling wrench to miss that splendid voice of reason and wonder. My very best to you, Carla.

  • Katie Steward

    I’m clearly very behind the times here, as my copies of Country Life are sent to America, involving a delay of a few weeks.

    But that isn’t any real excuse – except to add that I did spent 2-3 weeks looking for Carla’s articles, and finding someone else instead, and thinking, ‘Clever girl, she’s taking a vacation; she probably needs it after all these years!”

    However, finally my overwhelming feeling on seeing this: On no! And now I feel as if a good friend has died, and I am bereft.

    So grateful for all the years of that last page in every wonderful Country Life issue. I’m sure many of us will be rereading them for years to come.

    Katie Steward
    New Hampshire

  • Jesse

    Enjoy reading, enjoy living. You deserve it. Your work has inspired.

  • Todd Miller

    I will miss your writings and thoughts on life. I’ve enjoyed your Southern roots mixed with your English life. As a Southerner And Anglophile your thoughts really resonate for me. Enjoy your new found “freedom”.

  • Maria Strickland

    I have only been reading your beautiful words of wisdom for the comparatively short time of 3 years but I have been well & truly hooked..Oh how I relish with every word..to have found a kindred spirit and now to be losing her….
    If only I had started sooner…Thank you for the pleasure you gave me & I wish you a very enjoyable retirement. Maria.

  • Sandra Young

    Well! You have done this before and we welcomed you back with open arms. She sure has to work hard to fill your shoes. But! just in case you mean it this time. We have loved you,your husband and son. Cried when you lost your dad and laughed a lot too. Our love and good wishes go with you always. Sandra.

  • Carolyn Hall

    I will miss your column tremendously, your wit, your humor, sarcasm, politics, scoldings, praise and beautifully turned phrases. You never wrote a column that I thought to be unremarkable. I always loved the similarities in our lives, even though our paths never crossed. I am a yankee, episcopalian, liberal, educated in a private womans college in the east of the usa . My husband and I are lucky enough to spend time in Cambridge and London on a regular basis but you keep me connected to the uk when I am stateside. I have just retired because, like you, I want to live life…it’s time and you deserve to do the same! Fondly, Carolyn

  • Dawn Drury

    Another beautiful column, your goodbye made me cry. I shall miss you every week, it will not be the same without you. I wish you a long and happy ‘retirement’ with the time you need for yourself and others. Thank you for the years of pleasure reading your column has given me. With very kind regards. Dawn.