Summertime in the country:  a soft gauze of morning mist on dew, the chirp of crickets in the grass, a summer melody of bees amongst white seas of clover, a carking parliament of rooks around the beech stand on the hill.  Long, hot days spent behind the bailer, helping load a wain of rich-smelling hay and riding with it on its journey to the barn.Image

Or in winter, waking to a window with as much ice upon the inside of it as out; the sparkling frost, the rushing dance of snowflakes, the savagery of the gale; or with friends, stomping a deep white carpet on frozen feet waiting for a school bus that might just not make it today, and the cheerful snowball fight when it didn’t.    Friends I grew up with; names forgotten now.

In all the travelling and city living I’ve done I remain a countryman at heart.  Country lore is something I understand, and at the same time something not easily understood.  Which is why I regard city dwellers that migrate from town to country with bemusement.

Why?  Why move from an environment you understand to one you do not?  If you have succeeded financially to an extent where you can afford the move, you must have intelligence enough to realize the idyll you chase is a fiction.  Surely?  No?   Then at least beware of the more obvious mistakes.

First mistake:   bringing the town with you.   Sometimes it seems most city ex-pats would be happiest if they could put their existing house on a low-loader and drop it off in a field somewhere.  They want a cottage, of course, plenty of oak beams, a ‘feature fireplace’ and a wood burning stove; but those requirements must also include a kitchen ‘large enough for entertaining’, several bathrooms and a studio.  Land-wise, their intention to raise alpaca will require at least seven acres, in addition to a garden with extensive lawns – enough to ride around on a mower.

Second mistake:  ‘the kids will love it’.  Oh no they won’t!  That Thomasina will love her horse is a dangerous assumption, and little Thomas’s cultured tones will endear him to the local children.  Then expect teenage tantrums centered around the general theme of there being nothing to do, nowhere to go, etc.  (An argument not without substance – there is nowhere to go, unless you drive them).

Third mistake:  assuming the rules that governed your urban existence still apply.

In rural England, anyway, the farmer is law.  Most farmers, indeed, have a very broad appreciation of the law, and obey it when it does not inconvenience them too much.  They flout it outrageously the rest of the time, generally with the tacit understanding of the local constabulary.  In town, the four-wheel drive takes precedence on the basis that might is right; but on a country lane a Range Rover is no match for a pick-up driven by a farmer’s lad who sees his future in Formula One, a tractor and trailer, or a combine harvester. 

Seeing two foxhound puppies snuggled up together in your flowerbed is charming.  Seeing two cows grazing in your flowerbed may stir other emotions.   A couple of free-roaming sheepdogs engaged in a lengthy mating ritual outside your gate might be thought quaint, a liberally-minded sheepdog welded to the rump of your pedigree Weimaraner less so.  

The timeless peace of country living is illusory.  Bear in mind that land where no buildings exist is liable to be built upon.  When planning permission is walked through the intensive rearing sheds proposed by your immediate neighbor can be erected in six weeks, tenanted by bawling cattle in eight.  The quality of your country air may also bring things with it that are as unwelcome as they were unexpected.  Muck spreading is a fast-evolving science these days:  the constituents of the newer, more potent mixes will be amply explained by their odor.   

Certain things do take longer.  An internet connection weakened by nature’s thoughtless positioning of a hill, the bus which only runs four times a day, and the ambulance which comes to rescue you from the heart attack brought on by chopping wood for that log-burning stove.

My countryside no longer exists:  how much of its demise is due to the communications invasion, and how much to burgeoning population and the new religion of the plc and ‘growth’ I do not know.  I only know the reader of ‘Cider with Rosie’ would not recognize the environment Laurie Lee’s book describes.  Farming now is as much an industry as any other, and health and safety decrees exclude children from much of the good stuff the country has to offer.  Do I regret this?   As a life it was always hard, and I do not miss the poverty, although being ‘poor’ had less significance then.  But there was a fast, rapacious undercurrent beneath the superficial gloss of paradise, and the sun on the surf did not always conceal the dangers beneath.  I remember Billy, whose arm was torn from him by a grain elevator.  He was just sixteen.  And old Jack, whose tractor somersaulted and crushed him to death.  

So maybe no, I don’t regret change.  However I do wonder, when the idyll collapses and the current generation of new countrymen’s children filter back to the city what will be left; how much precious heritage will have been squandered and how many gilded cages will remain as ‘investment properties’ – empty shells slowly returning to dust. 

 

 

16 Comments

  1. Other than when I was very young and lived in small towns, I’ve lived in cities or suburbs, each one progressively larger than the last. I can’t imagine living away from “it all,” just as I imagine it would be difficult for someone who grew up on a farm to head to the big city. Then again, people often find themselves in ill-fitting circumstances, so perhaps a drastic switch-up of their environment is just what they need. Something they longed for all their life but didn’t realize was missing until they found it.

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    1. With so much in life that is stressful but necessary, I think it is important to at least be comfortable in your environment. A lifestyle change is certainly a possible answer in certain circumstances, I’m sure. Those I am poking gentle fun at here are the ‘new squires’ whose intentions are less profound. The English have a dreadful tendency to see themselves in the guise of Lord of the Manor, and the image of the over-indulged banker addressing his gardener from the terrace whilst sipping from a glass of brandy is hard to dispel.

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  2. Very nice post, Fred. I recall a couple who bought a vacation home near us. I had them over, along with another couple for cookout. Whenever they had anyone over, it was for ‘drinks’. I always enjoyed going, but ‘drinks’ was just soooo city-ish.
    My great-uncle lost an arm in a baler. And a classmate’s brother was crushed and killed by a rolled over tractor. Everyone who grows up on a farm knows stories like these. So sad. But I’m sure city people have their common stories too.

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    1. Thank you for the comment. Such similar memories, too! Yes, and I have been invited for ‘drinks’ and I know exactly what you mean. I always felt that I should have been upgraded to ‘doing lunch’. That would have been the ultimate accolade, I think!.

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  3. I’ve lived in smaller towns and big cities – I prefer smaller towns. Last year, we moved from the big city. We made the kids part of the house-hunting process and they had input in our final decision. There are things they miss about the big city, but overall, they love the new environment, which is a relief. Much more peaceful… a kitchen for entertaining would be nice though, haha 🙂

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    1. My present home is in a larger village or small town – I can never quite make the distinction. I’ve also lived in cities, and commuted to them from the country, at various stages of my life. The greater part of my formative years were pure country. My mother worked on a farm and I guess a lot of my memories are grounded on those days. As for the kitchen; no, mine isn’t big enough, either, and I would like a larger one, though the way I cook might prove either entertaining or hazardous should I be foolish enough to invite anyone round while I do it!

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  4. We are compatriots an ocean away. Thank you for your kind comment on my work. The fact you called it work indicates you are aware of the energy — of all sorts — that fuels the product. A quick read tells me I’ll come here often, as well. Cheers.

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  5. Thank you for reminding me of Cider with Rosie. I’ve wanted to read that and feel sure it’s not on my mile long book list. Lovely essay. I’m guilty of donning rose-colored glasses when it comes to small towns (lasted a year), the Colorado Rockies (no ocean or oxygen), and now, or soon, city life. At least (at last) I took off the glasses when finding a new apartment. It’s a bit dated and covered in carpet, but the rent and location can’t be beat. To walk or hop on the Metro or bus for work or play…my idea of heaven (I hope–selling the car!).

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