Smart city-dwellers fear their deluded vision of the countryside. Safe in the penthouse, their remembrance (if they have any) of staying in the country is of cold and discomfort in winter, sweating, mosquito-laden summers, fear of a dark, leafy lane walking back from the pub (if they can find a country pub that is still open).
When they come to the country they lie awake in a squashy, feathery bed listening to genuine night sounds: frenzied cries disturb slumber because Death is everywhere in the country, fox, stoat, weasel, badger, an escaped mink, owls and bats circle the lonely house; in the cold morning a trail of feathers and blood on the uncut lawn lead to an unrecognisable mess beneath the thorny hedge blocking escape.
In the distance, the most mournful sound in the world – the whistle of a night train – “Oh,” the townees declare, “I wouldn’t spend another night in the country. It’s so strange. And the people are strange too. They stare at you in the pubs, not a friendly stare.” “‘A city dweller’”, they show they’re thinking: “‘must be rich and stupid and ripe for the plucking. Sell yer cottage to one and take him for a ride’”.
The countryside is full of flowers. Bluebells and wild daffodils everywhere get under your feet. Urban people dislike flowers except those dead in a vase. ‘Flowers in flower beds aren’t natural, somehow, Doris: as for covering whole fields in yellow and blue, well really!’
Rural folk are over-sexed, say the townspeople; ‘look at those huge families living cheek to jowl in those huge farmhouses’. Country life, say the townees, means tractoring all day, a piled plate and six pints of zoider in the evening, and then they all get at it. And they traipse off to Church every Sunday! You wouldn’t see me dead in a Church. A churchyard yes, I suppose. Eventually. I’ve got better ways to spend a Sunday mate.
Have you? Should you? Have you heard about the street-wise young feller who was invited to a wedding in the country. Real country too, not like those urbanised Home Counties round wonderful London city. This was Devon. Say the word quietly. The invitation named a hamlet called Little Riddings on the Stoat. It would be the manor house he supposed; stuffy marquee on the lawn, sausage rolls and warm champagne in wrong-shaped glasses. Into the Porsche and off West! Whistle a merry tune! But at some point he has to come off the safe, broad motorway where it says ‘Exeter’. Soon he is in a maze of country lanes with threatening leafy banks and little room to pass another car, should he see one.
Two hours later and he still can’t find the village whose name is printed on the invitation. Seeing a rustic hard at work in a field, digging up potatoes, the young man halts the Porsche, clicks the electric window, and politely asks the yokel if he knows where Little Riddings on the Stoat is. The man is actually chewing a straw! He looks at the young man, looks at the motor, and answers “Yerss”. Then he goes back to his work. Who, then, is the yokel?
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