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JOINING THE VILLAGE PEOPLE

21-02-2008

Ever fancied leaving the big city for the green, green grass of the countryside? Well don’t, warns Laurence Inman.

Lark fart In Candleford. Cranfart. The Farting Buds Of May. Last Of The Summer Farts.

Sunday night telly. Slow. Luscious. Nostaligic. Rural. Keeps a few actors and costume designers in work for a bit.

And perpetuates the idea that ‘the country’ is a place we would all like to be, especially if it’s about 1830.

I once made the mistake of going to live in the country. It was, without any doubt, the worst mistake I’ve ever made, and believe me I’ve made a few.

It was, moreover, a mistake just waiting to happen.

All my life I had lived in big cities: Birmingham, Manchester and London. And smaller cities: Leicester and Exeter. These last two hardly counted as proper cities because if you stood in the country on one side of them you could see the country on the other side.

This was especially true of Exeter, where the country on the other side is, at most, thirty minutes’ walk from the country on this side, regardless of whichever side you start from.

I was comfortably nested, at home in big cities and yet I still fell for the lie that somehow the country is healthier, happier and more wholesome.

I bought a house in the wilds of Leicestershire. I thought I’d be like Edward Thomas in Dymock, part of a group of artists in the country quietly changing the cultural face of history. I thought I’d scamper down the dawn-tinged lanes every morning. I think now I was a bit unhinged.

It was quite a pretty little village. There were three pubs and a Spar-type grocery shop. The pubs were always full and at weekend were heaving. I usually favoured the Marstons house. (The other two sold Ansells and Everards.)

It was run by a picturesque old couple called Sid and Grace. The football team gathered there and it wasn’t long before I was playing for them. They gave me my first inkling of the real nature of country life.

Their suffix was ‘Athletic’ but should more accurately have been ‘Psychopathic.’ The ‘ground’ was right next to the cemetery, a fact which was always grimly remarked upon by opposing teams. It was usually the last joke they made.

The darts team also met at the football team pub. Sid made delicious faggots and peas.

But that really is the only pleasant memory of country life I retain. After a surprisingly short time I just couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand the exaggerated parochialism, the tiny-mindedness, the constant watchfulness in case you said something which put half the village against you in some age-old feud over God-knows-what.

But the thing I really, really couldn’t stand for a further second was the very thing that everyone thinks is the best thing about ‘living’ in the bloody country: the fact that everyone knows you and says hallo and asks after your family and if you’re going down the pub later and what did you go shopping for in Leicester on Thursday?

It all came to a head one night as I approached the Marstons pub. Sid saw me coming and started to draw a pint of Pedigree, which is, in fact, what I intended to go in and order.

But something about this made me feel very uneasy and not a little irritated. I might have wanted a Guinness. I might not have been going to the pub at all.

I decided that next time I would go to the Ansells pub. But a few days later a local farmer called Popeye joined the throngs in the upstairs room Bingo session there, jumped up screaming HOUSE! HOUSE! pulled out his shotgun and half blew the landlord’s arm off.

At the trial it emerged that he had intended to do this since 1957 but no one could find out why.

I left soon afterwards, selling my house at a loss after the biggest surge in house prices ever seen.

In Devon it’s worse, apparently. There are whole villages covered in dung, where everyone looks like a sheep and there are always rumours of gardens full of babies’ bones.

If I had the money I’d live in the centre of London, surrounded by endless anonymous acres of houses full of people who don’t know who I am and who don’t want to know. I would, really. I know what I can stand.

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