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A new life in the country

Much hilarity and mirth at Coastalblog towers, as I am directed to one of the most spectacularly dimwitted articles about "moving to the country" that I have ever seen. You know the ones, the escape rom the city for a simpler life, all yomps with the chocolate labs and beach bonfires in fetching knitwear. But wait! This one's a witty twist on the genre, you see, because, right, instead of being about how amazing moving to the country is, it's about how horrid it is! How clever! Hunter Wellies and G&Ts all round!

Oh dear.

There is a distressing tendency among the the sort of people who write lifestyle pieces for newspapers to think only in primary colours. It's a disease that they've caught by associating too closely with their close relatives, columnists who write opinion pieces; much as coronavirus hopped from host creature to human. In these pieces, if a thing is not one thing, it must perforce be the other thing. Therefore, if the countryside is not picture perfect honeyed Cotswold stone and Farrow and Ball front doors it must be blasted moors, and cold faced men called Grimes killing their sister and feeding her to t'pigs. It's the sort of sloppy thinking which would shame a four year old, yet is somehow necessary for a job in Fleet Street, and is, I would argue, one of the primary drivers behind the relentlessly tedious state of the country today.

I'll stop there, though, because that's a different piece altogether. This is a light-hearted piece about how crazy the countryside is! And how moving there might not be the answer to all your problems!

I am, as it happens, a country boy. Not any more, but I grew up in North Cornwall. Four miles from school, a mile and a half to the nearest shop. it wasn't quite the back of beyond, but it was pretty rural. And yes, my parents moved there looking to escape London! Oh look, I'm qualified to talk about this, makes a nice change. You can take the boy out of the village, etc.

I learned a few interesting things growing up adjacent to a rural community. Chiefly, I learned that I never wanted to live in a rural community again.* It's a trifle claustrophobic, everyone knows everyone. Some people's idea of heaven. Not mine. I also learned that one of the chief dynamics behind village life is that people who've lived there longer, will never accept more recent arrivals. As to why this is, there are, I imagine, a variety of factors. Some of it could well be a well-founded fear of change and the disruption of the fabric of society by those who may not share its values. Quite a lot of it is just people being parochial wankers. Potato, potahto.

Also, I like amenities. I like train stations. I like decent restaurants and I like going to the theatre.

And no. The Boscastle Players' "Oh what a lovely war" is not the theatre.on you Local am-dram is fucking terrible. That's not to say it's not fun, it's great, in and of itself. Maxine Peake's Hamlet at the Manchester Exchange, however, it is not.

The big problem with "the countryside" as depicted in the pages of middle class newspapers is that it is largely a mirage. There are, it is true, countless lovely villages, with games of cricket on the green, old maids cycling to church, all that Archers jazz. There are also many piles of old tractor tyres, miles of plastic sheeting and an aroma which is best described as "robust". And racists. Lots and lots of racists.

The countryside is a working, living, and breathing space. The problem with it as an aspirational lifestyle destination is that that ideal never acknowledges this fact. try living next to a chicken farm and see how your Barbour-on-the-back-door-sunday-roast-in-the-aga fantasy lives up to the smell and noise of twenty thousand birds packed in a big shed. People work there. People live there. And those people are not the background detail to your idealised vision of gracious country life (while still commuting to London for work), they exist in their own right, not as colourful local detail on your fucking Instagram feed.

This could, I grant you, sound like sour grapes, and to an extent, it is. I understand resentment of people from upcountry, I've felt it. I've felt the frustration of only being able to work for half the year (though I'll be the first to admit that my many summers working in Cornwall's High Season hospitality trade were the best preparation I could have had for my career).

The gentrification of Cornwall, has its good points. There's more than one half decent restaurant in the entire county, for starters. But it creates even more tension between the on and off seasons than there used to be. Places like my home village, Boscastle, full of picturesque cottages tumbling down to a gorgeous harbour, are catnip for the second home and holiday let brigade. And this is the problem. Quite beyond the economics of driving locals away and creating ghost towns in winter (which kills off businesses and leads to loss of infrastructure- try getting anywhere on public transport in Devon and Cornwall and you'll soon see what I mean), the place becomes unliveable in summer. Cornish roads can't cope with oversized, testosterone heavy 4x4s. 

The problems that the countryside has are, I would argue, caused at root by the idealised version of it. People who want to escape to the country are generally wealthy, so lack of infrastructure is an inconvenience at worst, an amusing anecdote at best, in much the same way as the medias obsession with whether or not we can go abroad this summer is mystifying to the broad swathes of the population who couldn't afford to if they wanted to.

There's a lot to love about country living. Scenery, fresh air, low population density, wildlife, all these are wonderful things, and to be treasured. But to imagine that it's some fairytale place which will instantly solve all your woes? That, I'm afraid, is just magical thinking.

*Well, probably not. It's more accurate to state that I never want to be a teenage boy in Cornwall again. Thankfully, that's highly unlikely to happen.


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