Fleeing in the face of nature
Over the past couple of years I've come to believe that he who is tired of London is probably in the process of morphing into his parents, (assuming they weren’t native Londoners to begin with). Many of my closest friends have left the city I was born in and love fiercely, badmouthing it to hell and back while heading for rural idylls and one-horse dormitory towns. Maybe it's just part and parcel of becoming middle-aged, the responsibility that comes with having children, (on whom the Evil London Air must not, on any account, be permitted to blow), or simply forgetting how terminally bored they were growing up in Much-Piddling-In-The-Marsh that they couldn't wait to leave. But, whatever the reason, they're decamping in droves and I don't get to see them nearly as often as I'd like.
Am I bitter? You bet, but the fact is I’m tired of having my beloved city dissed. We might have a crumbling infrastructure and sky-high council tax but we have history and culture and beauty, damnit! We have civilised things like street lighting, (call me old fashioned but I like to see where I’m going of an evening. Light pollution, my arse). We’re surrounded by magnificent parks, glorious architecture and more museums, galleries, theatres, music venues, world-class restaurants and art-house cinemas than you can shake a mud-encrusted crook at. Which, of course, brings me back to the countryside again.
I effing hate it; always have.
I’m not speaking from unfounded prejudice, you understand; I have relatives who live there. I’ve endured numerous bracing country walks in my time, chockfull of mud, cowpats and endless clambering over rickety stiles, generally under an ominous, brooding sky. I tell you the only thing I looked forward to was wrenching off my cow-crap-encrusted wellies and murdering a cup of tea when the torture ceased. And don’t even get me started on the locals whose idea of a fun day out is terminating the local wildlife with the aid of 25 beagles and three dozen social-climbing arseholes on horseback. Dead right I don’t understand your noble country traditions, sunshine. And then there’s fields. I’m sorry but what precisely is the allure of a field? Forests I can understand; I like trees and streams and bluebell woods, but great sprawling swathes of green and yellow stuff as far as the eye can see, quite often without even a sheep or a cow to relieve the visual monotony? Oy, pass me the razor blades now. Give me life, for pity's sake! Shops and buskers and cafés and the buzz of urban living, even if I can't always afford to take advantage of everything my city has to offer. Give me the option of being able to order a cab after midnight or simply keeping my own private business to myself.
It’s been far from plain sailing for some of my friends. They’ve been faced with a rich/poor divide the like of which they never encountered in the London ‘burbs; while the only people who were outgoing and hospitable towards them, despite doing their utmost to immerse themselves in village life, were refugees from other big cities – thus putting the lie to the rumour we metropolitan types are cold and aloof. One couple had to move as they were flanked by a spooky woman who regularly threw hair clippings onto their lawn in the wee small hours, and a family that were forever having drunken, expletive-ridden domestics and visits from the local constabulary. My favourite anecdote about this particular shower involved my friend’s husband unearthing some slow worms in the garden after demolishing an old shed. Delighted, he called their two young daughters to come and check them out. Next door, however, were less than impressed when one made its way onto their side of the fence. “’it it wiv a spade, Lewis!” came an impassioned cry, “It’s gotta die!” Again with the killing. What is it with country folk?
When I retire it will be to the seaside, assuming I ever do retire; maybe Brighton – or as I prefer to think of it, London-on-Sea.