I always listen to ‘Sunday’ at 7.10 a.m on radio 4 (my aural safety blanket) and usually turn the radio on earlier and listen to a person herding sheep in the north of England, or dairy farming in the West country. And my rural self makes a brief but fervent appearance – only in my mind of course. I think ‘Ah that’s the life close to the earth in touch with reality’. And I straighten up from my computer and do a couple of exercises in preparation for my rural being. I feel sentimental about sheep – even though my only experience of them was very smelly indeed and they seemed cumbersome beasts with little charm or sense – I remember not caring for the bullying tactics of the sheep dog either so perhaps I was having bad day.
I know that I have great affection for cows, I once milked by hand four cows every day for over a year when I lived in a community ( NOT a commune I am sorry to say ) I know cows to be sweet smelling creatures capable of great sorrow when their calves are taken away. Their breath is lovely and I enjoyed mucking them out – all that hosing of slurry was deeply satisfying. So I am not a country virgin. But that was very many years ago and even then I found the silence of the country spooky and I longed for the sound of police sirens and the throb of a London taxi engine. I also disliked the long walk to the pub and loathed the walk back.
I am extremely lazy and am not keen on walking for its own sake. Except behind a dog and even then – if I ever get another dog I want one that retrieves stuff that I throw to eliminate most of the walking factor. I used to like walking around London on a Sunday when it was quiet and like a different city, but most of my walks were terminated at a pub and were never excessively long. Yet I hear these people on the radio speaking of walking for miles looking for lost sheep or tramping hills, becoming exultant when they reach the top and look at a view of surpassing beauty and I get envious, I think ‘I could do that’ and even then I know I would be whinging puffing and blowing – or dead! Besides which I like my views to incorporate a couple of pylons, a wind farm or two and preferably a viaduct.
I prefer the flat and recently went to Dungeness and found the sight of the stonking great power station a wonderful visual contrast to the wild flat land the ever present sea and the dozens of different types of pylons enchanted me. I dread to think how it would have been in these last weeks of storms but I felt closer to the cosmos there than anywhere I have been. Ever (could be the fact that I am closer to death!)
Still I persist in my rural ruminations, I hear of rolling hills and the greensward –whatever that is and my peasant farmer come out to play with my mind and I conclude that this is a Brit thing. I recently discovered that I am in fact pure British –I had hoped for something –anything, more exotic but have established that I am of neither Russian émigré stock or a Romany, the bastard of an artist in flagrante, or Irish or anything appealing that would excuse my eccentricities. But no, I am one hundred per cent British.
So show me pictures of rural idylls and I will go into paroxysms of sentimental weirdness and believe I could be a goose girl in East Anglia or a shepherd in Yorkshire and be happy. This self delusion does nobody any harm and I accept my folly, indeed I enjoy it! But the thing is: I see evidence of a universal longing for a countryside that probably never existed and would involve discomfort to say the least and I do wonder if other nations have this same peasant longing. Probably not. I do wonder is every Brit a closet peasant?
As for me: I like to be in range of a shop a pub and people ambling past and studiously ignoring me.