Monday, 31 October 2011

Ramblings: Country Living

You know how people describe themselves as outdoorsy? Well, I’m more indoorsy. Inside a house is safer, more private and it has beds to lie in and chairs to sit on, running water and central heating. Much more civilised. I’m of an age where I like a nice settee now. Actually, I’ve always liked a nice settee. I’m with Winston Churchill in that I also believe that the secret of life is “conservation of energy. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down."
I grew up in a very urban area of what was a large town but is now a small city. I lived on a small terraced street with Double Decker buses trundling right past my bedroom window throughout the day and evening. You could walk to the town centre in 10 minutes, there was a shop two doors away which sold sweets and if you wanted fresh air there was a park down the road to cover all that business.
Parks are great. You can pretend you’re in the countryside without leaving the safety of the city. Taking in a nice leisurely stroll is so much more reassuring and relaxing when you have mobile phone reception and a 24 hour Spa shop to buy cigarettes from within staggering distance.  Personally, I don’t feel at all safe without a back up lighter, a minimum of 20 cigarettes and at least two bars on my phone. I also need regular coffee. There’s never a Starbucks outside of towns.
I’m petrified of dead animals. Rotting fox corpses by the roadside horrify me and I retch a little when I see a battered pheasant. The countryside is a place of dead animals. Death lurks around every corner and decomposition is left to take place without the intervention of a friendly council bin man to scoop up the cadaver and dispose of it neatly. I was once strolling through some remote woods with my parents and smelt the unmistakable tang of rotting flesh in the air. I stifled my gagging and walked on with a mounting sense of dread expecting to see a murder victim or two. It was a rotting sheep pulsating with maggots. Seeing that left me feeling quite traumatised. You don’t get that in the suburbs. The worst thing you’ll see in the city is a gunshot victim or a collapsed pensioner and at least the police are usually nearby.
Nature is pretty brutal too. The countryside is awash with violence whether its foxes ripping apart rabbits by the throat or an owl swooping down and disembowelling a mouse, it’s a nasty environment. Not to mention the personal danger. There’s ravines, badly made footpaths, rickety stiles and concealed mine shafts. It’s all so slippery too. I watched enough “999” with Michael Burke in the 90s to know that a rural amble usually results in loss of limbs at the very least.
The countryside is very pretty looking, although it does have a lot of dirt and soil and it over relies on the colour green. It could be tidier and better organised (and would be if I had the time). The problem for me is that it’s all a bit samey. You walk up a hill and you see hill. You get to the other side of a hill and see the other side of a hill. You walk back down again, looking at a hill. It goes on a bit. I prefer buildings with interesting architecture, throngs of weird people to gawp at and be entertained by and an ever changing vista of life; much more stimulating.
You can’t dress nicely in the countryside. Who wants to wear clunky boots, fleeces or heavy cords? They’re awful things and there’s never a reason I’d go somewhere where you need to wear sensible shoes or waterproof items. I was once on a country walk with my parents one Boxing Day and my non-sensible shoe became lodged in a muddy rut in an icy field. As I pulled my foot out of the stinking dirt the sole of my shoe was left behind. My mother insisted we couldn’t turn back as we were over halfway. She lied and my lacerated blue foot took a little while to heal.
It gets so dark there too. I was stunned aged 27 at how dark it gets in the deep inner countryside. I don’t think I’d ever stayed anywhere as remote as the cottage I stayed at in rural France. It was horrifyingly claustrophobic at night. It was an unpleasant revelation to realise darkness was so intense. I thought that kind of darkness just existed in horror films. Have you noticed that lots of horror films are set in remote country farm houses? I can see why. There’s a good reason.
Finally, there are all those animals. I do like animals but prefer them either on TV or behind bars in a zoo or through the glass of a car window in a safari park. Walking through a field of cows terrifies me and all those news reports of couples being trampled to death by crazed bovine herds echo through my head and set my pulse racing. My best friend and I once took her slightly naughty dog for a walk and wandered into a field of bullocks who decided that a barking dog was a good reason to run at us. We were soon muttering something sounding like “bullocks” as we panted along breathless and red faced towards the nearest stile. We ran pretty fast for two heavy smokers with the fitness level of elderly sloths after a cardiac operation. I was screeching all the way, shouting “If they get too close we can jump in the river!” Thankfully we escaped, dry.
If you’d like to invite me out on a stroll I’d love to come, as long as it’s less than 3 miles in total, it’s not raining, I can bring a Kendall Mint Cake, a thermos, 40 cigarettes, a pack-a-mac, some emergency flares, an umbrella, a blanket, biscuits, a first aid kit, a stun gun and a novel. Oh, and will you carry my bag? It’ll be quite heavy.

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