Rural ambivalence

‘So? How is it?’ your city friends will ask about your countryside move. Here most people who’ve moved out make the mistake of sounding unrelentingly positive. ‘Yeah! Great. We love it. It’s weird – we don’t miss London at all,’
they’ll say, launching into some spraff about how lucky they are to have the best of both worlds, because they can visit London all the time yet still escape the grind, blah blah.

No one hears that, of course. What they hear is an unconvincing exercise in self-justification. Because moving out of London is never straightforwardly brilliant, no matter how fond you are of fields and WI bake sales. Anyone who’s spent more than a month in the capital will move to a small town and balk at the twee shops selling costumed teddy bears and pervading hordes of old people, regardless of how much they enjoy the space and tight-knit community feel.

Because in Britain you can’t have the best of both worlds – the rural views combined with top-flight museums and kick-ass sushi restaurants. In parts of America you can (such as LA and the Hamptons), but here everything’s a trade-off. You’re allowed your world-class cultural stuff, but only if you take the crowds, pollution, traffic, etc. Alternatively you can have the big house, pretty scenery and quiet, but you’d better like staying in.

Not that I was going out as much in London, mind you. That’s the trouble: once you have a kid, you don’t see the glitzy, ES-party-pages face of the city so much as the waiting-at-a-windswept-bus-stop-outside-Chicken-Cottage side. To get more space, you find yourself living in steadily crappier areas until one day you’re in Cockfosters wondering why the hell you bother.

At least here there are no bus stops involved, since you can drive everywhere (which is brilliant, I don’t care how fashionable it is to protest otherwise). And my son gets to go to a picture-book village pre-school and roam acres of woodland. People round here boast (rather nauseatingly) that the kids are free-range. But that’s not without peril, either. You can, after all, be too sheltered. I don’t want him to become the kid who fears crowds and cries if he sees a black person.

So when my city friends ask how it is here, I always answer with a qualified, ‘It’s fine, but…’ Making them wish they’d never bloody asked.

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Remember when the sales happened in January?

So Europe’s in recession and will likely take the global economy with it. Here in the UK, unemployment is trundling towards 10 per cent. On the plus side, lots of shops are holding pre-Christmas sales. Every cloud and all that.

I thought I’d heroically do my bit for the nation’s prospects and buy a proper, grown-up handbag. It’s a leather Raoul number from Matches and cost £129 (with a 30 per cent discount). Which isn’t bad, no? Not for Matches. Topshop has bags the same price.

Or, as modelled by a model:

The Matches sale runs until (I think) December 8. You can also find 20 per cent off at Whistles and All Saints, while Debenhams is doing 30 per cent off coats, hats, scarves and gloves (that’s Grandma’s present sorted.) And before you hit the high street, check out My Voucher Codes for discounts at Gap, the White Company, Radley, Boden, Sweaty Betty and many more.

There. Don’t say I never tell you anything useful.

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Things to do in the country

A common complaint about the countryside is that there’s nothing to do, so it’s been a nice surprise to find just how much is laid on. Admittedly it helps if you’re a fan of talks called things like, ‘Why Watercolour? A Personal View’ or ‘Sussex and the European Union: Should We Stay or Should We Go?’ But, to be fair, if you’ve a small child, you won’t struggle to find something to keep them occupied.

The problem is that everything seems to take place on the second Tuesday or third Thursday of every month (except half-term), which means you need Moneypenny-style organisational skills to keep track of it all (or at least a working knowledge of when the hell school holidays are).

What’s missing, of course, are the museums and galleries – the rainy-day staples of London life that let you feel like you’re on the vanguard of contemporary culture as you sit eating cake in the café and looking at the nice pencils in the shop.

The trick, I’ve decided, is not to try and recreate what I did in London, as this way depression lies. Whereas Sundays are when East London comes into its own, with Columbia Road, Spitalfields and Brick Lane markets in full swing, and cafes packed with people enjoying late brunches and boozy lunches, here we’re back in Morrissey territory, where it’s all a bit silent and grey.

So I’ve embraced the old-school Sunday – roast dinners and country walks, roaring fires and Downton on telly. It’s actually pretty nice. One week I even went to church (admittedly more out of curiosity about the neighbours than Jesus). And this too was pleasant, if exactly like The Vicar of Dibley. Not sure I’ll do it again though. Emilio, quite sweetly, danced and clapped along to the hymns, but I spent the whole time trying to keep him off the organ/pulpit, and even the vicar’s patience was tried.

Since I never once went to church in Shoreditch (that being far more Rev), I guess this all adds up to prove that a countryside move inevitably involves a massive change of life. I just can’t work out whether or not that’s a bad thing.

NB: Even the clothes have changed. This is me in my countryside get-up. I wanted to go for the whole Liberty Barbour/Hunters, look-at-me-fresh-from-the-city thing, but even I blushed at the cliché of it.

**update** I’ve had two lots of compliments on the hat. It’s Rag & Bone, for anyone who’s interested.

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Suckered again

One of the nice things about blogs – fashion and interiors blogs in particular – is that you can shamelessly crib their ideas. Copy a celebrity and everyone will see you for the unimaginative wannabe you are. Copy a friend and they will think you at best insecure, at worst slightly psycho. But ripping off some random who lives 3,000 miles away? Meh, who cares?

Which is a long way of justifying the fact that I’ve just knocked off this girl‘s new tote, from a sweet site called Fieldguided. Because who can resist a Kate Bush lyric in handbag form? Not me.

I’ve got to stop buying these flimsy totes though. I have a ton of them already and know they’re a waste of money. Bag for life? Pah. Bag for three weeks until they become irredeemably filthy and fall apart, more like. I also have this one from Goodhood, which I like but am a bit embarrassed to carry. Let’s just say it was more useful in Shoreditch than Sussex.

Insubstantial though they are, these bags do have the advantage of being cheap (cheap for handbags, that is – not cheap for what they are, which is two crappy bits of fabric stitched together) and handbags these days have become so mentally expensive, I can’t bring myself to shell out for a real one.

Sadly a fabric tote is no substitute for a real leather bag, with a lining and compartments, as anyone who’s spent 15 minutes rummaging for their keys in one will know. They’re also a pickpocket magnet. And never put anything in there you’d be embarrassed to see strewn across the floor of a pub. Thinking about it, I don’t even know why I even bought the damn thing. Bloody fashion bloggers.

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The pleasures and problems of country life

One of the great joys of moving out of London is that – for a while, at least, until you get used to it – you get to swan about like Lady Bountiful, marvelling at how cheap everything is. ‘Three hours’ parking for £1.40, you say? Why, I’ll take six, just because I can! ‘Five pounds for my child’s haircut? Here, note the generosity of my tip!’ Whole afternoons can be passed trawling the antiques shops, hissing, ‘See this farmhouse table? Do you know how much this would cost at Spitalfields?’

The flipside of this is that the pace is proudly slooow. People here shudder at the go-go-go nature of London as if the alternative is somehow better, when in reality it’s no more than a series of minor irritations.

Yesterday, for instance, I took a pair of shoes in to be re-heeled. ‘Next Monday all right for you?’ said the cobbler. I was so busy doing my amenable new-in-town face that it only occurred to me on leaving that this was a full week away. A week to re-heel a pair of shoes. Isn’t the whole point that they do them while you wait?

Similarly shop-opening hours, hardly drawn-out at the best of times, seem to be vague guidelines rather than any kind of diktat. The other day I popped into our estate agent’s at 5pm, a full hour before it was due to close, and found it locked up for the night. I mean, for fuck’s sake. You might as well live in France.

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Boy meets hero

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Lewes Bonfire Night

In Lewes, our closest town, Bonfire Night is the highlight of the year. As the biggest bonfire event in the UK (in the world?), it’s both crowded and dangerous (last year someone was hit in the chest with a stray rocket, while the Bonfire Council – there is indeed such a thing – invokes the doctrine volenti non fit injuria, which roughly translates as, ‘You’re on your own, mate.’)

The event takes the form of a series of processions through town, with seven Bonfire societies competing to have the best fireworks and effigies. Members of the parade carry flaming torches and hurl barrels of burning tar down the narrow, smoke-filled streets. It’s quite the spectacle. Imagine something like this, but with drums and costumes:

Pic: www.world-wide-art.com

It’s also controversial. The event celebrates the protestant martyrs burned at the stake in the 16th century, which, before your eyes glaze over, means that it is outwardly – though not actually – anti-Catholic. Signs saying ‘No popery’ hang above the streets, while members of the procession carry burning crosses (this, with its KKK connotations, is more uncomfortable than any tongue-in-cheek anti-Catholic propaganda.)

Nonetheless the BBC has been rather sniffy about it, likening it to Northern Ireland. On hearing this, my initial reaction was to think how ridiculous they were being. Of course it’s not offensive – this is tradition, not bigotry – and, honestly, how po-faced can you be? Then it struck me that I sounded like one of those commenters on the Daily Mail Online who claim that the term ‘Paki’ is a harmless derivative of Pakistani and no more offensive than calling a Welshman a Taffy.

But I gave it more thought and again came to the conclusion that it wasn’t insulting. I mean, no one in Lewes really dislikes Catholics, and what’s history but a game of goodies and baddies? And given that a good 500 years have passed since all this kicked off, it’s safe to say no one still bears a grudge.

So what you’ve got in the end – unlike in Northern Ireland – isn’t a political statement, but a charming and slightly nerdy reenactment. It’s a lot of fun, anyway. I wish I could have gone, but it’s not the sort of place you can take a two-year-old and finding a babysitter is a bitch. I got my Mum to take some pictures for me though.


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