Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

I have always thought I was allergic to the English countryside: too melancholic, too dark, too many

Daily Mail readers. So it was with some misgivings that I received the news from my wife that we had taken a lease on a cottage in Oxfordshire. I should say that the property is in the grounds of Blenheim Palace, so it's not exactly the untamed wilds of the countryside: we have 2,000 acres of beautifully tended Capability Brown parkland to enjoy, we are only an hour and a half from the Ivy, and our fellow tenants on the estate are public relations chiefs, television presenters and TV production executives. In fact, a residents' committee meeting here would be like a night at the Groucho club. Nevertheless, it has brought me into contact with the sort of people I would not normally encounter. Like Mr Margadale, the piano-tuner, who delivered a treatise on political correctness that climaxed with the assertion that 'you can be prosecuted for referring to black ice these days'. Or Mr Benson, the gardener, who, when I told him what I did for a living, replied, 'Ah well, keeps you busy, I expect.'

Ihave been inspired by the way o ther unreconstructed townies of my acquaintance have fallen for the country life. My friend Alex James, who plays bass in the rock band Blur, exchanged his fabulous Covent Garden flat for a rambling pile, with working farm attached, in Gloucestershire. He used to fly his own plane and now he drives a tractor. He was once a famous London roustabout but now he has a wife, a child and a suit from Holland and Holland. So assimilated is he into his new environment that not only does he look at the property ads in Country Life, but he reads the articles as well. They visited us at the weekend. At one time, Alex would have arrived with a bottle of bourbon and various stimulants. Now, he brought a box of vegetables grown in his garden and a book, The Townies' Guide to the Countryside by Jill Mason. It includes useful advice on harecoursing ('If a lot of hares are killed, a move is made to a different field which favours the hare.' How sporting! ), stag-hunting and ferreting. I fear, however, it will be a long time before someone from the Independent is told, as a member of the Telegraph staff once was, 'I'm sorry, but the editor is out cubbing.'

Why are people in the country obsessed with shooting everything that moves, from pheasants to burglars?

And why do they try to camouflage their intentions? At the Blenheim Country Fair there was an exhibition by the British Association of Shooting and Conservation.

From what I could see from their displays, the accent was very much on the former.

Perhaps it was in the great British tradition of organisations meaning the opposite of their title. For example, you should know that any company with 'professional' in its name is usually anything but, while an organisation calling itself 'international' is generally more local than the parish council. And always give a wide berth to anything with 'freedom' in its title.

Much has been written, often in this very magazine, about the ungraciousness of modern-day sportsmen. So a vignette from the final moment of England's remarkable cricket victory over Australia at Edgbaston is worth keeping in mind as a counterbalance.

The final wicket had been taken, England had won by just two runs, and players and crowd were united in uninhibited celebration of one of the most thrilling victories in Test cricket history. …

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