Country: Space age in the provinces

It may be muddy, but living in the country gives you plenty of elbow room.
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The Independent Culture
WHEN WE moved to the country last year our friends reacted two ways. One group said it was their dream and how lucky we were to be able to manage it. The others were aghast and prophesied disaster.

"No one will want to come and see you camping miserably in some freezing dump," said my friend the historian Adam Zamoyski encouragingly. "You'll go mad."

A very chic Parisian PR, with whom I had had friendly professional dealings over five years of working on a glossy magazine, said: "For a break, perhaps?" But when I told her it was permanent and that I was not even going to have a flat in London, she just looked from me to my new business card with a mixture of horror and pity. She left it on the table and I had to remind her to take it. The idea of calling someone in Shropshire was clearly beyond her.

Of course, when people ask you: "How you can stand living in the country?" what they really mean is that surely life without them, or people like them, must be unbearably boring. The assumption is that there is no one amusing to see outside London and no culture.

This is particularly untrue where we are. Ludlow and the Welsh Marches have always attracted writers and artists, which is not to say that there are not perfectly interesting people farming and running small businesses as well, who have been here for generations. As for romance, as Jilly Cooper realised long since, there is nothing like fresh air for restoring the glint to the eye.

As for urban comforts, when my fussy New York friend Marianne came up, we were able to provide her with her morning cappuccino and all the newspapers at the Cookhouse, a former pub now run by the team who used to own Waltons in Knightsbridge, and sophisticated company in the form of the man who used to manage Mortimers, the ultra-fashionable restaurant on Manhattan's Upper East Side once favoured by the likes of Bianca Jagger and Jackie Onassis. He now has a tree nursery. She winced at the clothes that people were wearing to go shopping but marvelled at both the antiques and the array of butchers shops.

On a practical level, the best thing is the space. To have this much elbow room in London, you would need to be a billionaire. Simple things make so much difference. I love having a utility room with a second downstairs sink so that buckets of dirty water from washing the floor do not have to go down the kitchen sink and there is somewhere to wash the boots, children and animals. There is room to leave the ironing board up. I can hang things to dry in the garden on a line. There is space for a second fridge, kept exclusively for drinks. Most luxurious of all, there is box room for the junk I should have got rid off when we moved but didn't and a shed for all my new toys like the utterly useless leaf picker-upper bought by mail order in a fit of gardening enthusiasm last autumn.

I admit it is muddy. I need gumboots even to walk down the lane to the post office in the village a mile and a half away. It is also smelly - the cattle are in for the winter and they still go in for muck-spreading round here. But the lane has been there since Neolithic times, part of the network of green lanes which linked Wales to the Roman road system to the east and its hedgerows are showing new signs of spring every day.

When we lived in London, I thought February was the time to jet off to Barbados. Now I could not bear the thought of missing the primroses.

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