Sure it's pretty. But what actually is there to do?

In The Sticks
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The Independent Culture
WHAT WITH house-hunters from Hammersmith and all, I was pretty tired of doing the hard sell on rural delights even before Harvey arrived. My friend Harvey is a little environmentally challenged. Born, raised, and progressing towards early and lucrative retirement entirely within the city limits of New York, he doesn't understand green.

Harvey has the same attitude towards the countryside as most of us have to death: he knows it exists but he doesn't really believe in it. So, for the first 24 hours of his visit, he regarded everything with the deepest scepticism, like Agent Dale Cooper entering the spirit world in Twin Peaks. But, after a day of immersion in fields, windy lanes and dripping gardens the awful reality of large spaces devoid of cinemas and Mongolian restaurants dawned cold and hard.

"Sure, I can see it's priddy," he said, looking out of my kitchen window. "But what is there to do in it?"

"OK," I said. "What do you want? Theatre? Jazz? Classical? Just name it and you can do it here, in the countryside." He's never been a man to let a person off the hook easily. "All of 'em. And maybe some opera." "Fine," I said without even flinching. Rash. Doug gave me "the raised eyebrow", a sign of deep disapproval that I've only seen used on other people.

The theatre part was easy. We just rolled up to the school for a performance given by a professional touring company, a love story featuring some giant beans and a singing tomato. The cultural highlight of the evening came during the final tableau when all the kids ran round the side of the stage to see if the hero and heroine were "really snogging" behind the screen of outsize veg. Morgan twitched slightly when Bunny told him earnestly that she thought that the principals "hadn't even been acting" during their climactic clinch.

The jazz could have been more successful: Big Name and His Band playing in idyllic surroundings of a National Trust garden. But it was a tad damp, and the Big Name feared he might , as Morgan put it, "zap his own ass" with naughty electricity escaping into the surrounding wetness. So, without hearing a single note, we trundled back to the car.

Doug and the kids wimped out on the Friday Classical Challenge night. "Simpsons," said Buster. "TFI," said Doug. "Top of the Pops," said Bunny. So I drove for an hour to take Harvey to hear a programme of music including The Blue Danube and Pomp and Circumstance and concluding with the entire audience singing "Land of Hope and Glory".

I was feeling a little crestfallen in the car on the way home. Harvey didn't say much. He is a true friend after all, in spite of his urban fixations. "Will we be back in time for Frazier?" he asked.

I decided to admit defeat on the opera front. But there was one last cultural experience I felt sure I could provide: good conversation round a dinner-table. So, on Harvey's last night with us, I proudly assembled a selection of friends. An instrument-maker, a sculptor, a painter, a master of wine, a journalist and a furniture designer - to prove that talking and thinking about the worlds great issues was what we did in the "priddy" countryside.

I tried hard. I asked them what they thought of the Leeds art students, Orange Parades and genetically-interfered-with cabbages. They looked at me as if I had called the Queen Mother a commie whore at a WI meeting. They wanted to do what it is we really do for fun around here, which is talk about our dogs and our gardens. Harvey looked on as he might over a gathering of headhunters in Papua New Guinea, as they swapped horror stories of slugs shinning up walls to munch the delphiniums and rabbits ravaging the sweet peas. I could hardly bear to listen as the sculptor enthusiastically told Morgan about how Dandy, his bull terrier, got into the fridge.

"Ate a pound of cheddar, a packet of butter, half a pint of mayonnaise; polished it off with a bottle of peach liqueur. We found her unconscious under the lilacs." Just give me the peach liqueur - passing out under a bush seemed an attractive option. I decided instead to go for some quality time with my tomato plants. As I snuck out, the painter was explaining how her sheepdog has taken to howling along with Maria Callas arias on the CD.

Oh well, I suppose Harvey did get his opera in the end.

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