Could the good life be in the city? A country family decide to find out. Scott Hughes reports
Whatever happened to the English rural idyll? Bob Roberts and Caroline Arber are currently living on the Norfolk-Suffolk border with their two children. They have made an offer on a property in west London, and are preparing to move to the city before Christmas. Bob is a fruit grower who took over his family farm around 20 years ago; Caroline is a freelance photographer.

To those who dream of escaping the chaos of life in the capital for the calm of the English countryside, Bob and Caroline's decision to do the reverse may seem surprising, but Caroline insists that rural life is not quite all that it's made out to be.

"People think the countryside is idyllic, and to an extent that's true," she says. "We live in a beautiful Georgian house with a three-acre garden. But trying to earn a living there is another matter. Also, there is intensive arable farming going on around us, which means having huge combines only yards from the window. Another thing we won't miss are the East Anglian winds: we're only two or three miles from the sea, and the winds come in from Siberia, so it's very, very cold. But it has been wonderful bringing up the children there, with so much space for them to run around in."

The couple also say that it is time for a change. "The children are now at an age where they are bored with the country, and want entertainment," claims Caroline.

However, the prime reason for their move appears to be financial: they believe it will be easier to earn a living in the city. Fruit farming has become progressively less lucrative, and Bob is more than ready to try his hand at something else. "Through the effects of the Common Market, and developing countries producing food with cheaper labour, we've been finding it harder and harder to compete," he admits. "Basically, we've been throwing money away over the last few years, and have had to sell buildings and land; though we've had the odd good year, the underlying trend is ever downwards. I'm hoping to get into gardening and landscaping once we're in London - I have a degree in horticulture - and I already have some work in the pipeline."

For Caroline, the main drawback of living in the country is the "lack of facilities for photographers". She explains: "For many years I have been commuting to London to work, which is very tiring and means that I have to spend time away from the family.

At the moment we're about three- and-a-half hours from London, and it often takes me much longer. Almost all my work has always come from London, or by fax from America and Japan, and I suspect that while I've been in the country I've missed out on other work."

However, ties will be kept with East Anglia, mainly for the sake of the children. "We're keeping them at school in the country, back in Suffolk," Caroline goes on. "Our daughter is 12, and our son is 14, so they are both at an age when they can board. We thought that if they suddenly came to inner-city schools it might upset them - they're both doing very well at the moment - and, when we asked them, they said they wanted to stay with their friends.

As the final preparations for the move are made, the dominant feeling is one of looking forward to the delights London has to offer. "I'll be able to go to exhibitions and workshops, which in the past I haven't been able to attend," enthuses Caroline. "We'll be able to see films that aren't on general release, and try all the wonderful restaurants."

Yet, as Bob concedes, they are not without their reservations about such a major upheaval in their lifestyle. "What I think you have to do in making a move like this is think of the positive things, and hope the negative things don't happen," he says. "I guess we'll find the traffic frustrating: I have a Bedford van, and my wife has a large car which she will continue to need for location shoots. Security - crime, in general - worries us, and we're nervous about the children finding their way about on their own when they're in the city. We went on the Underground today, and I was explaining to them how it all works."

And what about all the city noise and dirt? "We've noticed how quickly your clothes get dirty in London," says Caroline. "And we've seen people bicycling with masks on their faces. But everyone seems to survive here, so the pollution can't be that bad, and I understand there are going to be more stringent tests for exhaust fumes. I am particularly conscious of noise, though, and living in west London I expect we'll hear a lot of aeroplanes overhead - but I'm sure we'll get used to it."

Bob says they quickly came to realise that "there are so many criteria in looking for a place to live that you can't possibly satisfy them all. Nowhere is ideal, so it's all a matter of compromise, of learning to live with certain things. We didn't want to be suburban: we wanted to be in central London, and not in quiet, leafy streets, since that was what we wanted to leave behind. We wanted somewhere where there's action, but at the same time we didn't want to live anywhere on a main road. The place we're hoping to buy is a couple of streets back from a main road, and is also very near a huge Sainsbury's with a petrol station. It's important to be able to do a big shop when you have a family, and that was something we haven't been able to do in the country. There's also a park a short distance away, which will go some way to compensating for the open spaces we're leaving behind.

"The great thing about London is that it's a city with many green spaces, and, what's more, they're interesting - not just cornfields or ploughed earth."

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