1,500 people a week flee cities for the country, and the Government is worried by the exodus. But as `Independent' writers explain, home is a state of mind - not just a place The country: `It isn't as lovely as you t
WHEN I tell people in London that I live in a village in the middle of rolling countryside, they get misty-eyed. "Oh how lovely," they exclaim. At this point, I can feel myself getting tense. I know they are thinking fresh air, long walks, log fires and roses round the door. Perhaps this comes from reading too much Miss Marple or Enid Blyton. Anyway, it bugs me because life in the country isn't like that at all. Usually I can't help but mention this. "Actually it's not all that lovely, and that's why I like it," I say, with my sweetest smile.

This usually stops the conversation dead, which is fine with me. After 12 years in the Kent village of Hadlow, the country isn't so much a destination as a home and that makes it a much more complicated place. Take the old and picturesque farmhouse that we lived in for years. It was surrounded by apple orchards and horse pastures and, I suppose, it could be called lovely. The blossom was gorgeous, certainly, and the pesticides were not too bad either. You don't get one without the other, the farmer said, and really doesn't everyone have to watch the way the wind blows? As for the pasture, the land had once been a dump and there had been a little problem with methane.

None of this seemed to affect the rodents, of which there were many. You get close to nature when you live in a house without a foundation, and I had got used to the odd plant pushing its way up into the house. But weeding your front room is one thing, discovering you are living in a set for Wind in the Willows another. One day, as I was tapping away at my computer, I looked down and saw Mole looking up. He was small but terrifying. Ratty was not so scary but only because he was usually dead and deposited by the cat at the back door. The mice were everywhere. One Christmas I sat and watched them race to see which could eat the chocolate tree ornaments first.

Wild animals, dead and alive, are part of life. It's cute having hedgehogs galore, but not so fab when one keels over dead in the garage. In the same way, I loved having a Rayburn, but there is nothing romantic about keeping it stoked up with coal. The view from the kitchen window was stress- free (pasture, rolling hills etc) but if I'd looked the other way I'd have seen a road filled with articulated lorries.

None of this is meant to be negative. It's just the way it is. The real reason I like living in the country has little do with such things. I like it because it is absolutely silent at night and you can see the stars (and not the street lamps) when you look up. It feels safer, and the countryside is just a short walk through the council estate.

People are always saying that living in the country is good for children, but what they really mean is that it is good for parents. I may spend lots of time commuting each day but I spend very little worrying about the kids. They walk to school and play round the neighbourhood until nightfall. The village school seems fine (though I'm told by others that the one in the next village is much better).

People live where they feel comfortable with the pace, and real time, for me, is in the country. City-dwellers always seem to be going somewhere as quickly as possible. They are used to shops and cafes and pubs being open all the time. They are used to crowds and queues. Everything is possible, nothing denied. Until, that is, they come and visit me. "I know, let's go have a coffee," they suggest on a Sunday afternoon. I say there is only one decent cafe within a 10 mile radius and it is shut all day long. "How about a country pub then?" they suggest. I say that the pubs round here open at 7pm on a Sunday. My friends look aghast. Perhaps, they say, it's time they were getting back.