Country life? Give me the city

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The Independent Online
The Government may want to save the warm beer and cricket idyll, but for some the demise of the village is no cause for tears.

The writer Penelope Mortimer moved to London five years ago after spending 13 years "in a lovely little hamlet near Stowe-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds". The nearest shop was five miles away; the nearest pub one and half miles. "People regularly came down to stay," she said. "It was lovely."

Five years ago she realised things were no longer the same. The award- winning author of The Pumpkin Eater and her 1979 autobiography, About Time, was about to call time on village life, sell up, and move to Cricklewood. "Village life is about swings and roundabouts, some good, some bad. But basically I felt after five years that it had had it. This is going to sound terribly bad, and certainly not very PC, but I began to feel like it must have felt to be black in the deep south in the United States."

On one side, she was "surrounded by the huntin', shootin' n' fishin set". The other side was the gradual spread of commuterland. "The Porches began to move in. Then the locals, who could find no work, left for the nearest towns. Eventually there wasn't a cottage left that hadn't been sold or had a `for sale' sign on it." So for the writer it was goodbye Cotswolds, hello Cricklewood.

A successful move? Well yes and no. Other writers such as Fay Weldon and Piers Paul Reid have also swapped country life to dwell in urban spaces. Penelope Mortimer said: "I swapped a huge acre of garden that I could no longer cope with, for a strip of a 100 yards." The Cricklewood garden is regularly praised in horticulture circles as a "model of what can be achieved by bringing the country to the town". The downside, she says, is that "people no longer come to stay for long periods. Lunch is far less nice".

Within a year of exchanging country paths for urban highways, she thought she had made a big mistake. Plans were laid to return. But they have never been acted on. "When I used to come up to London I did all the right things: the theatre, plays, restaurants. Now to be honest, I don't think I've been into the West End for four years. It has all turned out to be a lot different to what I thought." But in her dreams, Penelope Mortimer, now 78 and living alone, has still not ruled out going back to the green and pleasant lands.