An American friend living in London once inherited 22 acres. I was impressed. He could build a nice big house or he could sell the land for development. He was set up. It was 10 gents' residences. But he was seriously underwhelmed. I was being absurdly British, he said. Rocky land like that was a few dollars an acre in his bit of Carolina. Nobody wanted to live on it, let alone build on it. Only people from a toy country like Britain got worked up about land. It was boring.
The English do think land is grand, because they've been remote from it for 150 years. We began romancing the green for townies long before Country Life - the classic rich townies' introduction to the country - began. A raft of Victorian artists like Kate Greenaway and Helen Allingham created idealised village life for the driven burghers of Kensington (all shiny development stucco in 1860). Watercolours like "A Cottage Garden in old Devon" said country life was intrinsically better - to the most urbanised nation on earth. And land redeemed Victorian new money too. A few thousand acres and a Lorimer castle turned a Dundee jute plutocrat into a Walter Scott baron.
So, while Hausmann was developing Paris, we were thinking "back to the land". Out of all that Victorian social mobility and the remaking of country traditions by sharp sentimentalists came the Sloane world-view and the automatic question: "Will you be in London this weekend?" It assumed that everyone had somewhere out there; a real life that began on the 4.15pm Friday train to wherever.
We have the Countryside Alliance, a single-issue lobby group cleverly wrapped in the flag of the countryside, but in great swathes of Europe the young are still deserting villages in their millions. You won't find them getting soppy or aspirational about the countryside.
The English animal thing runs parallel to the country one. No nation has a population so distant from wild or working animals. And no nation, as Kate Fox explains in her clever Watching the English, feels such closeness, such emotional release, with its pets. The things we practically never say to people, the touchy-feeliness Brits avoid, all come out in moments with a dog. And all the basic stuff - humping your leg, shit on the sofa - that's just amusing and adorable scallywag style in your Labrador. I'm deeply metropolitan but my eight-year-old heart responded to the dog that saved his family from a panther (and died doing it).
And, of course, wept buckets at the death of Dick Turpin's Black Bess at the end of that ride to York. If we're suckers for dogs, then horses bring it all out. The country thing, the class thing and the love that mainly doesn't speak its name except in Camden (horse love can get mightily homosexy). So it was always brilliant for Lloyds Bank to have a black horse logo, the most recognisable bank symbol by a mile and the most resonant. That black horse featured in their TV commercials throughout the 1980s. It must account for a fair bit of Lloyds TSB's market cap. We'd see that horse in silhouette on a hill and all sorts of atavistic things would happen. It didn't matter what they said about new services or interest rates. Until Guinness that is, when somebody else seemed to have taken a spectacular new stake in our inner horse.
So now, when Lloyds is back on-screen with a new black horse commercial that's rather smart, I'm not giving them quite the same credit. This particular black horse seems to be running against a photographic studio's white-out, in a blizzard of paper. Sort of clever. And the story is that Lloyds can do things for you online. You can get a lovely paperless loan. They're faster than anyone else. So you should switch to a bank that puts you first in the new world. And in the hi-tech, high-touch way of things, here's a gorgeous black horse to take you there.Reuse content