A Country Life: High diversity in a low population area

You are an incomer here unless you can trace your association with the area back to the Crimean War. In Crouch End, it was the first Gulf War
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The Independent Online

For some people, moving out of the city to the country is tantamount to moving from Cape Canaveral to the moon. In other words, it's an exciting, exhilarating, life-changing prospect, but at the same time fraught with potential difficulties. How will you cope with the pressure change? What will it be like doing everything in slow motion? And will the Russians get there first?

For some people, moving out of the city to the country is tantamount to moving from Cape Canaveral to the moon. In other words, it's an exciting, exhilarating, life-changing prospect, but at the same time fraught with potential difficulties. How will you cope with the pressure change? What will it be like doing everything in slow motion? And will the Russians get there first?

Well, maybe that last question doesn't quite apply, but the others do. Moreover, there's no briefing quite as useful to an astronaut as the one from the guy who's been there, done that, got the moon rock. So before we left London I took so many soundings from people who had terminally pointed their Renault Espaces up the A10 or along the M4, that I began to feel like a Mori pollster.

Still, most of them met with soothing reassurance our overwhelming concern: where, in a region of England with a sheep-to-people ratio of about 1,000-1, would we find kindred spirits? In particular I remember the encouraging words of a friend, the documentary-maker Jane Treays, who had moved some six years earlier from Chiswick to Gloucestershire. She had made some wonderful friends in the country, she said, and they were in a way more life-enhancing than her London mates, because they were of all ages and backgrounds. Her metropolitan friends had been pretty homogenous: of the same age as her with same-age kids, same income bracket, same Divertimenti crockery.

The funny thing is, it's supposed to be the other way round. The city is supposed to be where diversity is, the countryside where everyone is stultifyingly similar. In racial terms, this is obviously true. There are no black or Asian kids at my children's school, and we suffered sharp pangs of liberal guilt at removing them from a multicultural environment, only to realise that we grew up in the overwhelmingly white provinces of the 1970s, and did not become racists or even Tories.

Otherwise, like Jane Treays we have found a more diverse group of friends since leaving London. It's amazing how this subject gets hackles rising. When I last wrote about it, I got a fierce letter from a woman who lives in Crouch End, where we moved from, saying that if we mixed only with people like ourselves in London N8 then we clearly should have got out more. Her local friends included a 22-year-old Latvian fire-eater and an 85-year-old Bengali seamstress.

Well, you can only write as you find. And what brings me back to this topic is a recent encounter at the home of our friends Shelagh and Jim, who will not mind my saying they are a few years more mature than we are, with some old friends of theirs, John and Mary.

I had been in London earlier that day, the day that all those supposed terrorists were arrested, and mentioned that I had felt slightly uneasy sitting on a crowded Tube on the Bakerloo line. John then recalled travelling on a mainline train with his mother, when he was a boy. It was wartime and the Luftwaffe had bombed the track ahead. The train was delayed for hours while the track was repaired. Nobody complained, they just gave thanks that the bomb had landed ahead of the train and not on it.

John didn't tell this story in the spirit of "think yourself lucky, sonny, when I was a lad ...", but it lent some perspective to our current anxieties, and again reinforced how useful it can be to have friends of all ages.

Still young blood

Another stark difference between the city and the country is what it takes to become a local. In our part of north Herefordshire, you are an incomer unless you can trace your association with the area back to the Crimean War, at the latest. In Crouch End, by contrast, there was no need for your antecedents to go back much beyond the first Gulf War. If you could remember when the Chinese takeaway had been a betting shop, you were a local.

But there are folk round here who remember not only the people who lived in our house before we moved in - and they were here for 23 years - but the people who lived here before them. The other day I phoned an electrician. When I gave him our address he said, "Blimey, I haven't been there since I was invited to a birthday party when I was seven, and I'm now 49. The reason I remember it is because I was dreadfully sick. I threw up all over the place."

We are looking forward to his visit in the hope that we can tease some more memories from him about the people who lived here; but in case he suffers a Pavlovian reaction we will also have a bucket handy.

Hold the sauce

We had honeymooners staying in one of our holiday cottages last weekend, so popped a few little extras into the usual welcome hamper, such as heart-shaped chocolates. We wondered whether to add the saucy pair of dice that somebody left under the bed last year, one of which is imprinted with parts of the body - feet, bottom, thigh etc - and the other with physical actions - kiss, lick, stroke etc. In the end we just went with the foodstuffs. "If it was me, I'd definitely prefer the chocolates," said my wife, but then we've been married for 11 years.

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