Brian Viner: A Country Life

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The Independent Online

The further one lives from London, the more one becomes aware of, and affronted by, the shameless Londoncentricity of the national media. Their tendency to assume that England, to all intents and purposes, means London, I suppose affords us country bumpkins a small taste of what it must be like to be a Scot, sporran aflame with indignation when the word "England" is used rather than "Britain". I recently spent an hour interviewing Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, and a man who exudes worldly sophistication from every pore, yet even he referred to "your recent English general election". I had to suppress a smile, knowing how some Scots of my acquaintance would have given him a fearful earful.

Brian Viner: A Country Life

The further one lives from London, the more one becomes aware of, and affronted by, the shameless Londoncentricity of the national media. Their tendency to assume that England, to all intents and purposes, means London, I suppose affords us country bumpkins a small taste of what it must be like to be a Scot, sporran aflame with indignation when the word "England" is used rather than "Britain". I recently spent an hour interviewing Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, and a man who exudes worldly sophistication from every pore, yet even he referred to "your recent English general election". I had to suppress a smile, knowing how some Scots of my acquaintance would have given him a fearful earful.

Some years ago, in a Highland pub, I stumbled into conversation with a man so conspicuously Scottish that he might have stepped off the lid of a shortbread tin. He had a shock of unruly ginger hair, wore a kilt, and the barmaid trilled "good evening, Angus" as he settled on his stool. I asked him if he had always lived in the area. "No, I lived abroad for six years," he growled. I asked him where. A hint of menace entered his expression. "Have ye ever heard," he said, "of a place called High Wycombe?"

I have often used that story as an example of the chippiness of some Scots, yet I can feel a similar kind of chippiness coming on, sometimes stirred even by this great newspaper. A few weeks ago it listed the 50 best places for breakfast in Britain and 31 of them - tragically, I counted - were in the capital. In fairness, The Independent has a strong metropolitan readership, and it could well be that 31 50ths of you live within striking distance of The Wolseley, Piccadilly, as I did myself until three years ago. Even so, I permitted myself a snort of displeasure.

Anyway, to redress the balance, I am going to start a campaign to show that the best eating in Britain is to be had in the Welsh Marches, not London. And that applies to birds as well as humankind. A friend of ours, Jenny, recently found a disorientated homing pigeon in her Herefordshire garden. Attached to its leg was a label with a phone number with an 0208 prefix; the owner lived in north London. When Jenny phoned him he explained that he had released the bird a few days earlier in the Lake District, and it had obviously lost its bearings. Could she please feed it, then take it a couple of miles down the road and release it?

She did as instructed, but the next morning the pigeon was outside her kitchen window, tapping plaintively on the glass with its beak. It obviously wanted more corn, which she supplied, before shooing it away before her cats could get at it. About an hour later, to her astonishment, she found the pigeon standing behind her, actually in the kitchen. Delighted with the quality of the grub, it had wandered through the back door in search of seconds.

This time she took it further afield, to Mortimer Forest near Ludlow, and set it free again. A couple of people walking their dog watched her do this, and when she told them what had happened, they said that the same experience had befallen them two years earlier. A pigeon, on its way to Greater London from Scotland, had wound up in their garden and they had repeatedly tried to send it on its way, taking it further and further each time, only for it to return repeatedly to them. In the end - and this is the bit of the story I love - they had sent it with Parcel Force.

Can you imagine the distress and humiliation a homing pigeon must feel as it is handed to its owner from the back of a Parcel Force van, its entire raison d'être demolished? On the other hand, it had at least had a seductive taste of life in what people hereabouts - especially those who have flown the metropolitan coop - like to call God's own country.

Tales of the Country, by Brian Viner (Simon & Schuster, £12.99) is on sale now

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