Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

This latter band occasionally try to remind us just how utterly swell it is to live in London, although, frankly, they're wasting their time. We need no reminding of the pleasures of living within ambling distance of a Greek grocer, a French confectioner or a Lebanese restaurant, or of trawling Time Out for any film that takes one's fancy, because we enjoyed them and we still miss them. It's just that we have a different set of pleasures now.

Not necessarily better, just different. And come to think of it, not necessarily different, either.

A few weeks ago, I got a text message from a mate, informing me that he was having a fabulous evening at an Elvis Costello concert at Kenwood House, beside Hampstead Heath, with a few friends and a lavish picnic. It was perhaps ungenerous or even paranoid of me, but I couldn't help thinking that there was a subtext message, namely: "You'd have been here, too, if you hadn't moved to the middle of nowhere, to that Costello-less land within sight of the Brecon Beacons."

Anyway, I texted him straight back, cheerfully writing: "Bet there's enough hummus there to sink the Ark Royal". I know what those Kenwood concerts are like. I resisted the temptation to add that, the following weekend, we, too, were going picnicking at an outdoor concert, in the grounds of Ludlow Castle to boot, an arena even more splendid than Kenwood. Besides, I didn't want to introduce a competitive element: after all, the Ludlow Castle concert was not Costello, still less Dylan or Clapton, but the Abba tribute band Björn Again. "Oh God, how provincial!" I could imagine them sneering at Kenwood. "Stuffed vine leaf, anyone?"

For the record, we had a wonderful evening at Ludlow Castle. The concert traditionally brings the curtain down on the excellent Ludlow Festival, and in a way, the headline act is incidental (although I'm not ashamed to say that Björn Again were splendid, and that I sashayed to "Dancing Queen" very nearly uninhibitedly).

Moreover, this was followed by a firework display as spectacular as any I've ever seen, certainly, ahem, more spectacular than the Bonfire Night extravaganza at Alexandra Palace that we used to watch from our bedroom in Crouch End. At the end, as the smoke plumed up from the battlements into a clear night sky, it was illuminated by red light, which made it look as though the castle had been torched by marauding medieval chieftains. Or was it just that my imagination had been ignited by Björn Again's rendition of "Fernando"?

Whatever, our picnic would certainly not have disgraced Kenwood, and there was probably enough hummus within the castle walls to account for the Graf Spee, if not the Ark Royal.

Incidentally, I love that English habit of glancing at neighbouring picnics to see whether theirs is better than yours. One or two passers-by were actually moved to comment on the magnificence of our spinach quiche, while I confess to gazing longingly at a handsome raspberry pavlova being carefully divided up by a busty woman wearing Abba-inspired satin. Maybe this business of us all obsessing about the virtues of city over country, or country over city, is a magnified version of the same thing. It's natural to be bothered by the thought that someone else is enjoying their picnic more.

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