Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

Even now, nearly three years after settling in north Herefordshire, with nigh on 200 newspaper columns and a book behind me recording more pleasures than pitfalls in country living, with our children happily settled in excellent schools, with a new repertoire of skills, including the underrated ability to turn a sheep stranded on its back the right way up ... even now, I am frequently asked whether I ever regret moving out of London.

Even now, nearly three years after settling in north Herefordshire, with nigh on 200 newspaper columns and a book behind me recording more pleasures than pitfalls in country living, with our children happily settled in excellent schools, with a new repertoire of skills, including the underrated ability to turn a sheep stranded on its back the right way up ... even now, I am frequently asked whether I ever regret moving out of London.

Sometimes I wonder what I have to do to show I have no regrets, nor ever have had. Jane and I have fretted about plenty of other things, such as whether we should have moved to quite such a scantily populated part of England's most scantily populated county, and whether we should have landed ourselves with quite such a high-maintenance property, and, indeed, how it is that sheep do end up on their backs ... but never about whether we should have stayed in Crouch End.

Moreover, if there had, in some remote nook of our minds, lingered one last atom of doubt, it would have been eradicated by our visit to the capital the weekend before last. Not that we didn't have a nice time.

On the contrary, we had the nicest time imaginable. On Friday we had dinner with 12 of our dearest London friends, and the following morning took the children on the amphibious wartime vehicle known as the Duck, which was simply fantastic, especially when it plunged into the Thames without us having told the kids that it would. Then we had lunch at Pizza Express on Abbey Road, pausing en route to marvel at the loony Beatles graffiti outside the Abbey Road Studios.

That evening, with the kids dotted around N8 on sleepovers, Jane and I went to see a highly entertaining play at the National Theatre called Theatre of Blood, and afterwards had steak frites at Chez Gerard. A capital day in more ways than one. Marvellous.

Even driving around London was fun. You don't see many people when driving around Herefordshire, which rather limits opportunities for playing one of my favourite car-journey games. This involves me inventing stories about the pedestrians we pass - or, in London, the pedestrians who pass us - for the children's delectation. While sitting in a monstrous tailback on Finchley Road, I spotted a tall, skinny woman wearing a white tracksuit. I told the kids she was going to a fancy-dress party as a snowflake, and was just about to elaborate, when Jane murmured, sotto voce, but not quite sotto enough: "She looks more like a tampon."

Unfortunately, she had temporarily forgotten that we now have an 11-year-old daughter who is just becoming aware of such things. "Mummy!" exclaimed Eleanor, pretending to be outraged. This ignited the interest of 10-year-old Joseph, who said "What's a tampon?" After a moment's hesitation, Jane decided to rise to the challenge and produced one from her handbag. "This is a tampon," she said. "Can I taste it?" asked six-year-old Jacob, who has a fairly one-dimensional view of the world, and believes that anything in attractive packaging must be edible.

Anyway, this gave us all a good laugh - which brings me to my point: that Finchley Road tailbacks can be fun and even educational, as long as you don't have to suffer them too often. Similarly, London is an absolutely wonderful city in which to take a thrilling tour on a 60-year-old amphibious truck in the morning, and go to a first-rate play in the evening. Obviously, you don't have to be a visiting bumpkin to do these things, yet as metropolitans, with supermarket visits and swimming lessons and whatnot to get on with at weekends, we hardly ever did.

It is only since leaving London that our kids have been on the London Eye, visited the Houses of Parliament, skated at Somerset House ... all of which adds up to one good reason why I don't regret leaving Crouch End. Another is that we were all truly happy, on a balmy Sunday evening, with the sun setting over the Brecon Beacons, to get back to the sticks.

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

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