Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

My old mate Chris is marrying his lovely girlfriend Sarah on Saturday, which on its own is cause for great celebration, but for us there is an added frisson of excitement because the wedding is taking place in a diddy place called Llantilio Crossenny, which is bang on the Offa's Dyke trail. Indeed, it would not be surprising if Sarah is preceded up the aisle of the church by a stout-booted couple wearing his'n'hers cagoules.

Whatever, Llantilio Crossenny is about half way between Monmouth and Abergavenny and therefore - here's the exciting bit - scarcely an hour's drive from our house! It is strangely satisfying to know that almost everyone else, including the bride and groom, will be making a longer journey than us. To attend gatherings of relatives and old friends, we're normally the ones who have to set off at the crack of dawn.

This time, however, while most of the other guests are hammering along the M4, we will be treating ourselves to a leisurely home-cooked breakfast before casually pointing the Volvo down the A49, albeit that it will then have to negotiate the A465, the B4347 and several miles of country lanes that look daunting even on my AA Concise Road Atlas.

Perhaps, on reflection, we should allow a couple of hours. But I'm damned if I'm going to forego my leisurely breakfast. I might even leave some scrambled egg on my chin, just so they know, all those sophisticates who've had to leave East Dulwich at 7am, with hardly enough time to dust the tops of their lattes with cinnamon at the services near Reading.

You probably think that I'm making too much of this, and I probably am. But you can get over-sensitive living in the sticks. Not long ago we had some London friends staying with us, and on a walk through Mortimer Forest we met some Herefordshire friends, to whom we introduced them.

"Can you see yourselves doing what Brian and Jane did, moving out of London?" asked our Herefordshire friends, guilelessly. "OH NO!" cried our London friends in perfect and unnecessarily loud unison. "WE LOVE VISITING BUT WE COULD NEVER LIVE HERE. THE CHILDREN WOULD HATE IT!!! WE'D HATE IT!!!" "Don't mind us," muttered Jane, but they didn't hear her, so busy were they practically vomiting at the thought of living more than 100 miles away from Hyde Park Corner.

Maybe it's partly my fault, or at any rate the fault of newspaper columns such as this and Victoria Summerley's across the page there. Weekly chronicles of this family's existence in the country or that family's life in the city have doubtless helped to fuel a peculiarly modern phenomenon: the nagging feeling that the human condition might be a little improved if you (delete as appropriate) lived next to a field full of grazing bullocks/a Thai restaurant.

Paradoxically, I can't get het up about the subject myself. I don't particularly want to live in London again but I know that if we'd stayed there we'd still be perfectly happy. There are many wonderful things about city life, and many drawbacks about living in the country. For us, however, country life works better. I like the fact that I have just watched a pair of buzzards circling over our couple of acres of woodland more than I am troubled by the absence, within less than half a day's walk, of a convenience store selling a medium-sliced loaf. But of course it's an invidious comparison to draw. After all, you can't make a sandwich out of a buzzard, not unless you're Ray Mears.

The point is, it's absurd to get competitive about these things. So absurd that I'm going to leave the subject altogether and tell you about those buzzards. I never knew, until I heard them calling each other just now, that buzzards have a high-pitched plaintive cry. It sounds all wrong coming from such a macho bird, but it happens in sport, too; the hardest and most pugnacious guys often have the silliest voices. Alan Ball and Graham Thorpe spring to mind, and apparently WG Grace talked like Joe Pasquale. I'd never have been able to compare a buzzard with WG Grace if I'd stayed in the city, but as you know, I really don't want to get competitive.

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