Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

About seven years ago, when we still lived in London N8 but had started flirting with the idea of moving out, we nearly bought an old farmhouse just outside Macclesfield.

Then, with the purchase price agreed and buyers for our house in Crouch End in place, we got cold feet. It wasn't so much that we didn't want to live in Cheshire - although we had decided we didn't - but more that we felt that London still had loads to offer us.

And, for about two more years, until the cold feet got itchy again, whenever we did something enjoyably metropolitan, like a family lunch in Chinatown, or a play at the National Theatre, Jane and I had what we called a "Macclesfield moment" - a fleeting stab of relief that we had seen the light and stayed in the city.

The funny thing is that here in rural north Herefordshire we now talk about having "not-very-N8" moments. These, however, are slightly different, inspired not by a stab of relief that we saw the light and left the city, but more by the recognition that if our many friends in north London could see us now, it would either be with bemusement, or with a chuckle at our expense.

Or, in the case of the not-very-N8 moment I had recently, with horror. I walked into a pub near Ledbury one evening with a mate, and he saw a group of six blokes, most of whom he knew. They invited us to join them, which we did. They were a companionable bunch, and seemed like kindred spirits. I got on particularly well with one engagingly smiley guy, whom I'll call Bill.

Then, somehow or other, the conversation moved from sport to politics. David Cameron was too left-wing for many mainstream Tory voters and risked driving them into the arms of the British National Party, somebody ventured. I listened with interest. "The BNP's the way forward," said Bill. Curiously, my response was to laugh. I thought he was joking. Then it became clear he wasn't. "Multiculturalism doesn't work," he added.

My heart started pounding. I had never met a BNP voter before, still less shared a thus-far convivial evening with one. In my naive mind's eye, they were all heavily tattooed and bullet-headed, but Bill was a respectable-looking professional man of about 45. It turned out that he didn't know anyone in the group either, and had been brought along by his friend Dick, who quietly counselled him to drop the subject. "Don't start," Dick muttered. "You don't really know these people."

(Later, as I drove home mulling the evening over, it struck me as heartening that Bill had been advised to keep quiet because he didn't know the company he was in. On the other hand, that somehow made it all the more sinister. After all, there was a time, in the cafés of the Weimar Republic, when it was dangerous for Hitler to be overheard. Maybe Dick was a BNP sympathiser, too.)

A fleeting silence descended on the table. Into it I said, with as much scorn as I could muster: "What do you know about multiculturalism?" Bill looked at me. The smile had faded. "Only that it doesn't work," he said, flatly. And that was it. That was my attempt at confronting a man of the Far Right. It was a pretty poor show, really, and in the car on the way home I thought of all the things I should have said, and about how "not-very-N8" it had been. Not very Herefordshire either, I should add, although it's often in monocultural areas that multiculturalism is perceived as an evil.

Anyway, I had a more wholesome not-very-N8 moment the next day. I saw a ewe stranded on its back in the field next to our house, and where once I would have called the farmer, now I am sufficiently versed in country matters to deal with such situations myself. I climbed over the stile and manfully hauled the creature the right way up, knowing that on its back its organs would quickly pack up and it would die. A similar sort of thing happens to political parties struggling to find their feet, but the BNP, alas, is not one of them.

'Tales of the Country', by Brian Viner, is out in paperback (Simon & Schuster, £7.99)