Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

A man from Lewisham, staying in one of our holiday cottages last week, expressed great misgivings at being asked to park his car in the little car park on the other side of the clocktower. He wanted to leave it directly outside Yewtree Cottage for, he said, security reasons.

I assured him that he could leave it in the car park with the doors open, the keys in the ignition and a note saying "Please steal me", and it would still be there in the morning. He didn't believe me.

But this is a story not of a city-dweller struggling to adjust to country ways, but of a country bumpkin grappling with life in the city. On the Friday of my first week reporting on the tennis at Wimbledon last month, I finished my report and scurried across Wimbledon Park golf course back to my lodgings. I was staying, as regular readers will recall, with my sister-in-law Jackie and her family. But I had been given the Saturday off and that weekend was due to meet up with my dear wife and children at Center Parcs, the upmarket holiday camp next to Longleat wildlife park.

I hadn't seen them for the best part of a week and was keen to join them on the Friday night rather than the Saturday, but I didn't leave the All- England Club media centre until 6.25pm and the last direct train to Warminster, the nearest station to Center Parcs, left Waterloo at 7.18pm.

Allowing for a 15-minute scurry back to Jackie's to get my stuff, a further 10 minutes to get to Wimbledon station, perhaps 10 minutes waiting for the next train to Waterloo, and then 15 minutes to get there, that would leave three minutes to get off the Wimbledon train and on to the Warminster train. It was touch and go.

It was also, needless to add, a searingly hot day. By the time I got to Jackie's I was sweating buckets, and by the time I got to Wimbledon station I was sweating water butts. I would have taken my weekend stuff to the All- England Club except for the fact that the Gillette Mach 3 Turbo razor nestling in my washbag would have set off a major security alert, possibly involving armoured vehicles. And the line "What do you think I'm going to do with it, shave Justine Henin-Hardenne's armpits?" - which I might have felt tempted to utter - would probably have landed me in chokey.

So there I was at Wimbledon station, pacing up and down willing the Waterloo train to arrive, which finally it did just before seven. By the time lots of hot and sweaty passengers were disgorged on to the platform at the other end, there was one notably hotter and sweatier than the rest. I had the three minutes originally anticipated to catch the Warminster train, but first I bumped into just about every one of the millions of people swarming like flies, of whom the Kinks sang so hauntingly in "Waterloo Sunset".

I caught the 7.18 to Warminster by the skin of my teeth, and settled into my seat with the sweat now cascading off me. As is obligatory in all British train compartments during a heatwave, the air conditioning had broken down or wasn't there in the first place. So I was still sweating 15 minutes later, as the train began to slow down to make its first stop.

To my disbelief, a row of signs announced "Wimbledon". It simply hadn't occurred to me that I might be able to catch a direct train to Warminster from Wimbledon and save myself the stressful journey into central London.

It was further confirmation, just a couple of weeks after I had effortlessly terminated the life of an ailing chicken, that I am now a fully fledged country hick. As a city dweller, I could never have broken a chicken's neck; as a country dweller, I find myself befuddled by London.

Still, at least I saw the funny side. Indeed, for the chap in the next seat, the misfortune of rubbing shoulders with the Incredible Sweating Man was now compounded by an outburst of slightly crazed laughter. "Why do they always sit next to me?" I could hear him thinking.