Claudia Winkleman: Take It From Me

'I've got to drive 30 miles to a garage forecourt for a pint of non-UHT milk. If this is the country, I ain't coming back' 'If this is the countryside, I ain't coming back. It's so NOISY. And friendly? Not a bit of it. And as for the food...'
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The Independent Online

Things I was brought up to believe: eating broccoli makes you strong; wearing pink and red together is a no-no; sleeping with a boy on a first date means they'll never call you again; Rod Stewart is a rock god; and the countryside is a quiet, stress-free place to live.

I've always thought these to be absolute truths, the non-negotiable facts of life. I've avoided pink and red, I've made boys wait so long that by the time I'm ready, they're married (to someone else) and I quite like broccoli. I've never really been a country girl, however. When I was 10 I was the only one in my class who didn't daydream about ponies; I've regularly dumped boyfriends three minutes after the suggestion of a "weekend break"; and when a good TV job required I spend two weeks walking in the Lake District, I faked a sprained ankle and a fear of heights.

Now lots of my friends have moved to "greener pastures" opting for a life of gardening gloves and good local schools. They occasionally pop down to London to show off about their cheaper and simpler way of life. They poked fun at my old top-floor flat on a main road ("No outside space? She has to be kidding!"), they chortled at the pollution levels in my area and tut-tutted when I assured them that a nearby patch of yellow grass surrounded by concrete is all me and the kids need. They moan about the congestion charge and promise never to move back.

I'm fed up with feeling like the odd- one-out, so instead of renting a very expensive hovel in London while our new place in town (yes, it's still on a main road and there's still no garden) is being painted, me, husband, toddler and brand new baby have set up home in a shire. We're here for five weeks and we're currently six days in.

I assumed we'd be spending a month picking raspberries, fishing for tadpoles and drinking homemade apple juice, and even stopped off at Cath Kidston on the way to buy a bright red picnic basket and some gingham fabric.

I was mistaken. We're living in a hut (I'm not being modest - Thumbelina would get claustrophobic) in a field. The first thing I noticed about the countryside is just how NOISY it is. There's always a tractor rumbling somewhere, the birds are deafening at 5am and the sheep never stop gassing. If that wasn't enough it seems I picked a field near an RAF base. Jets are continuously doing fly-bys outside our windows. The new baby cries at the all-new sounds (she loved the hum of double-decker buses), and I've had to buy earplugs.

Then there's the food problem. Thinking that we'd be surrounded by farmers' markets, I decided not to stock up on organic chicken breasts and spaghetti sauce. Now I've got to drive 30 miles to a garage for a pint of non-UHT milk and am considering taking the bus to London to get some fresh, good meat. Everything in the local shops is shrink-wrapped from New Zealand and there is absolutely no sign of a man wearing tweed, selling chutney. Islington was crammed with people in flat caps selling freshly made crumbles. Something has gone awry.

Have town and country swapped? My London dentist room is full of copies of Country Life. We all talk about where to get the freshest bunch of asparagus, and we wear jodhpurs to the pub. In the countryside they listen to banging house music, get stressed about local cabs running late and wear high heels to the village for a quick St Tropez spray tan.

Then there's the community side of things. I was led to believe that I'd be part of the village in no time. I was looking forward to making new friends and thought I'd invite anyone I met round for tea. My urban to rural migratory friends never stop talking about the delights found in a village atmosphere. I'm used to living in a metropolis housing 10 million inhabitants but I know the local hairdresser, the woman who plays the bassoon from across the road, and the kids from the nearby school always wave hello.

I'm now living near a village of seven but I swear I've never seen the same person twice. And friendly? Not a bit. It seems if my great-grandmother wasn't born on the steps outside the church then I'm nothing but an intruder.

If the noise and the weird food problem didn't bother me then there are the insects. I've seemingly moved to the set of Arachnophobia. It's a particular shame as I do have an unhealthy fear of spiders. Here they're enormous, angry, and everywhere. I've vacuumed, I've sprayed weird citrus-smelling stuff and I've pleaded with them to go but they're just not budging. The flies swarm around our fridge and the daddy-longlegs just arch their long, quivering legs and wait to pounce. After a particularly bad sighting I ran into the garden to shriek and was confronted by a bat. Thinking it was going to get tangled in my hair and scratch my eyes out, I ran back in and saw a large mouse sitting on the sofa casually eating the remainder of my Mini BabyBel.

So I've got four weeks and one day left. And that's it. If this is the country, I ain't coming back. The next time I want a stress-free wilderness moment surrounded by little market stalls manned by smiling friendly people you'll find me listening to Rod Stewart, fishing for tadpoles in Camden Lock.

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