Rural idyll? You have to be joking

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The Independent Online

It would be quite wrong to suggest that people in the country laughed out loud and slapped their thighs at the news that seagulls have taken to attacking town-dwellers. Living with nature, we are aware of its ferocity. If a few rogue herring gulls have developed a taste for scalping innocent metropolitan types as they go about their shopping, then we are the first - well, the second anyway - to feel their pain.

It would be quite wrong to suggest that people in the country laughed out loud and slapped their thighs at the news that seagulls have taken to attacking town-dwellers. Living with nature, we are aware of its ferocity. If a few rogue herring gulls have developed a taste for scalping innocent metropolitan types as they go about their shopping, then we are the first - well, the second anyway - to feel their pain.

Country folk understand how this kind of thing can happen. You have to treat nature kindly but firmly; over-indulge any species - even the innocent-looking goldfinch - and it can lose its fear and turn ugly.

Tragically, those drifting aimlessly out of the towns seem not to understand that the countryside can be a rough, tough place. Having fallen for a Heartbeat/Vicar of Dibley view of rural life, they get a terrible shock when they arrive. Hardly a weekend goes by without one of the Sunday papers containing a tearful account from some nice middle-class couple who had left town in search of tranquillity, space for the kids and ruddy-faced neighbours, only to find boredom, development fever, and surly resentment towards incomers.

Not surprisingly, local estate agents tend to gloss over the perils of the countryside, so here, for those considering a great life-change, are just some of the dangers and disadvantages, man-made and natural, that await.

Boy racers. It is a weekend. You have come to the country to escape the noise and hassle of modern life, but - hark! - what is that sound, beyond the noise lawnmowers, strimmers and chainsaws? As it draws nearer, and a high-pitched engine and heavy rhythmic bass thud can be heard, blackbirds make panicky alarm calls from the hedge. A low-slung, wide-wheeled Golf races past, followed by a converted Escort. In each, there are four teenage boys, swigging at cans of beer, their cold eyes exuding anti-social attitudes. These are Boy Racers, a new rural phenomenon whose terrible deeds are recounted every week in the local press.

Swallows. You will be expected to look sad when country folk sorrowfully shake their heads at the decline in numbers of the swallow but, deep inside your urban soul, you will be cheering. Swallows, you have discovered to your cost, have signally failed to move with the times. For them, your lovely carport, with its oak timber frame, weatherboard finish and hipped roof, is simply a modern version of a cave. They fly in, full of fleas, start making a yukky nest out of mud in a corner and fly in and out, taking a massive dump on the roof of your Landcruiser as they go.

Developers. Rural attitudes to development depend largely on your particular perspective. Put simply, the formula is: I improve my property, you find a loophole in the planning guidelines, they ruin the countryside to make a quick buck. As a rule, the safest position, adopted by most ruralists, is to approve of what is now called "affordable housing" so long as it is nowhere near your house, while discreetly developing your own property like a farmer fattening up a pig for market.

Old Sixties Groups. Where have all the geriatric rockers gone? Gone to your local market town, every one. Just when you thought the love generation were safely tottering towards the Dungroovin' Retirement Home, here they are, playing down the road from where you live. When a gig by Marmalade or The Searchers is announced, there will be codgerly protests from locals worried about this new rock'n'roll which everyone is talking about. You should add your name to any petition that is put in front of you.

Duck tragedies. (Children should not read this paragraph.) Every summer, a series of more or less identical, heartbreaking stories appear in the local press. They tell how a proud mother duck was leading her brood across the main road when... tragedy struck. The heartless driver, seen speeding away from the scene of devastation, is almost always thought to be a Boy Racer.

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