Terence Blacker: Confessions of a rural porn star

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The Independent Online

Hardly a weekend goes by these days without the appearance of at least one newspaper feature in which some ex-metropolitan announces that he or she had moved to the country and had found it all a terrible disappointment. The shops are far away. There are great big, roaring machines driving through cornfields. The air smells of cow-poo. Dinner-party conversation revolves around discussions about compost heaps.

Like most people who live in the country, I feel nothing but relief when yet another family of soft-skinned ninnies goes scurrying back to Chiswick, but this month I am experiencing the tiniest twinge of guilt. The escape-to-the-country crowd have very often fallen for an adman's version of pastoral life plugged by early-evening TV shows and rural lifestyle magazines. It is in one of these publications, Country Living, that the house where I live briefly plays a small part in the fantasy.

My moment of vanity and weakness had occurred two years ago when I was feeling rather proud of a recently built house and - a peculiarly feeble excuse, I admit - had a book to promote. Over 10 hours or so, a stylist and photographer moved in to give my place the Country Living treatment.

It was an odd experience becoming a lifestyle feature. The stylist set to work, transforming the prevailing scruffiness into shabby chic. Furniture was moved around. A charming breakfast scene was set up in the kitchen, at the centre of which was a plate bearing three greengages in a perfect line. Flowers were added, boots which were suitably rustic (yet not inappropriately muddy) were left with studied casualness under desks. Objects deemed to be interestingly rural - walking sticks, flowerpots, watering cans - were deployed in a suitably arty fashion. By some miracle of design, the place was transformed into a colour supplement version of my life, without the mess, confusion and general shapelessness that makes it mine.

Seeing the results in the magazine is both flattering and faintly depressing. The house looks good, thanks to clever photography and fancy lighting, but it also is remarkably similar to virtually every other house in this kind of feature. It has "weathered charm", exposed beams, antiques which "give the illusion of age". The dining-room (or kitchen as it known around here) is "flooded with light". Throughout, "a palette of muted paint colours and pale wooden flooring add to the air of tranquillity."

Yet even Dodger the cat, who tragically is not around to see himself as the centrepiece of the feature, seems somehow less himself in this glossy, sun-bathed domestic paradise.

Looking at it with the eye of an outsider, one might think that one could almost live in this house if it were not for a certain naff self-consciousness. It is the sort of place which Hazel Blears would like to have as a weekend retreat. It represents the acceptable face of rural life, the countryside-lite, a place where the sun is always beaming through the kitchen window, and where, if something is cracked or broken , it is always in an attractively charming way.

This seductive but faintly fraudulent view of the countryside may be what urbanites dream about as they strap-hang their way home on a crowded Tube train, but it is a sort of rural porn and should perhaps contain a health warning to explain that, in the real country, there are no stylists, that the air of tranquillity is as passing and occasional as it is in the suburbs. Country living is, in fact, incomparably more mucky and interesting than any version presented in a lifestyle feature.

You don't have to be dyspraxic...

Speaking in court for the future Viscount Scarsdale, a 19-year-old who nicked £117,533 off a pensioner, the defence lawyer Mandeep Sehmi explained that his client suffered from dyspraxia, a condition which made logical thought impossible under stress. The lad's ambition was to be a barrister.

Non-lawyers might wonder whether Mr Sehmi was himself having a dyspraxic moment, but those in the legal profession will know there is nothing odd in this argument. On the same day that the light-fingered law student was found guilty, it was reported that a solicitor in Sunderland had protested at new security measures by dropping his trousers at the main entrance to the court and inviting staff to search him.

A talent for showing off is now more expected of lawyers than dreary old logical thought. The Scarsdale boy should not give up his dreams of one day wearing a wig.

* No contest for the week's most depressingly predictable show-business news: ITV is to screen a dramatised version of John Prescott's affair with his secretary. Announcing what he chose to call "a sassy audience-grabber", a spokesman for the network, which is surely now the laughing-stock of British television, promised a "full and frank" treatment of the deputy prime minister's story, covering not only his love life but his two jags, his croquet and the day he once punched someone.

Has TV drama ever been this bad? As the embarrassing, unfunny drama recounting David Blunkett's problems showed, these exploitative drama-docs are never revealing and are amusing only in a crass, unkind way. Media bullying at its worst, they like nothing better than to hitch a free publicity ride from the public misfortunes of politicians, particularly those who offer the comic bonus to lazy writers of being blind or working class.

terblacker@aol.com

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