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Victoria Summerley: An everyday tale of disgruntled countryfolk


There is a new class struggle in Britain today. Never mind working man and landed toff, or the mutual distrust of socialist and socialite. It is rus versus urbe.

Victims of this divide are epitomised by two women, one real, one fictional. The first is Liz Jones, the columnist who has upset the West Country with, among many things, her uncharitable description of countryfolk as toothless oiks.

The second is Vicky, newcomer to Ambridge in the The Archers, who riles everyone with her insensitivity and deplorable taste in sequins.

Whereas Jones has moaned about the countryside since alighting on Exmoor, Vicky is determined to make friends, join in and become, if not a pillar, at least a rustic pergola in the community. Yet both are the focus of local dislike.

Moving to the country is fraught with pitfalls. In the city one's landscape changes almost daily thanks to building works, and neighbours come and go with astonishing regularity. If you want to escape people, you hop on a bus or train and find a coffee shop in another part of town.

In the country, the bus comes a few times a week and the train was probably axed in the Sixties by Beeching. The landscape changes with the seasons and people tend not to move house so much. Once a social schism arises, there is, to be literal, no getting away from it.

The consequences are drearily predictable: allegations of ignorant townies trying to impose their views; second-home owners buying up all the available housing stock.

We urban types are to blame for much of this. We see the country as a verdant Disneyland, full of lambs, daisy-strewn meadows and thatched cottages. We think life in the country is like Country Life.

We fail to see that it is a serious business, involving muddy tractors, cockerels, sileage and pig farms. There isn't much room for sentiment, be it Vicky's nauseating references to "moo-cows", or Jones feeding organic muesli to the rats.

Jones, of course, has made her life's work the creation of dosh out of discontent. There is another side to it, however. I bet a lot of that dosh goes to the local community in one way or another. Likewise, Vicky has put capital into new husband Mike's dairy venture. While incoming people are vilified, incoming money never seems to be acknowledged.

You don't hear from the previous owners of all those second homes, who doubtless made a tidy profit on their shambolic barns and farmhouses. No, it would spoil the image of the rural man or woman as someone who battles the elements to make a living from the land, someone who is at one with nature – until they get out the pesticide.

It's not just townies who have a romantic view of the countryside.