Country pursuits

diary of a single woman; I had to spend all evening, dressed as a Red Indian, sitting out with two 80-year-old women with sticks
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The Independent Online
Why do the characters in Jilly Cooper's novels all seem to find partners so easily? Having read Riders, and now Rivals, which my daughter gave me for Christmas, I realise that I will probably not find a mate in urban life. I have been moving in the wrong circles. Arts and Books, as everyone knows, is peopled with gay men and desperate single women. Jilly Cooper's two novels are set in the country. I stayed awake every night last week finishing Rivals. Every character, no matter how physically unattractive, seems to end up with someone.

I spend some weekends in the country but am obviously not availing myself enough of the local talent. One Saturday, I found myself and the dog walking seven miles in aid of cancer research with a vigorous young countryman I had just met. I felt obliged to keep pace with him and we didn't even stop at the halfway mark for lemonade. His 11-year-old Labrador was panting very heavily. I was glad to see my dog - he has just had his 10th birthday - seemed able to keep up. At one moment, a dashing, slim, young horseman in a dark red jacket galloped past us. He raised his hat and I nearly swooned. My mind raced to Rupert Campbell-Black, callous heart-breaker and heart-throb, cad and Olympic showjumper of Jilly Cooper's books, endowed, as she delicately puts it, "like a cruise missile". Alas, I did not spot the handsome rider again, and when I returned to the car park, the young man who'd walked with me all that way was immediately embraced by his wife, who - on her horse - had, most of the time, been on a different route but had fetched up, miraculously, at the exact same moment as us.

Once you are divorced, the world seems peopled with couples. One is automatically thrust into the role of "the Woman we can't find a Spare Man for" or, more excitingly, "The Loose Woman, the Temptress". (I was banned from two New Year's Eve parties on both those grounds. At one, was a handsome man on his own whose wife was ill.)

I may have to take up riding, even hunting (before it is banned), to find a mate. A friend, whose parents live in a hunting area, assures me that hunting people, when not in wheelchairs due to hunting accidents, are constantly having affairs.

With this in mind, I accepted when a local landowner suggested I meet him on top of a hill on a horse. I borrowed one that was too small for me so I could easily fall off. After a muddle about the meeting place, I finally saw him, a distance below, vainly springing about on one foot, trying to mount his thoroughbred. During the ride, he mentioned, several times, an attractive, much younger woman who was about to have triplets but who had formerly shown boldness in riding one of his more dangerous horses. I did not feel I could compete unless I had an expensive course of riding lessons.

Certainly, country people seem physically more relaxed. But the country is also more conservative and, I fear, full of couples. At a barn dance I went to (it was Wild West costume), I had to spend all evening, dressed as a Red Indian, sitting out with two 80-year-old women with sticks. The barn was stacked wall-to-wall with couples dancing. No one asked me.

In Scotland, they seem more uninhibited, and more generous to the Single Woman, or perhaps the fancy-dress party I went to before Christmas was an exception. Dressed as Flora Macdonald, in a costume of clashing tartans, I danced three times with a charming stranger dressed as Robert the Bruce. Robust, heterosexual men approached me throughout the evening, disguised in turn as the Black Douglas, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Robert Knox. The next morning, I was informed of two messages on my hostess's answerphone, recorded around 5am, from a lady dressed as Mary Queen of Scots, asking where her husband was and accusing me of abducting him. (He was Robert the Bruce. Last seen dancing with me, he had then tried to walk home without a torch and fallen asleep in a hedge.)

I was excited to be cast - wrongly, yet again - in the role of the Temptress. But Mary Queen of Scots' frantic phone calls made me realise how difficult it is to be part of a couple. I remembered how, as a young woman, I had often stood on doorsteps waiting for my husband to finish his conversations. I recalled how, each time he got out of bed to pee, I had then insomnia.

I think of this past week, when, suffering from flu and a high temperature - my children weren't there - I had done exactly as I liked, in the small flat where I had lived as a young woman. I had stayed in bed, drank lemon and honey, eaten lychees, re-read bits of favourite novels, and worked on the word-processor. After three days, despite the flu, I realised I was in a state of bliss. When a friend came round with groceries, complaining that her boyfriend of two months had ditched her, I couldn't summon up much sympathy. When she insisted that surely it was more natural to want to be with a partner, I replied that I couldn't see why. If it was so "natural", why are so many people on their own?

I love being single, I said

`Ten men', by Elisa Segrave will be published by Faber and Faber on 7 April, priced pounds 10.99

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