Leader: An everyday tale of non-country folk

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The Independent Online
For 20 years no middle-aged, middle-class discussion has been complete without a "flight to the country" tale. Henry and Dinah tired of the dirt, crime and general aggravation of city-dwelling. They wanted their children to grow up close to fields and cows and other naturey things. For the price of their dingy terrace house, with its postage-stamp garden, they have bought a treasure two miles outside Stowmarket. Dinah has restocked the orchard and mastered the Aga, Henry can get to work in the City in just an hour using the M11. The local school seems very good. Oh, and raspberries in Stowmarket are just pounds 1.30 a punnet.

But now, according to today's report by London Residential Research, Henry and Dinah are going back again. The country has palled, urban life exerts its fascination once more. Over the past couple of years, folk have started to flock back to the cities. Why?

For a start, there is absolutely nothing to do. If jam-making and point- to-points do not grip, then time hangs heavy on your hands. Village life itself is a strange combination of nosiness and unfriendliness. The orchard takes a vast amount of work and produces two rather sour apples and a wasps' nest. Dinah spends hours every day in the car ferrying the kids to school and to their friends. Henry reckons on getting caught up in at least one appalling traffic jam a week. And you can go off raspberries.

Is their return a good thing? Yes, and not just because it stops those Henry and Dinah stories. In the first place, the fewer people there are in the countryside, the better it looks and the more we appreciate it. The exact reverse is true for cities, which are sad, neglected places if too many inhabitants move out. The country ought to be quiet and tedious, the city should be crowded and vibrant.

It is also good because it is more optimistic. The urge to run away and sequester ourselves from our fellows is essentially antisocial. It is little wonder that the worst examples of long-running neighbours' feuds occur where the people concerned have gone to get away from others. Cities, by their nature, require a tolerance and a willingness to rub along together. That is why the city says welcome back, Henry and Dinah, and the country says good riddance.