True Gripes: Rural retreat: Peace in the country? Get away]

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Not unusually for an inner city dweller (I live in a third floor flat just off Portobello Rd), I haven't a garden. Instead I have a couple of meagre window boxes, half-filled with pansies and marigolds, and a panoramic view of low-rise council blocks. As a bonus, there's that incessant urban disturbance - reggae/ragga throbbing up from downstairs, police sirens, cars . . .

Hence, my recurring dream during the current heatwave has been to immerse myself in sun-kissed meadows, to sip gin and tonics in country pubs, to wander peacefully along woodland paths and, most important, to savour the silence of the countryside.

First stop was a friend with a cottage and garden in Glastonbury. We basked in the sun, the Tor in the distance, foxgloves all around and cool white wine at our fingertips. It was almost heaven - except for the non-stop yelping of the poodles next door and the twin babies who yelled at 4pm precisely every day. Oh dear, my country dream was already slightly tainted.

Still hopeful, I tried another friend's wonderful renovated chapel in a village in Somerset. Initially I thought I'd found it. There was her carefully cultivated medieval garden and the ice-cold gin and tonics in the pub overlooking rolling hills. I even slept undisturbed by traffic. Until a loud rap on the door. At 6am. A haughty woman in a blue polo neck was on the step demanding in no uncertain terms that I move my car because her gigantic removal van had arrived. There was no polite interchange, just rude instructions, the myth of cosy country neighbourliness shattered.

Another weekend, a friend introduced me to the Chilterns. Again my expectations rose - this was to be my escape from London. Of course, there was the horrible traffic jam on the A40, but once I got there my city stress would instantly fade away, wouldn't it?

Turvil is a quaint village with all the obligatory rose-covered cottages. We even found a lovely meadow on the overlooking hill. The only problem was the sound of spluttering, angry engines filling the skies. Microlights] Tranquillity had evaded me again.

Finally, I needed a drink. The pub had closed its doors at the traditional time, but down the road I spotted one with the lights on. Hope filled my heart and disintegrated, as a cross, red-faced publican explained that they were definitely not open. Except for him and his mates, that is.

Suddenly, the inner city took on a new hue. Portobello Road seemed like bliss: pubs open all day, noisy but non-intrusive neighbours, all those window boxes and hanging baskets. Who needs the countryside?