Brian Viner: 'One friend thought we were evoking Livingstone by moving to Crouch End' Holmfirth'

Home And Away

Tuesday 25 February 2014 02:59
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There is a new series on Channel Five called Build A New Life in the Country, which interests us because that is what we did. It will be seven years next month since we moved from north London to north Herefordshire, and I duly sat down to watch the first programme in the series, on Monday evening, with the keen eye of an old hand, assuming that an old hand can have a keen eye.

Instead of being reminded of our early experiences of rural life, however, I was swept back even further, to my first few days at university. I arrived there having deferred the rest of my education to work in Paris for 12 months, on what is now known as a gap year.

In 1980 this was virtually unheard-of at my northern grammar school, so I unpacked my belongings in my hall of residence feeling worldlier than thou, only to have my delusions shattered as soon as I met my fellow first-year students, most of whom had attended public schools in the south of England, and all of whom had experienced a gap year far more interesting than mine, working for Jimmy Carter's re-election campaign or for Mother Teresa in Calcutta, or travelling across the Gobi desert on a camel, or looking after the elephants in a Hungarian circus. Carrying suitcases in a Paris hotel suddenly seemed like pretty small bière.

Thus it was on Monday with Build A New Life in the Country. Jane and I had considered ourselves rather intrepid to uproot ourselves and our children from an Edwardian terrace in Crouch End to a rambling old house surrounded by farmland, but compared with the couple in the programme we took no risks at all.

They moved into a derelict farmhouse high on the fells overlooking Holmfirth in Yorkshire, and – this is the bit that makes us look weedy – decided to establish a vineyard. Undeterred by minor details such as adverse latitude and altitude, not to mention their complete lack of experience, they planted 7,000 vines on a hillside, confidently expecting a yield of 30,000 bottles a year, and blithely saying "it's not rocket science, is it?"

There's no arguing with that, although it might be easier to launch a space shuttle than to produce a palatable Chateau de Holmfirth. On which subject, unless I missed it, nobody in the programme made even a fleeting reference to Holmfirth's status as the location for Last of the Summer Wine. Maybe they thought it was just too obvious.

Anyway, just as hardly anyone at my school went abroad on a gap year, leaving me feeling like Phileas Fogg for doing so, so nobody among our friends in London N8 ever moved to the country, making us feel as brave and adventurous as the Swiss Family Robinson at least until we were reminded that some people really throw caution to the winds, moving from the city to set up home on remote Hebridean islands, or Papua New Guinea, or indeed on a vineyard near Holmfirth.

On the other hand, we have one London friend who thought we were evoking Livingstone and Stanley simply by moving to Crouch End in the first place. He lives in Westminster and treats even the northern side of Marylebone Road like the far bank of the Orinoco. Everything's relative.

And on the subject of the metropolitan mindset, I'm sure my friend Sian, who lives in Muswell Hill, London N10, won't mind me relating the following story, which reads almost like a modern morality tale. Or perhaps a modern locality tale.

In search of a reliable double-buggy for her baby daughter and toddler son, Sian decided to save some money by shopping on eBay. Eventually she bid successfully for a buggy being sold by someone with an NE65 postcode, and it simply never occurred to her that this placed the seller anywhere but north-east London.

She arranged to pick it up, expecting to travel only slightly beyond Walthamstow at worst, only to find that NE stands for Newcastle. Still, in for a penny, in for a pound. She booked return rail tickets to Newcastle, then phoned the seller and found that NE65 is actually Morpeth, some distance north of Newcastle. In the end, she, her partner Paul and their two kids took the train, and because the return journey was too much of a stretch in one day, rented an apartment for the night. The double-buggy ended up costing them some distance north of £300.

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