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Attention countryphiles: we are not all countrymaniacs.


EACH YEAR YOU read articles in the Sunday supplements recounting peoples’ experiences selling up their million-pound hovels in London and moving to mansion-sized houses out in the sticks, all in the desire to get out of the rat race and reconnect with Nature or whatever. Then they find they have to make a hundred mile round trip to get some tofu, broadband is still at dial-up speeds, wifi is as reliable as the daily weather report, public transport is often non-existent, and there aren’t many high-flying jobs available if their career goes belly up. And, surprise surprise, locals don’t care for moaners.

One journalist, Liz Jones, seems to have made a living out of her dreadful experiences, first of all complaining about the West Country and more recently about Swaledale in Yorkshire. Liz is the type of townie who, despite all the evidence of her senses, refuses to acknowledge that the country is a business, one that involves mud, muck, farm machinery, large numbers of wild and domestic animals, death, slaughter and butchery. The countryside is also no place for the vegetarian or, God forbid, the vegan, unless they’re into masochism as well.

BBC’s Countryfile, or Towniefile (or Countryfool even) exemplifies what some bucolic discontents on Twitter call it, this rather urban view of rural life, one that is devoid of the sexism, cruelty and loneliness Liz Jones finds there. The programme “should be about the great stories of the country’s farmers,” says Jono Dixon, a farmer from East Yorkshire, “but instead it’s about how cuddly badgers are. It’s almost as if the BBC are anti-farming.” You’re unlikely to see any badgers in the country, however, apart from the dead ones by the side of the road. They keep themselves out of sight, digging holes, eating hedgehogs and (possibly) spreading TB among cattle. You’re unlikely to see any foxes, either, most of whom now seem to have decamped to the towns and cities. You can have them.

Urban living is a nightmare that I would never go back to but if you stay in the city you’re unlikely to get field mice chewing through your wiring…

So if you have a rosy view of the rural life, think again. Urban living is a nightmare that I would never go back to but if you stay in the city you’re unlikely to get field mice chewing through your wiring, for instance, or find yourself having to drive at pedestrian pace on a narrow road behind a truck towing a massive trailer full of sugar beets (or carrots, or any hard veg or tuber that can bounce off into your path) or counting the roadkill on the way from one village to another (pheasant, rabbit, hedgehog, woodpigeon, the occasional fox, badger or muntjac deer).

There’s mud on the roads where the wagons and tractors come out of the fields after various harvests, mud that slathers the way for a hundred yards and besmirches your motor as you pass over it. And horse muck because in the country there are always people riding horses and you have to slow to walking pace approaching, passing and moving away from them. You don’t want to risk startling horses – they’re big, daft, dangerous things and they can do terrible damage to themselves, their riders and your car.

There are deep ditches, dykes and drains, sometimes dry, sometimes full of water, and not always any clear indication of where the edge is. And here in Lincolnshire there are fen roads that buckle and break as the earth beneath them dries out and shrinks.

There are smells too, pungent ones. If you’ve lived near a chicken farm you’ll know what I mean. Late summer there’s muck-spreading, of course, which is exactly what it sounds. And sometimes you’ll drive past a field which emanates the stench of something unspeakable — just as well, since you’ll never know what it is. In the autumn you get occasional wafts of what smells like potatoes that have been left to boil in a pan and forgotten about till they’re a dry smouldering black mass — it’s rather sweetish. That’s the sugar beet being processed. But in spring there’s the overwhelming fragrance of oilseed rape. You may find that pleasant. On the other hand if you’re sensitive to pollen, maybe not.

All that’s before you get to the sound of bird scarers in the fields, shooters blasting pheasants, the various small flying insects that suddenly appear on your skin, making you itch, or inserting themselves into the tiniest crevices of clocks and pictures. And farmers. I won’t say anything about farmers.

Then there’s the silence. Lots of it. Some townies are known to have been driven mad by it. No, best stay in your overcrowded, noisy, impersonal city where tofu abounds in every convenience store. You can watch Countryfile. That’ll do it.

Currente Calamo columnist, poet and writer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent book is Albion Days (perennisperegrinator press).


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