The childishly simple premise of BBC property show Escape to the Country is that people want to—you’ve guessed it—escape to the country. But which is best: town or country?
I grew up in the country, in the heart of a village. I attended the dinky little village primary school, where I knew the names of all the teachers and my fellow pupils (there were only five classes in the entire school). I entered crafts into the annual village fete, in categories so bizarre that even Kirstie Allsopp might struggle (‘pipecleaner animal’, anyone?) I belonged to the village Brownie pack and later to the amateur dramatics group (controversially founded in the neighbouring village). I went on long walks and bicycle rides without any adult supervision whatsoever. I could identify birds, animals and wildflowers. I went horse-riding every Sunday morning.
I have also been a city dweller. I love the possibilities offered by a city or large town. The theatres, galleries, museums, shops, cinemas, bars and restaurants. The ease of access to transport links. The constant buzz that comes with living in a metropolis. Always something happening, something to see, something to do.
I often feel nostalgic for the village life of my formative years. Just like the people who feature in Escape to the Country, I dream of a rural idyll. I have a rather romanticised idea of living in an old farmhouse, growing my own vegetables, keeping some chickens, perhaps a cow (a brown one, called Isabelle), cooking on an Aga, joining the WI. But then I remember the frustrations of my teenaged years. Frankly, there was no escape from the country: buses were infrequent and I had to rely on my dad to drive me to the youth club disco. And by definition, a life in the country precludes many of the activities that I enjoy the most. What if I want to catch a film, or a show or go shopping somewhere other than the village shop or cyberspace?
But then again, city life can have its downside. Too many people crammed into expensive studio apartments and flats. No outside space to call your own. Late-running trains and buses; commuters packed into carriages like so many sardines, with little or no chance of a seat. Shops bursting at the seams every Saturday afternoon. Astronomical cost of living. Social isolation. High crime rates.
Beatrix Potter cleverly captured the disconnect between town and country life in The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse. Perhaps not one of her better-known books but still…
In this charming story, country bumpkin field mouse Timmie Willie falls asleep in a vegetable hamper and wakes to find himself propelled into the hustle and bustle of town. Having lived all his life in a garden, Timmie finds the experience somewhat unnerving. Luckily, he meets dapper Johnny Town-Mouse—who has exquisite manners and a tendency to host extravagant dinner parties. Johnny takes Timmie under his wing. However, Timmie’s visit is not a success: the food is too rich and he can’t sleep because of the constant noise and fear of cats. Poor Timmie longs for the peace of his nest in the vegetable garden. Eventually, he is returned to the country by means of the hamper. Sometime later, Johnny pays Timmie a visit. “I am sure you will never want to live in town again,” Timmie confidently proclaims. But lifelong townie Johnny is like the proverbial fish out of water. He hates the mud, the damp, the cows, the lawnmower, the quiet. No sooner has he arrived, then he’s off again.
As Miss Potter says, “One place suits one person, another place suits another person.” She may be right. However, to my mind, the very worst place to live is the no-mans land of the suburbs: neither in one place, nor another.
Perhaps the solution is to move to the coast. But that’s a whole different TV show…