There is a tendency to think of life in the country as monolithic. The country living magazines tend to focus brutally on baking and gardening and crafty things, as if nothing else went on outside of the cities. There is oddly little about animal husbandry, except for the occasional chicken feature, which is curious, since so much of country life revolves around livestock. Only this morning I stared into the implacable face of a very splendid highland cow.
Life in the country is very different to life in the city, there is no doubt about it. There is much less emphasis on buying expensive coffee and much more emphasis on the weather. I check the weather forecast five times a day. For me it’s a question of which boots to wear and which rug to put on the horse and how much hay we need; for the farmer up the road, it’s a matter of his very livelihood. But it’s not quite as simple as it seems. In our small village, for instance, you can get a double espresso out of a real Gaggia machine. This never ceases to amaze me.
I was thinking about this today, because there were some interesting contrasts. I did stump down to the red mare in my very muddy boots, and I did go to the feed store and stock up on Calm and Condition. (They really should make this for humans, as well as for equines.) I did, in true countrywoman style, yell at the dog, not because I was cross with him, but because he was hunting for the last of the pheasants, two fields away. The raised voice was necessary on account of the distance. On the other hand, within ten minutes of each other, I heard two sentences which had no rural stereotype. The first came from a small gentleman of four years old, my great-nephew by marriage. The daffodils have finally come out and he is in ecstasies over them. ‘Oh,’ he cried, as if he were in a florist in Mayfair rather than in a wide Scottish field, ‘masses and masses of lovely flowers.’ The second was from a war veteran, just up the road. I was walking past and I caught a snatch of conversation. ‘I felt as if I were back in Iraq,’ he was saying. I looked up at the blue hills and thought how strange that phrase sounded, hanging in the bright air.
Then I drove out to look at the blue hills. I do this quite a lot at the moment, because they are so glorious in the changing season. The colours are growing vivid and the last of the snow is finally leaving the high peaks. I stared at the beauty with my usual feeling of slight surprise. It never ceases to amaze me that it is all there, on my doorstep, freely available to my eager eyes. I watched the gulls fling themselves across the landscape and the sheep gather at the base of the hills and some tremendous ducks comport themselves on a makeshift pond, left over from the wet weather.
After that rather Wordsworthian moment, I went into the shop to pick up supplies. In the magazine rack, the face of Kim Kardashian stared out of me, from front cover after front cover. I don’t really know who Kim Kardashian is, but the mags love her. I sense that she would not be quite as excited as I am by a highland cow.
On the radio, on the way home, people were talking about Maria Miller and the machinations of Westminster. I looked at the hills, which were now a low shade of violet. I wondered what I thought of the whole political farrago and could not quite frame a good conclusion. I stopped to take some daffodil pictures instead.
I loved the city once, with a wild, passionate love. I could not go back there now. I am bucolic to my fingertips. But rural life is not always as expected as it might seem. Not all of the clichés are true.