Dirty, smelly, noisy – no, these are not the three dwarves that Snow White rejected but adjectives that describe the countryside. I am a farmer’s daughter and I played in mud as a child and I live with mud as an adult. I’m used to mud and noise and smells. I know that some people like you to take off your shoes before you go into their house, but I would discourage anyone who tried to remove their footwear in order to come into my house – their feet would get extremely grubby if they walked barefoot on my floor.
The countryside attracts all sorts of people from those who listen to the Archers and rent a beautifully appointed cottage for a fortnight in July and then move out of town fondly imagining that winter in the countryside will be all cosy log fires and mulled wine in local pubs, And the other sort who buy some land and are going to get down and dirty as hobby farmers. But one thing that is easy to forget is that the countryside is not a theme park. So many people move here with a fantasy in mind of a rural idyll. The rented cottage will have been renovated to the highest standards and it will doubtless have the ubiquitous wood burner for the odd chilly night and probably a neatly stacked pile of logs outside the back door. The roof will not leak nor will the windows let in draughts. This is summer. It might rain but if you don’t actually live there you can stay indoors with a good book or Netflix. There will be meadows with cows and sheep in them. If they’re lucky they might see a fox, or a badger or a deer and think how charming they are. Once the newcomers have bought their own property it will very different. They may not find the wild life nearly so charming when they dig holes in the lawn or defecate on the back step. They will discover why country dwellers say that wood warms you three times. First when you chop down the three, second when you stack the wood and finally when you burn it.
A family moved into our village some years ago and then complained indignantly it was very noisy. They had moved from a peaceful tree lined suburb where every blade of grass was apparently manicured by hand and they had not been expecting to be woken up by agricultural vehicles driving noisily past their door at 6.00 am.
Then there is nature red in tooth and claw. You cannot escape it – country roads are littered with corpses. Roadkill is everywhere. And much livestock is bred to be eaten. Some ‘townie’ friends of mine were very startled when, whilst staying on a farm they asked the farmers’ five-year-old child if the piglets had names and the blonde haired, blue eyed moppet told them they were called Sausage and Bacon. And it you decide to keep chickens there is the fox to contend with – nothing is more depressing than going out in the morning and discovering piles of feathers but not a chicken in sight. It happens to everyone who keeps chickens, often because they haven’t been shut up, but the fox is an opportunist and will take advantage of every tiny breach in the fence. And at night the noises of the foxes’ sex life are blood curdling. It sounds as though a child is being tortured and horribly murdered. Sparrow hawks will swoop on to the bird table and snatch a small songbird from under your eyes. After slugs have decimated your garden you too will feel like murder.
The weather will play a much bigger part in your life – gales that bring branches down and block roads. Piles of wet leaves that lie in wait treacherous and slippery. Water in the road covering potholes that have been the ruin of many a tyre. And if it’s not too wet, there’s a drought and all those immaculately planted hanging baskets will wither and die.
The pace of life in the country is different too – people don’t go into a shop just to buy something they go for and exchange of news. It can be very frustrating for the newcomer who just wants to buy a pork chop or a pound of sausages (yes, we still use pounds) to have to wait for a seemingly interminable conversation about Mrs Brown’s cousin’s son’s hernia operation or the rumoured closure of a local road. Obviously the weather will have to be discussed too – if it’s sunny it’s bound to rain later, if it is raining there will be debate as to whether is it set in for the day or if it might clear up before the end of the day.
The hobby farmers get all of that as they valiantly try to tackle the mud. They’d like to plough the fields and scatter but often the weather defeats them. They harvest miserable, slug infested sprouts with chilblain covered fingers in the dead of winter. They dig up carrots that seem satisfactorily heavy until the mud has been washed off and there remains a pathetic, deformed root which when peeled will leave a mere couple of mouthfuls. They will take their chickens to the vet when they are looking a little peaky. Old country folk wring their necks not to be cruel but practical. Sick chickens sometimes get better but they usually die whether they go to the vet or not.
But the worst thing you can do is to imagine that you can change the countryside. Don’t ty to make it cleaner, tidier, quieter or get rid of all the mud. Far better to cut your losses and head back to town.