Where To Live? (Text 1)
We moved to a crumbling mansion block in central London when my youngest child was five. Our Cambridge friends were aghast. How could we possibly give up green space on our doorstep, the neighbourhood school, the safe environment, for crowds, congestion, and urban squalor? But with two of working in the metropolis, we felt we had no choice.
It didn’t take long for us to convert. Indeed, in ten years I have become a hard-line metropolitan. I’ve become allergic to the countryside I grew up in. The sight of an idyllic thatched cottage or a picturesque village green now fills me with dread. They remind me of the grim drive to the out-of-town superstore for groceries, the endless hanging about, the lawn always needing to be mowed, and the neighbours complaining when bored youngsters kicked their ball too close to their greenhouse.
To live in the centre of a city is to be permanently intoxicated with the speed of it all – it’s like being in a perpetual state of fast forward. I swear that nowadays it’s the frantic pace of city life that makes me think straight and stick to the point in a conversation. Some of my best ideas are produced in an advanced state of stress, under the pressure of having struggled to meet a deadline, or arrive on time at a lecture hall or studio, through impossible traffic. And one of the surprises of city life is the lack of isolation. I’ve discovered that the neighbours on my staircase are as committed to the local community as the inhabitants of any sleepy village in the country.
Besides, the more of us who can be persuaded back into high density living in the city’s hurly-burly, the more green space that will be freed up, out there in the country’s green belt. So that generations of country lovers will be able to continue their love affair with all that grass. Personally, I much prefer the view from my roof terrace, from where I can drink in the impossible noise, and watch the endless comings and goings, the hustle and bustle, and the thrill of inner-London in the new millennium.
Where To Live? (Text 2)
I don’t know if it happens the other way around, but almost everybody who lives in the city sometimes thinks of leaving it. Stuck in a traffic jam, squeezing onto the underground train, pushing a buggy at noxious exhaust-fume level along a crowded street, we imagine a more innocent world and the air pure, where birds sing from the tree tops.
Of course, the countryside isn’t natural anymore; it is manufactured and tame. The forests have gone, the coasts are eroded by global warming. There is oil on the beaches, pollution on the rock pools. Farms have become agrochemical production sites, as industrial as a factory making computers. In these rural industrial sites, the countryside has been abolished; the hedgerows where wildflowers flourished have been wiped away, and pesticides have meant the death of hundreds of species of insects and birds and wild flowers. Motorways and A-roads thunder through little villages; you can be in more danger from cars on country lanes than in towns. Whole communities have died out in the country. There are villages without shops or pubs or churches which are just commuter corridors. You can live by a farm and yet only be able to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the huge supermarkets.
Yet I am very glad to be leaving the city. I don’t want to be in the swing of things really, in the grip of fashion and speed and ambition. I won’t miss the city where everything is carved up by roads and dual carriageways, and with mile upon mile of houses, factories, shops, broken windows, untendered gardens, stations, industrial wasteland, great rubbish dumps, scrap yards, plastic bags flying in the dirty wind, cemeteries, and walls covered with graffiti. I dream of the sensuous and earthy smells of the countryside; wet grass, pigs, flowers, mulched leaves, the salty east wind, autumn bonfires. I long to be in the garden, sinking my fingers into the earth, getting my hands dirty at last. I imagine evenings, after work is done, when we can all drive to the coast and walk on the shingle beaches.
Maybe we’ll all go mad in the country, or maybe we’ll all end up saner and more contented. Maybe in a year or two we’ll return and be back in the crowds dreaming of escape. But maybe we won’t.