A few years back, my friend Katie gave me a skip for Christmas. The beat-up metal skip wasn’t mine to keep, but mine to fill up with the clutter that was stagnating my life and keeping me from writing the novels that would be shortlisted for the Orange Prize. The skip is still out there next to the grain store. Not the same one, of course, but a sister skip. It is a permanant presence in the farmyard.
I have cleared my clutter many times since that Christmas, but more clutter arrives. My husband maintains that I don’t really clear clutter, I simply upgrade it. Everyone who lives on this farm thinks the skip is a communal thing, like a bridle path. Over-night, the skip fills up with pushchairs, tractor parts, bread machines, bicycle frames, rusty wheelbarrows. A little patch of Suffolk that looks forever Tobacco Road, Wyken twinned with Brokeback Mountain.
I try not to think about why we are so trashy, a call to introspection every bit as painful as dwelling on where all the trash ends up. I just pay Culford Skip Hire £100 to come and collect it when it is overflowing, and they leave an empty skip in its place. And everything is relative: the real white trash are the folks who dump their fridges and televisions on our fields and in our woods. Every time I see another dead appliance on my land, I think of the Billy Collins poem Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House. It’s about his neighbour’s dog that starts barking every time they leave the house ‘They must switch him on on their way out’. In my case, it’s the reason I don’t keep a gun in the car, because I dream of parking the old Volvo in the woods and waiting for the low-lifes to heave their old Hotpoint out of the pickup. While their arms are laden, I start shooting at their feet, relishing the buckshot tap dance.
I realise this sounds like I’ve gone into redneck mode, that this week’s soundtrack is O Brother, Where Art Thou? with me and Alison Krauss singing Down to the River to Pray. In fact, I’ve been buckin’ and snortin’ like this all week, ever since I over-heard a Prada-clad couple talking in the farmers’ market on Saturday. ‘But I don’t like mud on my potatoes,’ she said with a pout. ‘This place is too Hick Chic for me.’
It took a few seconds for the words to sink in. True, we’re always scootin’ the chickens off the bread stall, ivy is growing through the roof in the bull pen where the coffee is served, the corrugated iron on the farm workshop suffers from rural metal fatigue and is dropping off at random, and the farmers’ market is held outdoors in the old sheep sheds. Still, Hick Chic sounds like an insult to me.
‘You’re way too sensitive,’ Katie says when I call to complain. ‘Hick Chic is a global phenomenon. It’s farmers’ markets, four-wheel-drive cars, labradors, Harris tweed, Shaker furniture, Emma Bridgewater. Heck, there’s even an Aga showroom in the middle of Paris, taking authentic English country life to les maisons secondaires.’ Before I can answer, she adds: ‘When George Bush clears brush on his 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch, he’s saying ” ‘Hick Chic rules’.’
So, now you know. The exodus from the city to the countryside and the lifeline for the farmers who diversify is Hick Chic. You plant a vineyard and your 400-year-old barn becomes a restaurant that serves home-grown everything to folks in search of a sanctuary from urban life. Hick Chic is having enough land for your own skip. Hick Chic is the future. Let’s go down to the river to pray.
This article first appeared in Country Life magazine on 23 November, 2006.