The perils of country living include rural broadband speed so slow as to impinge human rights - but at least there's the option of Going To Town to keep Jason Goodwin happy.
The land wears its dreariest face, sodden with late rain. Tractors have poached the verges and, all along the lanes, mud and soft grass are sculpted into the sheep wire. The bare hedges are patchy and blown, their branches splintered and raw where the flail has been. Grass slides underfoot like the skin on a rice pudding.
It’s like living in a Ted Hughes poem.
Throw in the sight of a crow trailing after a thin lamb and another badger carcass on the side of the road and you begin to wonder why anyone would live in the country at all.
In the Hebrides, we once followed a van belonging to Scottish Power bearing the amusing legend ‘Delivering Electricity to the Highlands’. BT apparently delivers the internet to rural Dorset the same way, in buckets – the children insist that our broadband speed infringes our human rights.
The other day, I passed a man up a pole, in the rain, and I asked him if he was bringing us faster connection speeds. ‘Nope,’ he replied. ‘Slower, now.’
There is an age-old country remedy for afflictions of this kind and it’s called ‘going to town’. As a phrase, it means going full out and full on, kicking your heels and escaping from your rural stupor. When farmers said they were going to town, they meant a little business at the market and then merriment, camaraderie and all-day drinking.
People who weren’t tied to their farm went to town for much longer. Anyone who could afford it went for the whole season and escaped the wet and cold and the bad roads. In London, when debutantes were presented to the monarch, a glittering succession of balls and breakfasts in the grand aristocratic houses gave young people from all over the country a chance to meet and marry.
“Laptop under one arm, loosening the top button on the lapel of your jacket, you head for the cafe so achingly hip that your orange juice arrives in a jam jar”
That was The Season, only for the rich, and it’s easy to forget that there was also a provincial Season, when country families moved to the local market town – Beverley, Framlingham or Oswestry, say – where they kept a house or rented one.
Houses, after all, were cheap enough to run, with no council tax or electric wiring to bother about. All you had to do was unpack the servants, roll away the dustsheets and lay in a supply of candles. There would be balls and supper parties, young bloods and a sprinkling of military men and everything would be done just as it was in London, but without the king or queen or so much expense.
It was good for the town, of course. Orders were placed at the butcher and the greengrocer. The local wine merchant looked forward to the parties, as did the chandler and the caterer. Bandsmen played at the assembly rooms, dressmakers threaded back and forth and stable boys had their work cut out for them. The provincial Season provided a buzz of gossip and speculation, spending and earning, fun and games. Who cared if it rained?
Parking the car down South Street on a wet April afternoon may not bring quite the same air of promise, but it still has possibilities. No mud. Faces you recognise. Second-hand books you haven’t yet browsed.
There’s a new type of dog food at the pet shop and you should get a new chain for the plug in the bath. You need to download some files. Ten minutes or so on the internet, at lightning speed? Laptop under one arm, loosening the top button on the lapel of your jacket, you head for the cafe so achingly hip that your orange juice arrives in a jam jar and the coffee brings another coffee as a guest.
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