Easier by far to load up my horses and move them to the next village than try to fight the No Horse Riding signs here, I decided.
I had been sneaking Gracie out the side gate of the livery yard opposite where I live and along the high street to ride around the nearby woods. Nothing illegal about that. But the fact I found myself sneaking, which is difficult on a horse, so as to avoid angry local Liberal Democrat councillors who like to chase horses away, was ridiculous enough to make me face facts.
You cannot keep horses in a village run by sandal-wearing tofu-munchers with an anti-rural bias. I should have known what to expect when I first moved here and remarked to one of these strange, Surrey Lib Dems how excited I was to be in the countryside after years of living in London.
‘It’s not the countryside!’ she shrieked as if I had scalded her with hot water. ‘We’re near Woking!’
‘Aha,’ I said nervously, ‘but we’re all trying to forget about that, surely?’
Point of fact, we’re a good six miles from Woking, which I would have thought was excuse enough to never, ever let the thought enter one’s head that one’s existence had the slightest thing to do with Woking. After all, people who live in Woking don’t say they live in Woking. They say they live in Knaphill, or Byfleet or, at a push, Old Woking.
But the Lib Dem lady was so mad keen on Woking she did a double take when I said that, on balance, and notwithstanding Woking’s excellent train station, I preferred the 65 acres of green in front of us.
Weeks later, at the local pub, I bumped into a friend who tipped me off to stay out of the way of a few other people in The Village who want my guts for garters for writing that I am living in the countryside. ‘They don’t like it being the countryside,’ she explained. ‘They think of it as “just off junction ten”.’
Well, look, they can think of it as ‘just off junction ten’ as much as they like. They can put up as many No Horse Riding signs on the common land as they like. But the reality is, it is not a town, it is not a city and it is not a suburb of Woking. It is a village. In the countryside. Sorry, and all that, but there it is.
At night the owls hoot, at dawn the deer leap, in heavy rainfall the lanes flood.
And so long as the Peacocks Centre in Woking remains six miles away I intend never to darken its sliding doors, not even to go to Spud U Like or JD Sports. My Lib Dem neighbours will have to account for their own strange relationship with this multi-storey monument to the vacuity of modern living. As for me, the Peacocks Centre and I understand each other perfectly, and keep a respectable distance from each other, and this works very well.
What it all comes down to, of course, is that there is something very wrong with The Village. The Lib Dems have done something to it over the years of people blindly voting them in at local elections, thinking it does no harm and keeps the Conservative MP on his toes.
For all I know, the same mentality may be infecting all of Surrey, which could explain why it is fast becoming a venue chiefly for racing cyclists and a group of individuals known as ‘doggers’, who pull off the M25 to make whoopee in the woods, aided and abetted by the authorities who redesignate any beauty spot these people care to use for their ghastly hobby as a Public Sex Environment.
I guess the problem is that Surrey is where London bursts its banks, and as such it is always bound to get itself into a mess at some point. But what with everything going awry with my renovations I don’t think I can afford to get any more upset about the townification of the last slither of countryside between London and Guildford than I already am.
Since the builder boyfriend walked off into the sunset, I have my work cut out sorting a half-finished house.
Walking the spaniels the other morning, I got chatting with an elderly man and as a couple came out of the woods giggling, he adjusting his trousers, she pulling her leggings straight, I raised my eyebrows and sighed, and the elderly man said: ‘I try to ignore it. My wife gets cross but there’s nothing you can do. A bit of Alzheimer’s works a treat because it all goes over your head.’
Only partly out of solidarity I said: ‘I’m looking forward to that.’