Speeding down the farm track from my little country retreat, I came across the gamekeeper in his Defender. I wound down my window. ‘Where are you off to in such a hurry?’ he asked, looking askance at the dust cloud and no doubt wondering whether I had collided with any of his pheasants.
‘I’m going back to London for a rest,’ I told him. ‘Oh dear,’ he muttered, lighting a roll-up. Yes, oh dear. Very certainly, oh dear. As he obviously knows only too well, but neglected to tell me when I moved into my rented barn conversion, living in the country is absolutely exhausting.
Coming to this tranquil farm for long weekends is taking it out of me. I used to do three days country and four days town. But now I slope down the A3, reluctantly, on a Friday afternoon and race back to London first thing Monday morning because my nerves will not take much more than that. I have to beat a hasty retreat to the city after two days so that I can relax and recharge my batteries.
It’s not the mucking out of the horses that I mind most, although that is gruelling. When I’m in London a friend does it for me, but at weekends I have to schlep about with the pitchfork getting tennis elbow and becoming indelibly coated in muck. When I’m finished, I’m way too tired to do anything as pleasurable as ride.
It’s not the constant trekking to the nearest shops, either, although that is galling. All this supposed eating of locally sourced produce never happens. There is nowhere to buy local produce for miles and when you do find a farm shop they charge you £4.50 for a carrot. You have to drive to Tesco or Asda unless you want to remortgage.
As for the newspapers on Sunday morning, forget walking. It’s 20 minutes just to get to the end of the farm track, then it’s half an hour before you hit a shop with nothing in it except ice lollies, or a bottle of sauvignon for £20, and an hour before you get to a Costcutter that actually stocks something edible or usable. And the spaniel won’t walk on the road anyway, she doesn’t like the big scary speeding Range Rovers.
My super-fit neighbour jogs to buy his papers, and comes back looking like something out of Chariots of Fire. I take the Volvo and go through £5-worth of diesel.
But the main reason I’m struggling with country life is that I can’t come to terms with the ‘he said you said’ phenomenon. Actually, it is more accurate to describe it as the ‘he said you said she said they said we said…’
This week, I have been mostly trying to argue that I didn’t say anything to someone who did say something to someone else who in turn said it to another person who said it to me, at which point I did, I confess, then say it to somebody who said it to the person it concerned, who was furious. I know she was furious because she told someone she was, and they told someone else, who told me.
By the time you’ve fought off the storm of protest in such a to-do you can’t even remember what you were meant to have said in the first place. At one point, I sat at the kitchen table with my head in my hands trying to work out if it would be possible, in future, never to say anything at all to anyone. Ever.
I’m fairly sure most of what I say is just passing observations about completely blindingly obvious facts that I assume everyone else takes to be self-evident anyway. But in the village, people aren’t interested in what might be self-evident or not. They want to know who first noticed the self-evident things and then told everyone else that they might want to notice them too. The exact starting point of the ‘he said she said you said we said they said’ is the only thing that the ‘he said she said you said we said’ brigade goes round and round in endless circles to try to establish.
When I awoke in London this morning, I opened the back door and breathed in the bracing, gossipless air. Then I walked to the corner shop with the dog to buy a pint of milk, a grateful spring in my step as I was ignored by total strangers. I must return to my rural idyll and face the music soon enough.
But for now, I need to relax and unwind amid the hustle and bustle, and the total lack of anyone giving a flying flip about me or what I might have said to whomever.