Thursday, 18 August 2011

The best and worst of country living

You might think that living in rural Wales would have cured me of an addiction to glossy magazines of the Country Living variety but you would be wrong.  I am still a sucker for articles about artist and craftsperson Fionella who lives in her pink walled cottage in Suffolk with her daughter Saskia, her beautiful Irish wolfhound, Ossian,  or mischievous Jack Russell, Tyke.  The cottage has invariably been done up on a shoestring and has white painted floorboards, vintage textiles and Fionella's own art work on the walls.  Light streams into a country kitchen with a jug of wildflowers on the scrubbed wooden table.  The garden will always have a lot of lavender, roses and lady's mantle.  There will be a wrought iron table and chairs under the apple tree, the chairs with soft floral cushions and the table, covered with a hand embroidered cloth,  holding a jug of home made lemonade.  You will always wonder why you aren't living her life.  I have been reading this magazine since 1990 so I am clearly not about to kick the habit now.  Six years after the big move from the city though, I can give you the best and worst of country life as I suspect even Fionella experiences it, if only she would say!


Here is the best: it is beautiful, quite unbelievably so very often, and I live here all the time.  I can see it in all seasons, in all weathers, with and without company.


I can feel the seasons: hard and cold winter, warm and soft autumn, summer, baking in the sun or shivering in gusts of rain and my favourite, spring, surging with excitement and light.



It makes your heart soar.

And here are the worst things:  mud.  In winter mud is everywhere, on your boots, on your car, in your house, on your kitchen floor, on the hems of your smart trousers when you look down, even though you wore your wellies to drive to your meeting and only changed out of them in the car.  I haven't any mud pictures as I am always too busy wading in it to carry my camera.

Narrowness: a narrowness of choice in shops and company.  Capers? You have to be joking.  Multicultural communities? Well there is English and Welsh I suppose.

It can be lonely, especially in winter when life turns inwards and you might not see your neighbours for weeks if you live high and out and away.  It can turn you in on yourself without the distractions of lights and shops and cinemas and theatres and restaurants.  You need to work at life up here.  Everything is harder, both physically and in a way mentally.  You need to plan, to plan your shopping on a week to week basis, to plan your social life and even to plan your winter so that it does indeed hold company and variety and your life doesn't shrink to rain on the windows and a cold dash to the logstore.

Funny, writing this has made me understand why there is no representation of mud and narrowness, loneliness and hard work in articles about Fionella's life.  They don't photograph, these things.  Even after all this time up here I can't show you pictures of what they look like.

Yet I wouldn't change this life for the world.   But if you are thinking about a big move to the country, try and look at your pink walled cottage in winter, when the roses are bare sticks and the lady's mantle is under the brown ground.  Town and city life irons out many of the highs and lows of living.  Real country living is wetter, dirtier, colder, more beautiful and more satisfying than any photos can tell you.  So says Fionella, when the camera has gone.

46 comments:

  1. I still read Country Living too, although am not sure about the readers pet feature! Although I live in the country, albeit not as remotely as you, I often find myself craving more isolation than I have. I love all the crafts and vintagy bits too, but its a right pain when the roads are closed for days on end because no one thinks your worthy of a snow plough and a 2 mile round trip on foot through 2 foot of snow to the nearest village does not help with the lack of milk!

    I love where you live, and if I found somewhere half as beautiful, I think I would be content too.

    As for Fionella, well maybe she's a dreamer.

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  2. Beautifully written and absolutely true!

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  3. I always think February is the killer - that's when the mud and the grey and the cold really get to me! But I don't think I would like the alternative, and you get used to the quiet, don't you? Everywhere else seems so noisy.

    Pomona x

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  4. Gad I want to come and live with you. Having said that, I love being able to walk everywhere but not having to deal with other people all the time.
    I have friends who live practically on the beach in what looks like Heaven, and they say that having sand everywhere ALL the time gets on your nerves sometimes!

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  5. City life irons out ... reality. Today we did our two weekly grocery shop, but we don't have to deal with the cut off in winter bit.

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  6. Ah yes. Mud. When its not being mud it's dust. I watched the cattle tonight (being herded into the shed next door) and the cloud of dust that 200+ hooves kicked up. There goes the hairdresser-fresh hair.....I'd just come back from restorative visit to Toni and Guy.

    But what the heck! We've wintered and summered fairly real country living several times now and wouldn't choose anywhere else.

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  7. Wasn't Country Living the reason we all came together? Were you part of that great exodus? I still look at it occasionally but sometimes I think it is written more for city or suburban folk. Wonderful pictures! (Yours I mean, rather than CL's)

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  8. This post is so true! I sometimes buy Country Living for the pretty pictures, but I imagine that a lot of the Fionellas are city girls just playing at country life and dreaming.

    I agree with all your positives and would not want to leave the country again. I am used to the mud but last winter`s weeks of sheet ice were not so good here. Taking a wheelbarrow of hay around icy fields, twice a day, was grim.

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  9. Zoe - I suspect I am a dreamer too, as are you, as are most of us who live this way. Can you be a realistic dreamer?
    Molly - thank you!

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  10. Pomona - you do get used to both the quiet and the space. I am not sure I could manage neighbours at close quarters any more and I am really quite sociable and friendly!
    Epm - plenty of room. Come over any time. We could give you your own stone pigsty!

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  11. It's telling that Fionella lives in Suffolk. She surely doesn't get the rain that we get in Wales, and that would account for a lot of our mud!
    I've mostly given up on such magazines lately. It's the vintage trend that's done it. Lino, formica tables, enamel pots and pans, hand-knitted tea cosies. These were all the things of my childhood, and kept in use by the thrifty until they wore out. I'm a tad uncomfortable with images of 'poverty chic' when in reality life was hard, cold and, yes, muddy!

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  12. I agree, except we don't usually have mud in the winter. It waits until spring, when the thaw hits, and then shows up. I think living in the country encourages dreaming!

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  13. Not a lot different to here in Australia. Dairyfarming at the moment is wet and muddy, not that my DH and I milk any more, we try to keep the farm viable in our 70's, but I would hate to leave.

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  14. Elephants eye - city life cuts off reality is entirely true.
    Mountainear - yeah, at least we know what we are talking about now and we are still here!

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  15. You described it well and I'm sure life is a lot tougher in the countryside. I live in town and would have a hard time dealing with mud and rain and sludge and ice. I have a hard enough time dealing with them here. But you also describe the good parts really well and they have their appeal too. Besides, I think my dog would have a blast. He doesn't much like living in town.

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  16. Loved your post. The snow photo reminded me of spending Christmas at my parent's house on the Oswestry Racecourse - it started snowing on Christmas Eve and was a wonderful white blanket on Christmas Day.

    In contrast here in New Zealand the headline in our local newspaper yesterday "An historic day - Snowy Northland - not a heavy snow by your standards but there was a blanket of snow on the ground.

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  17. I managed to delete part of the headline which was "Our heaviest snowfall ever"

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  18. While where I live is less isolated than where you live - I have neighbours. In some ways we are really at the end of the line, with perhaps even less choices available.

    I had to buy paint this week - well that was a performance and a half, no popping to a DIY shop, let alone superstore here.

    It can be hard, and you have hit the nail on the head with your words "A narrowness of choice in shops and company" It says it all - but I wouldn't live anywhere else for all the tea in China, or even all the yummy things you can buy in Waitrose.
    Although sometimes ... just sometimes for a moment or two - I am very tempted
    K

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  19. I love your life and your beautiful scenery. Thank you for sharing it. This winter I will gladly look at some muddy pics as well.

    When I was spending a month in Aberdeen one December my husband wanted to make bread. I walked to the nearest store.....ice covered the sidewalks making for a scary slippery trip...only to be told, "Yeast? We have never had anyone ask for THAT!" We finally found some at ADA later inthe week when we could get out in the car!

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  20. I love your photos, winter and summer. But I do understand the difference between what looks idyllic in the glossy pages and what is real life. When we were first married, husband and I bought a charming 100-year-old late Victorianish home in a small farm town in Kentucky, USA - lots of wood, French doors, pocket doors, window seats and 5 beautiful tiled coal-burning fireplaces. The house was a block or so from the small-town county courthouse and the neighborhood was one of those tree-lined ones with kindly neighbors on front porches who all knew you. There were times that it looked and felt magical, but more often we were coping with outdated knob-and-tube electricity, no central heat or air (necessary in the humid summers of the American midwest and costing lots of time and money to retrofit), and a plumbing system that was far too ancient. We spent all our time and money trying to keep ahead of the home repairs, but on the surface, it looked lovely. 10 years later we moved to Phoenix and we were delighted to discover how much free time one has when one lives in a house built within the last 10 years. I would not trade a minute of those years, but I am well aware that those glossy surface photos rarely tell the whole story!

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  21. Wonder what 'knob and tube' electricity is?

    I am also sometimes staggered by the time and cost of maintaining an older house and a large garden - it becomes a way of life but on reflection perhaps a funny thing to do with a life..?

    The glossies like Country Living also seduce people into believing their gardens should all be loverly like - umm? - all those in the magazines..

    Do these falsehoods help or hinder us, I wonder?

    XXXXXXX

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  22. I still buy the odd copy of CL magazine and enjoy the ravishing photos. These days I wonder about the images they don't show you; ancient Artex on the ceiling, the ugly tiles in the bathroom, the horrid carpet! It comforts me to think these horrors may be lurking just out of sight!

    For me the biggest drawback of living deep in the country is the shameful lack of access to fast Broadband and mobile phone signals. How can the rural economy find innovative ways to reinvigorate itself without these?

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  23. Beautifully written. When reading your thoughts on living in the country I felt a sort of flutter of the heart, perhaps a sort of pride, at having made the move myself when instrinsically I am (or thought I was) a city girl at heart. I love it all - even the mud and for once I am of a differing opinion to Pomona; for me February is full of hope and dreams... and snowdrops. It is January which I find particularly hard.

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  24. Spot on! If your house graced the pages of CL (and well it might) then we'd see the views and the beams and the chickens and the pigsty and the flowers, but not the mud and cold days of rain and mist. It's all clever photography and beautiful moments captured. All fleeting. Same here, moments of catching your breath at a sunset, a dahlia bloom, a barn owl swooping low over the meadow.
    I still take Country Living for the same reasons as everyone else, a dream, and idyll.
    We're just pondering buying an old Land Rover to keep in the wood barn for those days when you just can't get out of our lane for the snow and ice! That's country living for you.

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  25. Absolutely spot on Elizabeth. I am a sucker for Country living having taken it ever since it was launched and I do agree that all the 'done-up' houses, with their painted floorboards, home made textiles, art work etc., sometimes make me feel inadequate. Then I look at corners of my house and realise that if they just photographed that bit it would look good. It is a bit like airbrushing the top models I think.

    And yes, countrylife - for all its mud, its narrowness of thinking, its lack of some foodstuffs - is good. I wouldn't live in a town for anything now.

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  26. Fabulous post. I am heading off - hopefully - next Spring in search of my one country adventure. If I hadn't spent a year living on a remote bit of Anglesey, I would be more full of trepidation. As it is, I know that the isolation doesn't worry me provided I have the beauty, and hey, the mud washes off! Must remember to stock up on capers before we leave though...

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  27. Elizabeth, even though you'd been honest and straightforward in making your case for the downside of country living, you did it so beautifully that it only makes me think that mud and loneliness are romantic and attractive. This post was a much-needed respite from the rather hectic busy-ness of my present city life. Your prose is like a very comfortable reclining chair, something to sink into, exhale deeply and just enjoy.

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  28. Yes... yes, you are right. I would bet my boots that most folks who live out in the country are readers. Good books are what get me through the winters.

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  29. Aubergines! there's never an aubergine when you want one (and my son is an addict - and yes, we're tried growing them. It's too cold here.)

    We're paddling in our paddock. But I wouldn't change where I live, not for a moment.

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  30. Fennie - yes I was part of that exodus. I think the magazine is for dreamers in both city and country. Maybe the country dwellers have a stronger sense that it is a very partial picture!
    Dartford warbler - yes, last years winter was hard in all senses!

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  31. Elizabeth, what a lovely post, I empathise with it all. Living in the country we are far more aware of the changing seasons - we have to be, we're impacted so greatly by them.

    One of the first bits of advice I was given when moving to Cumbria was "winter is long here" and that's very true, as are your tales of mud .... and planning the shopping.

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  32. I've met the production team of Country living a few times over the years - they once told me 'of course is not written for people who live in the country - they don't have enough income to support our advertisers.'

    It is largely written for people who live in London but yearn for a cottage in Box Wilthsire, just an hour on the train from Paddington, with a rock star living next door, and te carroll of birds every morning...... or maybe they'd like beach house on the South Coast

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  33. I read those magazines too - and then go back to my lovely life. It includes those fabulous sunsets, but this week included two dead chickens (raccoons in broad daylight)and a big wind that brought down the needles from the tree in such quantities that they are everywhere, inside and out. I still love it.

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  35. An absolutely wonderful description of country life. I moved from Los Angeles to Vermont (US), 18 years ago and moved up onto the hill three and a half years ago. In Vermont, though, mud season is the fifth season.=] (and, we just discovered that we're out of milk - sigh!) I love my UK version of Country Living, myself. I think that it's because I'm a realistic idealist - I need to dream and, occasionally, actually, get there. =] This is just beautifully written!

    I found your blog through Jeanne at "Tales from a Country Garden". Thank you for the lovely visit!

    Katy Noelle

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  37. That was so insightful, Elizabeth.

    I've been thinking about a 'big move to the sticks' for ages and read blogs like yours to get a better, more realistic look at what it would really be like.

    I've been reading 'Welsh Girl's' posts (where has she gone?) and winter seems grim by her accounts too.

    Pro's out-weigh the cons though it seems...

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  38. Veg artist - I agree. My childhood was full of rag rugs and mismatched floral crockery, not from vintage chic though!
    Dimple - think ice might be better than mud.

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  39. Penny - funny I always imagine that Australia does not have a problem with mud! Clearly wrong!
    Nora - I am sure your dog would have a great time. This is a fab place for dogs!
    Susan Heather - Oswestry is not far from here at all! I used to live in new Zealand too, in Christchurch. When we had an inch of snow, just once in seven years, the schools were closed so the kids could play!

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  40. Do you know, Elizabeth, I think Fionella has a little pied a terre in town, just for times when the mud becomes too much and she has to be able to access Harvey Nics. But I still buy CL too- their photos and crafts/art coverage is still good.

    I think wherever you live, you take yourself along.

    I love the quiet(when the tractors sheep etc quiet down) the space and the opportunity to make a garden. Time to think and listen to music...Your photos are stunning.

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  41. I'm at my happiest in a city ... ANY city , even a large town will do at a pinch ... and , having lived in (then) very rural Hampshire with two tiny children and no car , wouldn't dream of living in the wild again.
    Country living is beautiful ... your sort , not Fionella's , and your views and clear skies are gorgeous . It must be wonderful to wander out with the dog and watch the season evolve in the hedgerows and corners .
    But I'd miss the people watching I can do and all the old bricks and dust .

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  43. I can't seem to kick the Country Living habit. However, there is a "samey" quality to it. I've actually bought the same month's issue twice as the covers all look alike. The stylish interiors often look uncomfortable and unrealistic as proper living spaces. Its ultimate goal is to sell stuff, so you're never going to see the flip side of country life--in my case, too many flies and farm smells :)

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  44. I've just read this post - playing catch-up - and I had to add an anecdote.

    I used to live on a houseboat in Chelsea. It wasn't smart (it was the antithesis of smart), and the houseboat owner eventually managed to sell it to a rather Country Living couple who didn't realise that houseboat exteriors shouldn't be painted with Dulux. A couple of years later I pick up House and Gardens, and there it is, basically Country-Livingified. Roses. Swags. In the text it was described as 'having previously been a floating slum' (excuse moi!), but it wasn't that which really amused me.It was the fact that nowhere, in all the extensive, very-very-wide-angle shots, was there any sign of the chemical toilet.

    They must have followed the photographer round with it, or given it to a neighbour to look after...

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