Sunday, 9 August 2009

Taking the girl out of the country

My parents always scoff when I describe myself as a country girl. Despite being brought up in a little agricultural village in the Staffordshire countryside, they claim I fled for the thrilling bright lights as soon as I could and never looked back. Now this is not entirely true. For a surprising 3 month stint on my gap year I lived in a forest in Madagascar, without running water and electricity, on a diet solely based around the uninspiring culinary staples of rice and beans. Sure, I did move out of my room at my parents' house after university (which I am sure they were just as relieved about as I was) and moved to London to take advantage of its wealth of opportunities, but I have looked back many a time, and there are certain countryside-y things which London never quite manages to produce, and I do miss. Space, fresh air, a lack of lost teenage tourists, the sound of creatures rather than the sound of machines, just the natural occurrence of the colour green.
Come the summer, I miss these things more. Courtesy of the urban heat island effect the city is always hotter, and less tolerable, than the countryside as temperatures (well, those which the UK struggles to achieve) climb. The ubiquitous concrete surfaces, the throbbing traffic, the concentration of electrical appliances all make the city hotter and hotter, and an often unpleasant place to spend one's weekends. (During the week I am stuck in the office which is always horrid - both due to the fact offices are either always too hot or too cold and also that if you were not being paid to do so, you would never set foot through the door of your own will.) You meet friends in hot restaurants, travel on tube trains which resemble the inside of a pressure cooker, and pound slightly squishy pavements of melty tarmac; London life is fast, and speed is never particularly cooling.

Thus when one stumbles across a little peaceful, shady oasis in the city, it can provide the perfect antidote to the usual hot, sticky, busy city-ness, and here in London (or at least in certain areas) weary citizens have a range of verdant spots to pick from. From Lincoln's Inn Fields near Holborn (the reputed model for New York's Central Park) to sprawling Hyde Park there are public spaces waiting to be covered in picnics, frisbee games, canoodling couples and, well, the odd drunk passed out beneath a tree in some of the less salubrious locales.

Find a quieter spot, as I did today on Wimbledon Common (of wombling fame!), and you can have a whole leafy paradise to yourself. So used to the constant greyness and noise of the city, I was struck by how green the Common was, and, the further I got from the road, how quiet. No speeding cars, no clanking lorries or slow buses, no shoppers with buggies and whining children. The Common was alive with music made from the sound of grasshoppers clicking, a heron sploshing along the edge of a gravel pit and dogs crashing joyously through the undergrowth. Blackberries ripened away from the lead-filled petrol fumes and plants flourished with their feet in soil rather than concrete.

My feet didn't hurt from the pressure of stomping along hard pavements - they got grubby instead from the dusty, dry earth, and grass tangled in my flip-flops between my toes. After sitting on the bank of a pond, watching bright red dragonflies skim the water, my expensive going-out-for-lunch-in-nice-places jeans had persistent grass seeds stuck to them, but it didn't matter. I did not have to walk along set paths, following the crowds. In this green space the rules of the city do not apply; no looking both ways before you cross, no one-way systems, no 9 to 5 slog, no security checks and pass-cards. The city with its opportunities can give you one type of freedom but I have come to realise the open green space can give you another. The grass truly is always greener...!


  1. Wonderful post and images. I an relate. When I go back home I marvel at all the little things I took for granted. Like being close to the ocean and the lush vegetation.

  2. As long as one feels like that I don't think you can ever be a true city person! A small price to pay for a sense of perspective though I think...


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