If May be fine, stick up an estate agent’s sign
28 June 2007
There are changes in the English countryside. The air is different. Sometimes it smells of café latté – then the wind will change and it is as if one has walked into a hairdressing salon. The sounds are changing too, with the drowsy hum of bees and the chatter of housemartins being replaced the dull roar of sit-on mowers. Dogs are tidier and are kept on leads. Fields that were once enclosed by scruffy hedges or wire have become trim post-and-rail paddocks for ponies constructed with the tidy design sense of a modern kitchen.
The urban-country crowd are moving in. Like an army dressed in new Barbour coats and green Hunter gumboots, they are everywhere in their large 4x4s. Some of what they do is good – if an area suddenly decides to put on a festival, a concert or charity event, you can be sure the new urban-country influence is at work – but they have a problem. Their townie past is fading like a fretful dream, yet much of what is said and done in the countryside is utterly mysterious to them.
Fortunately, a new language is developing within the urban-country community. Like traditional country lore, it has its own proverbs, sayings and superstitions. For example, in May and June, country people with an eye on the weather might say, “Oak before ash/ We’re in for a splash/ Ash before oak/ We’re in for a soak” – an entirely meaningless formulation for urban-country folk. Instead, they have their own weather-related saying, “If May be fine/ Stick up an estate agent’s sign/ If the wind doth blow/ Drop your price by a couple of thou.”
There are many other urban-country sayings worth listening out for, including:
“Talks small, shops big.” Many urban-country people like the idea of small local shops, believing it to be a part of something vaguely known as “quality of life”, but when they discover that it’s impossible to find fair-trade unground Kenyan coffee beans, monkfish or even organic sun-blushed tomatoes at their village shop, they scurry off to the local supermarket where they feel more at home. There is nothing they would like more than to use the local butcher, if there wasn’t that disgusting, bloody meat everywhere. They complain that grocery shops display vegetables unhygienically without packaging. In urban-country circles, supporting the idea of small shops while shopping at a supermarket is known as “Tescoholism”.
“Every McCloud has a Rock-Wool Thermal Insulation Lining.” Something of an in-joke among property obsessives (and all urban-country-dwellers are property obsessives), this saying refers to Kevin McCloud, the presenter of Grand Designs and guru of the self-build movement. Rock-Wool is a type of insulation popular among homebuilders.
“For a dinner to please/Obey the four Ps.” Those in the urban-country crowd are always busy, instinctively filling their new-found tranquillity with schemes and activity. All the same, they sometimes accidentally find themselves among country people who are simply sitting idly in front of a fire, talking about politics, or the environment, or the future of the landscape. To avoid time-wasting of this kind, urban-country folk gather among their own kind at so-called “4P parties”, where the only topics of discussion are property prices and planning permission.
“March mud and April rain/ Time for the Landcruiser to go to the carwash again.” It is essential for urban-country dwellers to be able to see over hedges in a large vehicle. Rather as, at sea, steam gives way to sail, so, it is assumed in urban-country circles, all vehicles give way to a 4×4 on a country road. Indeed off-the-road vehicles are so called, it is believed, because they have the right to force any other car off the road.
“A smile from Sian/ Pimms on the lawn.” Urban-country folk have their own of predicting the weather – they turn on the TV and listen to the forecast. A popular superstition is that when the Britain’s greatest weather-woman Sian Lloyd appears to be in a good mood, then the portents are particularly good for a fine country weekend.