Most of my life i’ve lived in the city and, although i’ve moved around more times than i care to recall, apart from a brief interlude where i had the pleasure of living in a small village, surrounded by proper countryside, i’ve always lived in an urban environment. It’s a bit of a mixed blessing – everything i need is available nearby, transport links are good and there’s no problem with things like mobile phone signals and the like – on the other hand, real peace and quiet is hard, if not impossible, to find; the pace of life can be frenetic; and the fumes, noise and scenery are all pretty depressing.
Given the chance, i’d move back to the countryside without any hesitation. The trouble with towns and cities is that they exert their own peculiar gravitational force upon their occupants… even though i can jump in the car and be in the countryside in less than an hour, it rarely ever happens and, when i do get out and about, i’m more likely to be trudging city streets than enjoying the peace and tranquillity of the countryside.
There are, of course, alternatives to the countryside for city dwellers – parks and playing fields provide green spaces, usually too well ordered and organised to really resemble anything particularly remarkable. Explore a little and you’ll find spontaneous outcroppings of nature… railway embankments, river banks and scrubland: Not quite ‘the countryside’, but nevertheless holding their own particular pleasures. Even in the most unlikely places, you can find the odd patch of nature, poking through and sticking two countrified fingers up at the town planners.These friendly little patches can make all the difference to a jaded city-dweller.
i had such a patch, that i pass every day on my way to work – it’s not much at all; a strip of ground about 50 yards long and a couple of feet wide, between the path and the rear walls of some terraced houses. All year round it’s brought me a tiny bit of pleasure on the greyest of days – from the frosty-stemmed grasses in the midst of winter, through each of the year’s changing seasons, there’s always been a surprise to be seen. The variety of ‘weeds’ was astonishing – several types of grasses, Good King Henry, Teasels, Marsh Mallow, Dandelion, Clover, Dog Rose and for a brief, wonderful season, a mass of bright red Poppies fought for space… proper countryside plants. Groups of sparrows used to flit around the grass seeds, along with the occasional Great Tit and, on one fortunate occasion, a Yellowhammer. In the summertime, butterflies, bees and even dragonflies made it their home… a little haven of countryside in the middle of town…
…until last week, when some berk, with porridge for brains and a set square for a heart decided to descend upon my strip of paradise, violate it with a rotavator and cover it in nice, neat, boring, completely ubiquitous turf.
The result is a beautifully manicured, flat, green swathe of blandness that dogs are going to poop all over – that’s if some enterprising gardener doesn’t nick it for their own use first. i imagine the person who came up with the idea of grassing over that plot of land is the sort who polishes their cutlery and glass on their napkin at restaurants; the sort of person for whom ‘landscape gardening’ means a timber deck, with mood lighting and an outdoor hot tub – they probably wear grey pinstripe suits and have shiny shoes… but they have absolutely no soul. If you cut through them from head to feet, you’d just find grey, mushy layers of blandness, through and through. No doubt, they had a nice tick box form that they signed off with a satisfied feeling as the last sod was laid over my little butterfly and wild flower sanctuary. The irony of it is that they almost certainly only eat organic food, use recycled Christmas cards from sustainable forests and contribute regularly to appeals to save the rainforests.
Are you feeling my somewhat negative vibes coming though yet?
Some people might question why i choose to spend time in a virtual world, where nothing is truly real, in any concrete sense of the word – one of my reasons is very simple, people keep concreting over the best bits of the real world, with apparently no sense at all. Since i can’t simply step out of my front door to the sound of birdsong, the fragrance of wild flowers and the solitude and tranquillity of the countryside, and since it’s getting ever harder to find those elusive moments when i can escape the confines of the city for a more pastoral setting, i find myself, ever more frequently, turning to the virtual world instead – a place, where even if the birdsong is recorded and the flowers are all pixels, at least i can enjoy them without some moron slapping asphalt over the top of them!
Who needs the trees and the flowers to grow?
We can have a motorway with motorway dough
I know, I know, I know, they’ve got to go
Lindisfarne – All Fall Down