For centuries town and country have been regarded as being in opposition to each other. It has been suggested that the superficial differences between the two-wide-open spaces contrasting with brick and concrete-are less important than the contrasting attitudes of town and country.
I am one of the many city people who are always saying that given the choice we would prefer to live in the country away from the dirt and noise of a large city. I have managed to convince myself that if it weren’t for my job I would immediately head out for the open spaces and, go back to the nature in some sleepy village buried in the country. But how realistic is this dream?
Cities can be frightening places. The majority of the population live in massive tower blocks, noisy, squalid and impersonal. The sense of belonging to a community tends to disappear when you live fifteen floors up. All you can see from your window is sky, or other blocks of apartments. Children become aggressive and nervous- cooped up at home all day, with nowhere to play; their mothers feel isolated from the rest of the world. Strangely enough, whereas in the past the inhabitants of one street all knew each other, nowadays people on the same floor in tower blocks or condominium apartments don’t even say hello to each other.
Country life, on the other hand, differs from this kind of isolated existence in that a sense of community generally binds the inhabitants of small villages together. People have the advantage of knowing that there is always someone to turn to when they need help. But country life has disadvantages too. While it is true that you may be among friends in a village, it is also true that you are cut off from the exciting and important events that take place in cities. There’s little possibility of going to a new show or the latest movie. Shopping becomes a major problem, and for anything slightly out of the country, you have to go on an expedition to the nearest large town. The city-dweller who leaves for the country is often oppressed by a sense of unbearable stillness and quiet.
What, then, is the answer? The country has the advantage of peace and quiet, but suffers from the disadvantage of being cut off: the city breeds neurosis and a feeling of isolation-constant noise batters the senses. But one of its main advantages is that you are at the center of things, and life does not come to an end at half-past nine at night. Some people have found a compromise between the two; they have expressed their preference for the quiet life by leaving the suburbs and moving to villages within commuting distance of the large cities. They generally have about as much sensitivity as the plastic flowers they leave behind-they are polluted with strange ideas about change and improvement which they force on to the unwilling original inhabitants of the villages.
What, then, of my dreams of leaning on a cottage gate, chewing a piece of grass and murmuring good morning to the neighbors as they pass? I’m keen on the idea, but you see there’s my cat, Toby. I’m not at all sure that he would take all that fresh air and exercise in the long grass. No, he would rather have the electric imitation-coal fire any evening.