When I was thirty years old, I was appointed Deputy Editor of Country Life magazine. To all my friends – and probably most of the staff of the magazine – it was hard to fathom. I had begun my career with six years at the celebrity-chasing Mail on Sunday, lived in London my whole life, could only walk in high heels and couldn’t tell my Doric from my Architrave. When the then-editor, the charming Clive Aslet, sent out an email announcing that I would be starting in the job, the staff Googled my name and the first thing that came up was an article I’d written about knickers. They didn’t hope for the best.
In the end, I stayed over four years, acquired five pairs of Hunter wellies and although I don’t think I succeeded in achieving my brief (to modernise the culture of the magazine – “like trying to modernise Prince Phillip,” a friend of mine remarked), I learned a lot. I also gained a real respect for the sometimes quieter way of going about things, for the men and women who had spent their years learning their craft or chosen subject, sometimes obscure but always valuable if they were not to disappear forever, whether that be the growing of cobnuts or the restoration of 14th century oak beams.
Some lessons were harder won. I was, after all, a townie, and the ways of the country were a mystery to me. After I asked my editor what the difference was between hay and straw, the only answer I could remember was that hay is a book festival and straw is something you drink cocktails with.
During my time there, I wrote a column for the now-defunct The London Paper, which appeared on Fridays, encouraging townies to go to the country at the weekend and indulge in the pleasures of pubs, stately homes, walks, strange Guy Fawkes night parades and so on. These formed the basis of my first book, Mud & the City: Dos and Don’ts for Townies in the Country (now available as an e-book). At the same time, I wrote a column for the magazine, as the Town Mouse, describing my various antics in and around the harsh pavements of London.
Now I have moved to the country for real. (This is partly why I’ve been a quiet on the blog front lately.) We are in Oxfordshire and I’m having to put some of my advice into practice – getting to know the neighbours, employing locally, chatting to the shopkeepers. There will be chickens, there may even be a dog. Some things have been surprising – for all the fresh air, I’m much more unhealthy in the country, baking and eating endless cakes and never walking anywhere (everything is a car journey’s distance away). Some less so – the house is freezing in the afternoon, it’s eerily quiet at night. I don’t feel quite up to writing a Country Mouse column yet (still using straws for cocktails), but perhaps a Town Mouse In The Country blog will do. I’ll let you know how I’m getting on. In the meantime, do come over for tea. There’s cake.