Don’t even consider stepping foot in the countryside until you have read this. This is the urbanites and cityites guide to avoiding red faced calamites that could haunt you for the rest of your life.
10 Stopping the car for a pee. Come on, who amongst us hasn’t? You’ve been on the road for ages and you’re still miles from civilisation (otherwise known as a McDonalds) where they have half sensible loos. There’s no way you’d ask at a petrol station, and as for public conveniences, forget it! So you find a quiet road and drive slowly. You haven’t seen another vehicle for miles. You are alone. You spot a cut in, and pull off. Open the window. Silence. You’ll be out of the car for no more than a minute max – what could possibly go wrong? As soon as you nip out and assume the position, a caravan appears out of nowhere with the longest tailback in the whole history of the countryside snaking out behind it, and it’s not just cars, oh no, there’s coaches, a school bus, tractors and a police car.
9 Country pubs. This is a hive of potential for anything from an awkward moment to a full blown “Oh my God” disaster. First there’s the accent. People in the country don’t talk proper, and even if you can understand the words, the context can be mystifying. One thing to remember is, rather like the French, in the country everything is either male or female. Everything. A gate post is male, referred to as “him”, where as a gate is “her”. “Her swinging on him quite nicely now,” is nowhere near as baffling as it sounds.
8 Beware of local delicacies. The temptation is to do the, “When in Rome, do as…” bit. Eat like the locals. Surely in the countryside that’s going to healthy, wholesome and fresh? Isn’t it? Possibly… and then possibly not. To give you an example, the old Devon farmers’ traditional breakfast – this is breakfast remember – is called, Thunder and Lightning, which is toast, smothered in clotted cream (thunder) and topped with maple syrup (lightning). The heart attack by lunchtime is optional.
7 Mud. Mud is Satan’s two fingers at God for chucking him out of heaven, along with traffic jams, people who whistle in public and Peter Mandelson. Like most things, country mud is way different to town mud. Town mud is the stuff that clings to the leather soles of your loafers, or the tiny bit of a high heel that actually connects with the ground. Country mud, on the other hand, has the consistency of quick drying cement and can suck a man’s welly-boot from his foot as fast a look at him.
6 At night, it really, really, really gets dark. I’m talking a hand an inch from your nose, and you still can’t see it. Foxes bump into hedges. Cats walk into walls. And it’s not just in the middle of a field, or a rural farmhouse that it happens, step out of a pub in the winter’s evening past nine o’clock and it’s as though someone’s turned your eyes off. If you haven’t got a torch handy, the trick to finding your car is to use your mobile phone – when it’s that dark, a mobile switched on casts enough light to grope your way amongst the bonnets in the car-park without serious injury until you find one that’s familiar.
5 Fitting in. Lots of things will mark a townie out. White jeans… in fact any light clothing… or any clothing that’s clean for that matter. The inability to talk knowledgeably about the price of tractor tyres. The, “I did have three riding lessons when I was young – and there was that time in Portugal that I rode across the beach – so yes, I am a good horse rider!” brigade. If you’re planning on spending any longer than a brief holiday in the country, there are only one of three ways you can possibly fit in, and that’s by joining the church, school or stables, and of the three, the stables rule the roost.
4 Pony club. Take the Freemasons, the W.I., The Police Force, MI5, The Maffia, The KGB, The Yardies, and they all look like school children grumbling about a wet-break in comparison to, The Pony Club Riding Instructor. Big busted, grey hair scraped back into a tight bun above a face that’s only ever moisturised when it rains, beige jods like a second skin over iron thighs, permanent PMT and the ability to reduce a child of three to tears with just a glance. Stand The Pony Club Riding Instructor in the centre of a sand school, and suddenly your little poppet who’s been collecting My Little Pony for years in a build-up to her first moment on a horse, is now sobbing with terror as she gallops round like Frankie Dettori’s understudy. Your urge as a parent will be to interfere, but DO NOT! Look away, bite your knuckles, do whatever you like because if you do interfere, The Pony Club Riding Instructor will take this as a challenge to her authority over all little children, and will announce, in a loud, proud, who’s boss now? voice, “I think we’ll finish with a jump. Set the jump to three foot six… wide!”
3 Amorous animals. The countryside is awash with sex. Awash with it, it is. Bulls humping cows, rams humping sheep – a ram can service up to twenty females a night, which is something even Tiger Woods would struggle with. They don’t care about privacy, in fact if the more of an audience, the better, and has given way to a phenomenon known as, the countryside second. The countryside second is the period of time between a coach pulling up to watch a herd of cows, and the bull leaping on the nearest female.
2 Are we alone now? You have booked a rural cottage in the middle of nowhere. The road outside has grass growing down the centre of it, and you haven’t seen another human being for days – but don’t be fooled! The minute you relax and dispense with the dressing gown and wander around in your underwear, maybe doing a muck-about dance to a song on the radio while you put the kettle on fix breakfast in bed for two, the minute you start doing that, it’s a given that a group on horseback will ride by all staring in at you through the window.
1 Visiting. It’s nice to see how the other half live. Bundle the children into hats, coats and boots, get a towel ready for the dog, and make your way over to a smallholding close by to have a look around. But there’s a vital question you have missed. Something you should have asked at the point you agreed to take a sightseeing trip over to a local’s. Something that could have avoided traumatising the children back into wetting the bed, and that question is, “Do you have any dead in the house.” The thing is, from a country folk’s point of view, there’s nothing so convenient as a coat rack by the back door for hanging all your dead pheasants, chickens, ducks and turkeys while they’re waiting to be processed. Ah, the country life.