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Letter from

7 September 2001

Letter from

LIFES different in London. Some of the people are great. Some of the people arent so great. And some of the people, lets be honest, are bloody awful!

Top of the bloody awful category come people who think that theres no such thing as culture outside the M25. Im talking about the people who think that, just because Tate Moderns only a tube ride away, theyre art experts. There are lots of them: theyre to be found barking out their opinions in restaurants, working on the principle that the more people that can hear you, the more right you must be.

Sorry if I sound a bit bitter here. I spent last night at a dinner party surrounded by guests whose opinion could be surmised as: City equals culture; country equals crass.

It makes me furious. I mean, just because youve got a London postcode, doesnt make you more cultured. If anything, it can make you less so. The people here have overdosed on culture. Theyve been desensitised to it. Theyve forgotten, simply, what is and what isnt moving.

In the country, people dont think something has to be abstract to be beautiful. It doesnt have to be clever or by someone from the right set or the right movement to make it interesting either.

Anyway, after a couple of glasses of wine (OK, a bottle), I tried to put my dinner companions straight about a few home truths. After another glass or two of beer (and, I think, some whisky) I tried to put them straight again. Then I got told to shut up and put in a cab.

Speaking of food, Ive had a few lovely meals with work recently. I never thought Id "do" lunch. (Is nouveau cuisine French for kids portion, incidentally?)

When youre working on a farm, lunch typically lasts anything between 20 minutes and an hour-and-a-half (depending on whether youre within sight of the boss), it comes out of a Tupperware box and is eaten in a tractor cab. These business lunches can go on three hours. Theyre great! You get to find out so much gossip…

After one of these lunches, all I want to do is sleep. And the whirr of the computer, the gentle bubble of noise, the heat of the office…what Im trying to say is falling asleep at your desk is something that could have happened to anyone.

I tried to explain to the boss, who had the job of waking me up, that I had been home the previous weekend and had worked my guts out on the farm on both Saturday and Sunday. (I chose not to mention that Id driven out of London to go fishing late the previous evening!)

I tried to tell the boss, too, that I often get to work early. The nine-to-five mentality is meaningless if youve been brought up on a farm. I even tried to get in the office at six oclock one day last week but the whole building was locked. The security guard thought I was a burgler.

That fishing trip must, incidentally, have been the first time for months Id been conscious of what season it was. Usually in London youre just aware of whether its hot or cold, rainy or dry. It was distinctly autumnal. I sat in the Surrey countryside and listened to the woodpigeons cooing and watched the mist settle over the lake and realised how much I missed the country. Rather have sat there than in the Tate Modern, thats for sure!

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Letter from

2 March 2001

Letter from

Ever wondered what lifes like in London? The same, really,

as in a lot of cities. A world apart, though, from life in the

country. Our monthly column, Letter from London, brings

you the highs and lows of one countryman living and

working in the capital – but whose heart remains

firmly back on the farm

LIFES different in London. Nobody takes any notice of sirens for a start. An ambulance rushes by – lights flashing, sirens wailing – and no one gives it a second glance. At home, it would spark a frenzy of speculation. Has smoking in bed finally done for Marge, wed wonder? Has someone died in the retirement bungalows (death row, as theyre known)? Has Paul been talking with his fists again?

You hear sirens at all hours of the day and night here. Its part of the fabric of permanent noise. And sleepings hard enough as it is, with all the cars passing a few feet from my front door.

Im getting used to it – but it was impossible to sleep at first. Its not just the noise, either, its the light – headlights reflecting on the walls, the neon light outside. Its never completely dark.

Its odd, though. Now its the other way round. I go home for a weekend in the country and find the silence and the dark unsettling.

Car not used

I dont use the car much in the week. It gets parked outside the front door when I come back to London on a Sunday night (well, as near to the front door as I can get which usually means three roads away) and doesnt move again until the following weekend.

Londoners moan about the public transport – but I dont think its that bad. Its crowded and smelly, but its better than having none at all. After years of arguing over whose turn it was to drive to the pub, its a novelty not to have to even think about it. Course, it means you drink more – but, hey-ho, lifes a bummer sometimes!

I reckon that new Mayor Ken Livingstones first priority should be to do something about the buses. Anyone would think theres a by-law stipulating that they have to smell of urine!

Part of the problem with driving is that the roads are so busy. It can take an hour to travel a mile sometimes. A 30mph speed limit, thats a joke – 30mph is an aspiration, not a constraint. Its so unpredictable, too. I sat in the car on the south circular for two hours last week. I could have crossed the whole county in that time at home. I could have covered more ground in the tractor, for heavens sake.

Pubs and nightclub

The traffic isnt the only thing that keeps me awake at night incidentally. There are about six pubs and a nightclub within a few hundred yards of the flat so I often hear people outside, shouting. I left for work one day this week and a man was sitting on my wall. Just sitting there. "Can I help you?" I asked. No, he said. So I went to work. Its what you do in London.

You wouldnt believe the number of homeless people here. Its strange – they must have existed in the country – but I dont remember seeing them. Here, great packs of them stand around in railway stations, clutching wine bottles. Being used to farming, Im no stranger to dirt – but the street people are covered in a different kind of dirt. A permanent dirt. One homeless man was walking around barefoot in Victoria station on Tuesday, his feet black and bleeding. I thought: How do people get like that. Like everyone else, though, I just walked past.

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