The English countryside, and especially the area known as the Cotswolds, has become a commodified concept to be bought and sold, gambled with, invested in and corrupted. I am sorry to have to concede that I have arrived in quasi joke-land where all the cliches about wealthy farmers driving Lamborghini tractors, speeding country boys and second-homers are now my reality. The question is if I can live selectively by blocking out the bad bits and editing my experiences to hang on to the bits I am interested in, or am I going to run screaming back to my urban roots?
So off I ride into the sunset, on my trusty bike, to the neighbouring village of Clanfield where the fancy Double Red Duke “gastro pub” sports jaunty stripey umbrellas in the front garden. I turn right to the Carterton Road and from the corner of my eye spy the punters at the the DRD chomping on their pulled pork and guzzling their prosecco, then a further few yards past some seriously well-endowed Cotswold stone houses with forbidding looking gates until I hit the lane to Broadwell (or Bradell as they say around here).
A couple are walking their dogs down the lane. As you are aware there is a plague of cockapoos, French bull dogs and other odd looking creatures in the world. Meanwhile the birthrates in Western countries are rapidly going down. I politely ring my bell. These days, sensibilities being as they are, one doesn’t know whether ringing a bell will invite gratitude or abuse. The man- porky, bald, possibly tattooed- wishes me good evening, so that’s all right then. No offence taken.
I am on the lookout for blackberries, even though I know that they are bound to be drought stricken pippy and woody. Only a few straggly elderberries bow their heads limply in the hedgerows. In the distance I can see another cyclist going quite slowly so think about pinging the bell again, but as I advance closer I see her wobble and crash into the ditch on the right. I rush to help her. She is wearing no knickers under her sundress. This is the summer of 34C at sunset. She scrambles to her feet unharmed protesting she is fine, that her husband is further along on his bike and waiting for her. I watch her mount the man’s bike (a drop handled flimsy looking job). “Gosh you have a big bike” she says and I reply yes, its a 28 inch wheel but its an ebike and goes really well. “Why do you have those paneers?”. I am momentarily flummoxed. “Ah, my panniers? Oh for shopping, bringing home allotment stuff, you know.” She probably has an SUV to go to Waitrose so paneers wouldn’t make sense to her. With a wave I speed on.
Still no decent blackberries. Half a mile further I see something large has landed in the hedge. It is a man, presumably the husband, and he is calling on me to help him.
How will I, 5 foot nothing and 8 stone something, succeed in getting a large man with a pronounced belly out of this bramble hedge. The very abstract notion of hedge-fund becomes materially significant. “You have to help me” he pleads like a small boy, all 16 stone of him. He is all tangled up with the pippy blackberries and bike, with his cap riding jaunty and high on the further bushes. I try and haul him out to no avail. His hand and arm are slippery with sweat. I’ll have to get the man with the Lamborghini tractor to tow you out of this mess I think. It does cross my mind that husband and wife are a pair of prize idiots when the wife finally arrives on her bike. “Help me, you can do it” urges the tangled up man to the tiny, skinny woman. She tugs at his hand and promptly falls into the brambles on top of him, along with her bike.
Blimey, now what am I going to do? Maybe Jeremy Clarkson will appear from the other end of the county where he lives in Diddly Squat near Chipping Norton, or David Cameron or Kate Moss or even Richard Branson. The wife frees herself but now his leg is stuck between saddle and handlebar, so I manoeuvre the bike and he is able to haul himself out. “I have to shake your hand” he declares grandly before wobbling off leaving his wife for me to sort out.
“What’s your name? Where do you live? Ah Bampton! My granny used to live there. What’s your name? I’m Belinda (naturally- it has to be Belinda, or Charlotte, or Annabel or Lucinda). I am terribly pissed.” She screams with laughter “but he’s even more pissed than me. Look we must have a coffee or something. Where do you live? Ah yes, Bampton. Thank you thank you you are an angel.”
Gastro pub indeed, imagined as a bucolic drinking hole for the moneyed. There are Double Red Dukes looped throughout the Cotswolds, all with pretty decors and incompetent staff and charging £20 a plate.
The yuppie couple (yes its they) live in a picture-book village about 12 miles away. I doubt they’ll get home in one piece but I wish her well and wave her off in the opposite direction to Bampton. I have no desire to do more good Samaritan stuff so I turn my bike around and start off home.
All the way back I am talking to myself like a demented old bat. “They’re mad. Imagine if they lay there all night….Why does everyone need to drink so much? Crazy people. Cant even ride bikes…their tyres were flat…if I hadn’t come along…”
But this sort lead charmed lives; they will snore themselves to oblivion and then whizz back to London on the M40 in a Porsche. Even if I hadn’t been there, Jeremy or Dave or Richard would have chanced on them and towed them home to safety.