Country Life


Sailing through the British countryside on a train is so different from the same experience in Canada. England has a kind of domesticated wildness. Everywhere you look there are well-tended fields or bright green pastures, separated by hedges or piled stone fences. Yet there are also tangled copses of holly bushes or stands of thick forest, not large but clearly not constrained either.

When you are in town, you are clearly in town and then you are in the countryside once more. This clear demarcation of town and country through much of Britain is a striking feature of social organization. In Canada and much of the USA this distinction is constantly blurred. Bungalows and trailers stretch out from villages and towns along the highway or are plunked down in unserved developments, a vast cluster of nearly identical houses existing as satellites to ’real’ urban areas. They possess all the disadvantages of country life but none of its charms, their citizens slaves to the automobile and the one hour commute.

Worse still are the acreages – scraps of land big enough to mow but hardly large enough to be called an estate. With a good arm you can smash a neighbour’s window from your front step. These faux mansions – plywood palaces we used to call them though today they are mostly made from particle board – provide a semblance of upper class living to people who mostly have no class at all.

You’ll never catch me living in one. Even if I won the big lottery I would never spend it on a fifteen bedroom tarted-up house in the near rural suburban wilderness. Give me an out-of-the-way penthouse right down town. A matter of taste perhaps but also a symbol of the need to ostentatiously display one’s wealth (or as often, one’s debt) as if that somehow justified the shady means that it was obtained.

A bit sour today, I suppose, but the more I see of the wealthy, the less I like them. At least as a class – some millionaires I’ve known are quite nice people. But they knew where they stood in relation to their fellow man, luckier than most but no better. Too bad about the jerks who think they are John Galt, waiting in the wings.

But that’s ten minutes.



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