View from the Bridge: 7

by John Morrison


7: Country life

A shiny new Range Rover pulls into the little square in the middle of Milltown. It is the Smallholder family, venturing down from their luxury converted farmhouse in the hills, to patronise the locals and do a bit of shopping. Mr Smallholder parks where everyone will be able to admire his expensive new number plate. When you see someone whose car bears a personalised number plate, do you think: "You know, I really respect a man who, in a world of bland conformity, makes such a bold decision to stand out from the crowd"? Or do you just think: "Wanker..."?

Mr Smallholder does something mind-bogglingly pointless in Manchester's financial district and so, naturally enough, gets paid an absolute fortune. Complex and generous bonus schemes ensure that if he increases turnover, shuffles a lot of papers or merely manages to work an uninterrupted week, he will be rewarded with share options, golden handshakes and off-shore bank accounts. Now they have swapped the crime and grime of the city for what they fondly imagine will be a rural idyll.

Blissfully unaware that proper farming represents a lifetime of mindless, back-breaking labour, working from dawn to dusk seven days a week (with maybe a couple of days off each year to attend Smithfield Show or a seminar about bulls' semen), Mrs Smallholder wants to get 'back to the land'. She has time on her hands and a rosy view of country life that stems from knowing nothing whatsoever about it.

A diet of glossy lifestyle magazines and shampoo adverts has given her unrealistic, soft-focus visions of wandering around her herb garden in a Laura Ashley frock, with a basket of meadow flowers over her arm. She ordered what the salesman promised was a 'farmhouse kitchen' - all pine and terracotta tiles - not realising that a genuine farmhouse kitchen is more likely to resemble a charnel house or motorbike mechanic's workshop.

On those rare occasions when they venture down below the tree-line, the local farmers need no persuading to air their jaundiced opinions on any subject you care to mention. But if you want to see a red-faced farmer positively incandescent with fury, you only have to drop the Smallholders' name casually into the conversation. Mrs Smallholder wanders round the boutiques to enjoy a bit of retail therapy, but she's still not accustomed to shopping in a small town. Her usual request - "Have you anything small, exquisitely useless and very, very expensive?" - falls on deaf ears here in Milltown.


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Knowing it might take half an hour for her to reach her gold card limit, Mr Smallholder decides to investigate one of the pubs and have a pint. The Stoic, overlooking the town square, is a pub seemingly designed for people who want to avoid over-excitement. With its posh carpets, mindless musak and fancy menu (poisson, pommes frites avec pois mushy) it is the ideal sort of place to sweet-talk a financially rapacious ex-wife. It tends to be patronised by men who carry purses, wear sheepskin driving coats and don't swear in mixed company... and their wives, who wear hats and drink sweet sherry.

This is the Sad Couple's local. They sit side by side, yoked together by mutual apathy, and stare blankly in opposite directions. They look like they last had a really good laugh about the time of the moon-landings. After years of joyless marriage the only thing they still have in common - apart from the right to be tried by jury - is the ability to make half a pint of bitter last two hours,.

They drive a battered Austin Allegro. If a bright-red Ferrari represents a tumescent erection in the common imagination, then the Austin Allegro presumably represents a painful prostate. They use it once a week to drive to some local beauty spot, sit in the car and drink a flask of lukewarm tea. Mr Smallholder waves his hand airily past the array of hand-pumps on the bar. "Now, then, landlord, what do you recommend?" "Two weeks in Barbados" comes the sour reply. At that moment Mr Smallholder is joined by his wife, laden down with bags, who squeals delightedly: "Just look what I found in this darling little shop... twigs. Fantastically expensive, I know, but I just had to have some".

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