by Robert Harding
I went to escape the urban solitude,
To escape the perpetual flaneurship,
the dogged ‘outsider’ mantle I was made from.
I should’ve said grow up you child, you’re a writer
What did you expect?
And the people there, in the countryside were like,
‘oh yes, no lamplight here mate. Black as the ace of spades, ay, ay?’
And they smiled a crooked smile.
And there was talk of a bypass going somewhere
‘but where and on whose land?’ they said.
here and there a stately home—poor relations of the Khan’s pleasuredome, boxy stacks of bricks that still decree,
‘keep off the grass’ and ‘between 2 and 4 for tea’.
By the way folks this is a ‘no-cold calling zone.’ We’re all for the market out here but not around here geddit?
Squads of ducks patrolled the dainty lake, the Serpentine, but alas no serpent, nor monkey or macaw. Or the thrilling cries they made, proclaiming the joys of nature. The pheasant did that I suppose, with his strangled squawk. Or was he pointing out another high-pressure owned by foreign equity?
Then the silence is cracked open by the radio inside the squad car parked near the village green. The village cop is in his Escort radioing in the ‘suspicious Hyundai’ parked near the Earl’s land. Registration; foxtrot (oh really where?), Golf (to be expected), Hotel (beats my B and B) November (perpetually), Papa (died and left me) nineteen ninety-five model.
In the afternoon Farmer Giles was suffering his piles,
for he dug up a tuffet because Little Miss Muffet,
who was atop it was a
spoilt ‘it’ kid from the city, matter of fact the west of it,
and besides moles around here could shut the ***k up cos they had no
ownership rights either. There were only ‘pests’ disrupting the economics of farming and moi land!
‘I’ve worked all me life.’ Said Giles. Moles should earn a living.
Wherever you looked there were only the serried ranks of the dumb, the
bovine, foxes mugging homesteaders of their chickens, creeping gangster owls soundless in the velvetine darkness.
Come out from under your stones and see the same thing done but in the city where grown-ups live.
Crowds of mustard flowers waved all different ways, blowing with the wind — frivolous shoppers in Oxford Street.
The animals crowded the pastures; Friesians blackened the meadows, Gothic starlings fringed the boughs, hustling the best spot.
And all dun-coloured, in the metaphysics of things at least and, worse still, none could talk.
Nor were there pussycats here, no proper country forest, no labial lawns, or chestnut thatch much less the downy patch, of the
penumbra between the feathery wood and the thigh of the meadow.
And subtract from this, dun-coloured sparrows’ chirruping gossip at lights out.
No, all quiet here—only the pout of a dace, the moue of a rudd.
They sit in the dark of a bend in the river where mournful trees overhang;
Nowhere a plan, for them to jump out into the net I don’t have. Only the dark of the bend.
Nothing on offer.
Save some lads who have come from the city. On a trip with ten cold beers each, all warming, turning to soup.
They look at the pastures seen and say, ‘no birds here bruv’. Only the stench of the next door farm, barbed wire, another warning sign; private property, no trespassing, slow down. Twinned with Cologne. Well if you lose the war.
City talk cuts no ice here. The farmer’s boy casually blasts the
crests of men pheasants with shot, stoves the skulls of rabbits into the landscape,
poke down the heads of little black kittens into the bucket. Surplus they bob down beneath the surface and up for the last time.
One cat can off the rats.
Drowning cute kitties here isn’t a crime.
Country people, village people anyway, are as mean and quick-sighted as birds, orderly as clerks, great tuggers of lace, sentinels of the status quo.
And so when on my couch and a pleasant host of geese I see, vree-vree,
I think take me back to the town,
And set me free.
Hell. I feel so very tired.
Robert Harding is an ex-teacher, lecturer and research fellow, now writing full time.