Giles Coren on country life
A huge motivating factor in my current search for a nice big house in the country (either to move to permanently or to ensure that my Friday and Sunday nights for the next twenty years are spent sitting in motorway traffic, listening to awful plays on Radio 4 and shouting at the kids in the back, Well you should have gone before we left home!) is the glistening album of happy memories I have of the little cottage in the New Forest where I spent the weekends and summers of my childhood. It was pure Laurie Lee: a little stone cottage on the crest of a hill at the end of an unmade track, looking down on a twinkling stream at the bottom of the valley and then across to ancient woodland. Oh, the joyful walks in the late evening sunshine, the frolics in the stream, the hide and seek in the woods, the gay jaunts to the sweetie shop in the nearby village that we would have had if we hadnt been too terrified to venture past the garden gate. My sister and I were seven and four when my parents bought Long Orchard in the long, hot summer of 1976. In early June, we loaded up the old Mercedes and headed down for the duration. On the first morning my sister and I woke at dawn, ran downstairs and out into the lane, bursting to begin our rural adventure. And that was when we saw our first horse. Or possibly pony. They run wild in the New Forest, you know. Its lunacy, sheer lunacy. Some of them are as much as four feet high and survive mostly on a diet of terrified urban children who have only ever seen a horse on television and assumed they were weird mythical creatures that didnt really exist, like dragons and hobbits and Floella Benjamin. We turned and ran. Which was when we saw our first cow. Huge. Wide-eyed. So still and quiet it can only have been planning murder. We screamed and screamed and screamed. And those screams woke the local sheep dog, long-fanged and drooling, which despite its great old age, arthritis and the name Flopsy, haunted our nightmares for a decade afterwards. We ran home, and as we flew through the garden gate got very slightly slimed by a cobweb. Aaaargh! Spiders! We screamed. But our mother, who was standing on a chair with her skirt-tails in her hands, shrieking at a tiny mouse on the floor, was no use at all. "Run and play in the stream while I deal with this, said my dad. And so off we toddled to build a dam and play a little Pooh-sticks, which was when we saw our first well, I still dont know what it was. Possibly a minnow, possibly just a leafy stick. But if you called my sister today and asked her, she would still tell you it was a shark. Aaaanyway, the hunt for a country house is going well. Im over my fears of the countryside now, and have no problem at all with the idea of spending time out of town. Were thinking of perhaps going as far afield as Hampstead. Or even Highgate. . Giles Coren is The Times restaurant critic. His new book, How To Eat Out, is published by Hodderand is out now. This feature appears in the latest edition of Jackson-Stops & Staffs Market Review.