Reassessing Country Life

SOPHIE THORPE realises that her countryside upbringing was more unusual that she’d anticipated.

Barbour childhood Christmas cider country great dorset steam fair pony sophie thorpe tractor wellies

The other day, I met someone who didn’t know what a Barbour jacket is. “Haha, old girl,” I chuckled, thinking this was a joke. But, alas: the face in front of me remained innocently perplexed. This girl genuinely didn’t know what I was talking about. She had gone through 20 years of life without knowing what one of my most prized possessions is. Naturally, I was incredulous. Are there really people to whom the very foundations of my culture are so foreign? I know that the village I grew up in is remote. Of course I do. I know that the livestock-to-people ratio is higher than average. But, I didn’t think these things made that much of a difference. I have always considered my life to be fairly normal. Quiet, yes, but still normal. Apparently not.

Illustration by Abi Lander

I first realised that my life is anything but normal when I was chatting to a friend about the holidays. She regaled hilarious tales of trips to gritty clubs, the lads that she’d landed, and lazy afternoons spent skulking along inner city streets. I, on the other hand, talked about my job at the Great Dorset Steam Fair. Incidentally, last year’s highlight was a performance by the world-famous Wurzels. It was simply fantastic. And, as I wittered on about the heavy haulage and horse ploughing, a look of mild horror mixed with mockery spread across my friend’s face.

Upon reassessment, and consulting friends from various parts of the country, I realised that my life really is utterly bizarre. I really do live in a far-away countryside dream land. Take, for example, my childhood. I wasn’t interested in Barbies or Polly Pockets. Rather, I asked for a tractor for Christmas every year. My first boyfriend was the milkman’s son. Until the age of 13, I wore bright red dungarees to school. In that very school, we climbed trees and rode ponies at break time. In the world I grew up in, the Boxing Day meet is a key part of Christmas festivities, wearing wellies is perfectly normal, and plucking pheasants is a pastime.

Is British country life… normal?

And so, upon returning home after another term in the big City of Cambridge, I found myself at yet another harvest supper. This year, the village’s old codgers performed: There’s a Hole in my Bucket, dear Liza, and the whole barn gaily joined in for the chorus. I sat alone in silence, my throat clogged with social awareness. But, why? Why was I embarrassed of my mother and her full-length fur coat, the neighbours’ llamas, my love of the church fete, and my dog’s eau-de-badger-poo? As I mulled over this problem with a piece of hay between my teeth (of course), I decided that life had presented me with a fork in the road, and I had to pick my path. I could either withdraw to the safety of my city-based student life and sneer at country folk; or, I could embrace the quirks of my rural world and the responses it received from ignorant outsiders. And the choice was easy. Of course I decided to don my wellies and over sized Barbour with pride. Whatever anyone else thinks, the countryside is where I grew up, and where I feel most at home. And so, when term ends, I head south, towards the country scents and sounds that even a trip to Grantchester cannot provide me with. And as my train gradually fills up with waxed jackets and wellies, the alien culture of the city with its suits and cement seeps away. I enter into the realm of the country dwellers, and I know that I am coming home. This summer, I shall be attending the Great Dorset Steam Fair again, relishing in the chance to meander among tractors and horses while smiling at strangers, sipping cider, and singing loud and proud the Wurzels’ words: “I am a cider drinker, ?I drinks it all of the day,? I am a cider drinker,? it soothes all me troubles away. ?Ooh arrh, ooh arrh ay, Ooh arrh, ooh arrh ay…” And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.