16 May 2011

(B)Rambling On (Part 1)

When you have been a hardcore urbanite all of your life - except for the last 17 months - chance is, the countryside will still hold some secrets to you and still take you by surprise. No disrespect, but my (rather remote and sedate) experience of the countryside for the 16 years preceding the last 17 months (are you still following me, btw?) erred (tottered) on the posh side, and I shall only drop the name: Cheshire.

Property for sale in Prestbury, Cheshire (POA), at Jackson-Stops & Staff

'Nuff said, I lived on the wrong side of the Cheshire county border, yet only a hop away from the coveted plush pads of Hale & Hale Barns, Knutsford, Dunham Massey, Woodford and Alderley Edge. I'll bypass Wilmslow on this one, as Wilmslow is too obvious an option, Wilmslow is brash and nouveau riche (in my opinion). Anyway, the Cheshire countryside I was aware of was nothing to do with the deep, middle-of-nowhere, muddy, dusty, back-breaking farming heartland countryside, I must concede. Rather it was Manchester's extended Southbound spread of charming little satellite towns and villages flirting with the outskirts of suburbia and stretching just over the green belt that circumnavigates our marvelous Northern city.

Me and my mates would nip across to Cheshire like one would nip down the corner shop, whenever we felt like it, as a pick-me-up, with no particular reason, for a wander mostly or even in search of lifestyle inspiration. We 'targeted' the trendy bars (where we liked to be seen), quintessentially English pubs (where we felt cosy in Winter), and stylish restaurants (only if we felt flush that month!).

Sweet talking at The Rams Head, in Disley

You get it, we'd nip across to Cheshire mostly to kid ourselves, pretend we were one of them, and try blending in with the beautiful crowds, even passing judgement like only a bunch of girls would, from the safety of their group and assurance gained after that first glass of wine: 'That one over there, she can't be from round here, you can tell from that dress, and look at that hair, is she desperate or what?' - we'd quip with a frown (as if we shouldn't have known better ourselves!) and then we'd giggle, like a bunch of silly teenage girls, 30 going on 13!

I slummed it a notch when taking Tickle to the parks and country parks of Cheshire (mainly Styal and Dunham Massey), on those long lazy Summer week-ends, even later in season. I felt safe, rested and incredibly inspired there, cut off from the stress of the city. I'd go for a drive down the narrow country lanes of Cheshire, just to reconnect with myself and with my thoughts. I'd clear my head, solve problems, find brief contentment. Me and a friend would sometimes make a whole day out of our Cheshire trip, visit the odd boutique and succumb to purchase temptation, visit an antiques dealer for inspiration, on a whim and on a daydream, then down to the garden centre, or the local tea room for a treat.

'Dunham Massey Mill in the Snow', by © Ed O'Keeffe Photography

What fascinated us was that those 'little towns in the country' boasted virtually all the conveniences of the bigger towns (maybe minus good transportation links), with the added advantage of quality, originality and exclusivity, which in turn resulted in the distinct disadvantage of the price tag. When down in Knutsford, which virtually consists of two parallel and narrow high streets that you can walk up and down in less than ten minutes (excluding window-shopping), we'd marvel at those designer kitchen showrooms, glamorous hair and beauty salons, trendy wine bars and bijou designer boutiques.

At the estate agents windows, we'd coo at the rows of noughts sitting within the price of the 'For Sale' properties from the Cheshire set. We'd wow past those handkerchief-sized character cottages with their neat topiary box hedges, doll-house picket fence and expensive-looking plant tubs from Heal's or Barton Grange, with elaborate colourful arrangements spilling out of them. Those houses had kerb appeal by the bucket-load.

Source: Marie Claire Maison

We'd think, we'd hope: 'One day, it will be me!' We'd live the daydream while we were there, then head home and land back into the reality of our financial situations... Anyway this was the kind of countryside we liked: polished, civilised, designer-led... and townie. And fake - let's admit it. (to be continued)

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