I read online today yet another piece about living in the city – about rats, noise, dirt and people so crowded together that they can’t think straight. Written by someone who has “escaped it all”.
In recent years it seems to me that the fetishisation of the countryside in modern life has reached an apex. The hushed whisper with which people talk about days spent in the countryside, tears glistening at the corner of their eye as they describe mushroom picking with their grandparents in the endless glorious summers of their youth, like someone overdosing on too much E Nesbit. Yearning for quiet days and birdsong, fields and tractors, they carry on, shaking their heads and tutting over every passing siren.
I live in a city. It’s quiet where I live but that quiet is also punctuated by the passing of trains, trams and yes, the occasional siren. I hear birds, I hear children playing on the street, I hear buses pass, people chatting. City dwellers aren’t at each other’s throats all the time, we even have a sense of community. Walking to work each day I am greeted by street sweepers, newsagents and the inhabitant of a old people’s home who likes to wheel his wheelchair beyond the confines of his care centre. I say hello to workers and students on their way to the office and classroom, I say hello to the chap with learning disabilities who waits for the bus to take him to his day care.
Each year I know it’s spring when I see the House Martins fly around my house catching insects for their young, nesting under eaves of my neighbours house. In summer when it rains you can smell the warm concrete react to the water. In summer when it’s sunny you can hear children play in the fountains in the square. In winter it’s not too hard for everyone to get out of the house and buy food, get to work and visit friends. We’re not trapped by capricious transport and snow blockages.
In my tiny backyard right now I’m growing herbs, tomatoes, courgettes, squash, blueberries, lettuce and gooseberries. I have bees living in the wooden hut for them on the back wall, butterflies on the buddleia bush my grandma gave me and swifts, swallows and housemartins fly overhead. Spotted round here from time to time a redwing, a sparrowhawk, a blackcap, lesser whitethroat, goldfinches and the now-endangered house sparrow. Not to mention the families of bats and foxes that live on the wasteground across the road.
Also spotted in this city: top notch art, music, theatre, dance, craft and food. Shopping. Good transport links. Cinema. A range of bars.
I’m sure the countryside is beautiful and provides peace and tranquillity for those who live there. But since they have all they desire do they think they could please stop complaining about how awful it is to live in cities? Some of us like it. Some of us feel we have it all. Cities are noisy, people are in a hurry and need time to grow on you, but once you adjust, stand back and take time to observe and listen to them, you notice so many small things that make you realise you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.