EL­LIE HAR­RI­SON

Grow­ing up in the coun­try­side is no clichéd ru­ral idyll.

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents -

If you think the se­ries W1A is just a com­edy, ask a BBC em­ployee about it. You’ll hear an­swers like “that thing writes it­self” (from the longer serv­ing) to “I thought it was a doc­u­men­tary” (from the fresh faced).

Sim­i­larly, the bril­liant BBC mock­u­men­tary This Coun­try could have been my teenage-hood – it’s so close to what it was like grow­ing up in the Cotswolds, just one town down the road from writer Daisy May Cooper’s se­ries. Peo­ple don’t be­lieve me be­cause my par­ents didn’t have an ac­cent so nei­ther do I.

But be­ware mak­ing judg­ments. Lis­ten to Hen­son: he sounds like a Wurzel but rides horses and went to pri­vate school. I can’t ride for tof­fee and went to the lo­cal com­pre­hen­sive in Tet­bury, a town with a posh high street where Prince Charles has a shop (I don’t think he puts in a shift), but has more depth if you head into the es­tates on the out­skirts.

PA­GAN ROOTS

It was here at my school that the ‘crisp bar’ served 10 dif­fer­ent po­tato snacks; where our maths teacher spent lessons telling us about her salad days as a jour­nal­ist in Lon­don in­ter­view­ing Hen­drix while we looked out of the win­dow (and got so des­per­ate we even tried mush­rooms one les­son); and where one of the sharpest drug mas­ter­minds of his age – years be­fore Break­ing Bad – walked the cor­ri­dors.

But it didn’t start out like that. Like many ru­ral pri­maries, mine was small – at one time there were fewer than 30 pupils – of­fer­ing a gen­tle in­tro­duc­tion to learn­ing. I don’t re­mem­ber a great deal of it but I do re­call em­pha­sis on the har­vest fes­ti­val, coun­try danc­ing and May Day dur­ing which we danced around the may­pole, and crowned a May King and Queen with days of cel­e­bra­tions. Look­ing back, it was quite pa­gan, mak­ing the con­nec­tion with na­ture.

It was only when I hit se­condary school that the ruse of the ru­ral idyll evap­o­rated. There’s a mis­con­cep­tion that coun­try schools are more whole­some than their ur­ban coun­ter­parts. But with less go­ing on for young peo­ple in the coun­try­side, we just get started ear­lier. Most of our trips to Durs­ley to go mush­room pick­ing were un­suc­cess­ful and we didn’t have the wheels to get to the Promised Land: Wales.

But my friend’s par­ents were pretty lib­eral and had a gen­er­a­tor so we whiled away week­ends in the rave scene. Long be­fore Face­book, I re­mem­ber her stresss­ing be­cause strangers had heard about it and were com­ing “all the way from Chel­tenham” to bring trou­ble. Even at school, the ice-cream van – which parked in the play­ground to of­fer nu­tri­tious snacks – sold cider lol­lies and more be­sides.

TRAGEDY

But it wasn’t all horse­play. There was sad­ness and suf­fer­ing, too. Dur­ing my time at school, one pupil man­aged to track down his birth mother just weeks be­fore she was mur­dered and, trag­i­cally for every­one, one pupil killed his adop­tive mother when he was just 17. Like many ru­ral ar­eas, hav­ing the free­dom to drive was es­sen­tial and there were young men with new li­censes find­ing out how break­able we all are.

School catch­ment ar­eas are big­ger in the coun­try­side so com­mutes are longer. In the early days, my jour­ney was a 25-minute walk and a 45-minute bus ride (home­work copy­ing time). The chil­dren from the hills with lit­tle traf­fic sense would crowd around the door of the bus as it was still pulling up, in a des­per­ate bid to sit near the back. Anna Norman from the fourth year get­ting her foot run over didn’t seem to teach any­one a les­son. Too many boys missed their stops when their ties had been fas­tened to the in­fra­struc­ture of the bus.

I re­mem­bered our bus more fondly re­cently when com­par­ing ex­pe­ri­ences with a friend who went to a board­ing school where there was lit­tle chance to es­cape the odd char­ac­ters. Ev­ery day at 3pm, we knew we’d hop on board and get out of there with a “see you later, weirdos” at­ti­tude. Back home to watch TV in peace.

This was the coun­try I knew. It was of course made up of landown­ers and farm­ers and horse riders – just as peo­ple imag­ine the coun­try is – but I didn’t know any back then. What I knew was a coun­try­side full of teach­ers, ice-cream van own­ers, bus driv­ers, po­lice de­tec­tives and ravers. This is my coun­try.

Watch El­lie on Coun­try­file on Sun­day evenings on BBC One.

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