They’ve marched on London, picketed the party conferences, pleaded in the Press and gone bankrupt in their droves. Isn’t it time to give rural folk an even break?
True, they fed bits of dead sheep to cows, tore up the hedgerows, filled in the wetlands and bellyached through good times and bad. Yes, they hunt the fox while enlightened and sophisticated city dwellers throw open their dustbins to
Reynard and his offspring and chatter excitedly across the napery about the feral beauty of their nocturnal guests.
But simple country people have suffered enough. Their livestock is worth pennies, though the supermarkets still charge pounds to sell it in loathsome cellophaned cartons. Their property is threatened by a Government eager to present every anoraked half-wit in the land with carte blanche to roam through field and meadow, opening his bowels wherever the fancy takes him. Worst of all, an exodus from the suburbs brings a new, prissy population to the countryside, quick to take offence at the smells and sounds that impinge upon the idyll.
Now, just as country dwellers thought that nothing worse could befall them, that malevolent fate had dealt his last blow and finally put aside scourge and scorpion, comes a thundering blow fit to knock out such tattered stuffing as still remains in bucolic life.
According to reliable reports, there are plans to make village pubs double up as doctors’ surgeries. (I cannot tell you how much self-discipline it took to forbear from completing that last sentence with an exclamation mark.) Even a countryside that has become inured to developments that run contrary to nature – battery farming, sheep cloning, genetically engineered King Edwards and so on – cannot have been prepared for such an affront to the divine order of creation.
No doubt there will be cynics – of which I am not one – who may argue that farmers and doctors deserve to share a common building since they already share a common public relations disaster. Both entered the post-war era basking in popular esteem. Farmers were round, ruddy, cheery folk who toiled to bring us the wholesome fruits of the land, and doctors were wiry Scottish gentlemen whose austerity masked hearts of gold. Today, farmers are seen as undeserving despoilers of the rural inheritance, while the medical profession has earned a reputation as a bullying, hectoring bunch of scaremongers.
That is no reason, however, why the habitués of Britain’s country pubs should suffer. Despite the best efforts of the brewers – whose scarred, burnt and poisoned public relations landscape makes that of the farmers and the doctors look like a sunny upland – the village pub remains a haven of self-indulgence and self pity, of laughter and excess, and of political incorrectness in joyful abundance. Behind the doors of the Goose & Poker, the grotesque realities and asperities of the world beyond recede into a perspective where they can be mocked. A village pub is the place where local people gather together with the laudable purpose of going to hell in ways of their own choosing and snapping their fingers at the purse-lipped health fascists.
If anything, the tide of puritanism that has swept through the land lends a conspiratorial thrill to the village pub. It’s a safe house where the resistance movement gathers to plot its acts of defiance but, as luck and metabolism would have it, cannot recall the details of the schemes discussed and must perforce meet again the next night to pick up what threads adhere to what brain tissue remains.
To put a doctor’s surgery in the snug would be like giving house room to the Gestapo. It would be the thin end of a very hefty wedge. By Michaelmas, long before icicles hung by the wall, Dick the Shepherd blew his nail and greasy Joan keeled the pot, the yellowing sign “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps” will have been replaced by the laminated notice “Have you examined your breasts lately?” And what chance the laughter of toothless yokels ringing through the woodwormed rafters in a tradition hallowed by centuries when, from behind the flimsy partition, comes the smell of surgical spirit, the tortured cry of a syringed victim, the creak of joints bending to order, and the muttered “I don’t like the look of that eye”? You go to a pub to get rid of inhibitions, not to be confronted by them.
Let in the doctors, and they will be followed by aerobics teachers, chiropractics, acupuncturists, aromatherapists, reflexologists, and Chinese herbal peddlars. No one, not even the sturdiest ploughman parched from his labours, can down a pint of Owd Growler to the sound of Greasy Joan having her colon irrigated.
The whole notion is madness and should be stopped. But who is to call a halt? Certainly not the Government, which has shown a cold indifference to the plight of the countryside. Come to that, might not this be an invention of Mandelsonian cunning? A killer blow that will at last still the turbulent voice of rural Britain? There is nothing for it, the people must revolt. The first village pub to have a doctor’s surgery thrust into proximity with mullion and inglenook, handpump and barmaid’s embonpoint, must be made a cause célÃÂ¨bre and a rallying point. After all, it’s not often you get the chance to drink the enemy into submission.