I recently read an article in a local glossy estate agents magazine while I was waiting for fish and chips. I describe the magazine as such because at least half the pages are filled with details and wonderful photographs of desirable residencies in the Cotswold area. There was also an editorial piece in the front of the magazine which I could skim read with ease as it followed a very well trodden path.
It was a jocular account of the excesses and eccentricities of the nouveau-arriviste Cotswold family, swollen with cash from the sale of their multi million pound Notting Hill terraced house.
I also recently attended a funeral of a wonderful local woman who died far too young, a born and bred daughter of the Cotswolds. The gathering at the church was anything but unique, many races, ages and social groups had gathered to bid farewell to this popular woman. Basically normal people who live in the Cotswolds. Loads of them. Not one merchant banker, movie star or retired footballer among them.
The contrast was notable.
In the 21 years I’ve been living in the Cotswolds I will have read at least 21 articles written by erudite, observant and witty journalists who don’t live here who enjoy nothing more than describing wealthy residents of the golden shire with barbed insights and brand accurate put downs.
The portrait they paint is always snide, knowing and accurate, if you only inhabit the tiny, totally irrelevant little world these self-loathing scribes clearly do.
I’m sure you’ve come across such lazy appraisals.
‘The Cotswolds - full to the brim with movie stars, TV presenters and merchant bankers,’ they chortle. ‘Living in their delightful barn conversion with 2 Labradors, a Range Rover in the garage, son Tobias at Winchester and daughter Florette at CLC.’ (That’s Cheltenham Ladies College for you plebs)
Ha ha. So observant, so terribly witty.
‘I chat with the good lady wife Bruschetta.’ Continues the faceless hack. ‘as she leans on her 4 oven Aga and worries about the organic free range hare she has hanging on the pantry door.’
Oh guffaw, so accurate, so cutting and original. We know someone just like that.
‘She passes her days painting blanket boxes she sells at a charming little shop in Winchcombe while hubby embezzles billions in the City.’
Oooh, political and disruptive, such brave and knowing satire.
Well, let me paint another picture for you. The vast majority of residents of the Cotswolds, and I’m claiming around 98%, do not run merchant banks, don’t work in the TV business, don’t have an Aga or a Labrador, they don’t have Range Rovers or live in barn conversions. They have normal occupations with humble incomes and their kids go to the Cotswold comprehensive school in Bourton on the Water.
Some of them even vote Labour! Blimey, I know it’s hard to believe but they really do. They keep quiet about it obviously.
There are even actual farmers who live and work in the Cotswolds, they live in small houses and use their barns for, wait for it, storing hay and agricultural machinery. Oh, the dizzying shock!
There are quarry workers, Tesco delivery operatives, people who work in IT, in fact quite a lot of people who work in IT because GCHQ in Cheltenham needs a few of them. There are teachers, bakers, dry stone wallers, shop workers, retired people who aren’t that bothered about the colour of their wellingtons, there are people who work in insurance, local banking, pharmacists and builders.
Basically normal people who don’t get interviewed about their life style or taste because it’s probably not seen to be that entertaining.
‘Mary lives in a bungalow in Bourton on the Water, she has two sons, one works locally, the other is at University in Plymouth. Her husband Phil is a builder, running the company set up by his father. They’ve lived in the Cotswolds all their lives, as did their parents and grandparents. They don’t have an Aga or a Range Rover. Teri runs a catering company but when her children were younger, she was a child minder.’
Have you ever read about someone like that in a witty, cutting observational piece about the Cotswolds by the likes of AA Gill? No, don’t be so silly. As if. Much better to find a chinless red trouser wearing toff who represents 0.003% of the UK population and inflate their importance beyond all recognition.
In my 21 years of residence, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable about being one of the people these journos love having an annual go at. Yes, I do occasionally work in the TV industry, our house was never a barn but it does have an Aga. We have dogs, okay, not Labradors but one is a Lurcher which is, without question, a posho status symbol breed apparently.
However there are so many aspects of my clichéd existence that are never listed, my wife is an Australian, about as Cotswold wife as Edna Everidge, my daughter has ridden horses but is a vegetarian who doesn’t like hunting. My son lives in London because the Cotswolds are ‘so boring.’
We drive an electric car and we have solar panels on the roof. We are clichés of a type yet to be vilified by some bitter scribe who lives in Tufnell Park and thinks ‘global warming’ is a feminist plot.
The people in my village are kind, accepting of our eccentricities, non judgmental and charming. They live their lives quietly and are probably unaware of the frothing social put-downs so popular with such opinion pieces.