PUBLISHED: 12:14 06 January 2015 | UPDATED: 12:14 06 January 2015
Sybilla Hart compares London life with the Essex countryside
We all know that the green-eyed monster of envy is one to steer clear of. However, I admit that I felt a twinge of ‘granny envy’ the other day at the school gates. Here was one amazing granny: tall, slim and organised, picking up her two grandsons from our village school. She was not distracted by her mobile phone, nor was she rummaging around in her enormous handbag. No, she was 100 % on the case and sorting out her grandson’s scraped knees. I had to let out a sigh.
Fellow mums who have helpful local grannies: you are truly blessed! As I was trying not to let envy get the better of me and count my own blessings (of which there are many) my daughter helpfully pointed out that she would like to belong to another family ‘where there is no shouting’. Given that most of the shouting comes from her, I thought this was a bit rich. Nevertheless, you can be sure that I pondered on it for the rest of the day. Parents are good at beating themselves up.
When we got home things didn’t improve. Beatrice demanded to watch a television programme about a pair of twins who, according to her, lead the dream existence. I had to explain to her that it was most likely that Topsy and Tim’s mum wasn’t always smiling and a barrel of laughs. And that, when her dishwasher floods, or the dog is sick in the kitchen, or the children are naughty, she probably gets stressed too. Beatrice looked at me still unconvinced. Hot tears running down her face, she was dealing with one of life’s primary disappointments: shock press, your parents aren’t perfect. I do sympathise — I recall putting the same two and two together.
Bringing up children in the countryside v the city has its pros and cons. Four-year-old Beatrice said she would infinitely prefer to live in Topsy and Tim’s suburban house, with its neighbours, square garden and mandatory trampoline, rather than our farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. I did let out a sigh when Topsy and Tim’s mum got the blinking sprinkler out, as this gave Bea more ammunition for her argument. Could the mother on the TV show please stop being so perfect? She’s raising the bar too high! ‘But I don’t want a swimming pool,’ said Beatrice whining, ‘I want a sprinkler like Topsy and Tim. And,’ wait for it, ‘I want to go back to London.’
I vaguely remember asking my parents the same thing. I had a bit of an obsession with the Australian soap Neighbours and thought we would all be a lot happier in a smaller, cosy house as opposed to a very old and large one. In real terms there’s not much in it — you can just as easily be miserable in a huge house with a moat and blissfully content in a small terraced house. What I do know is that children who grow up in the countryside have the freedom to explore fields, back lanes and nature without the backdrop and danger of city life. In the countryside every trip outside the back door doesn’t loom with the possibility of instant stress from traffic and you are less likely to have a police helicopter hovering over your backyard all night in search of who knows what.
I do miss city life, of course. You walk out of your front door and everything is on your doorstep: restaurants, art galleries and every shop under the sun. But bring into the equation four children, a dog, buggies, scooters and childlike disregard of danger and I have to say at that point — hands up, I’m out. City life is fun for grown ups, but with a brace of children in tow, I’m not so sure.