Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Fare Well

So the great Theodore Dalrymple is retiring and moving to rural France. As he says 'the French are some years behind us in the race to cultural oblivion. No doubt they will catch up with us in the end, but I hope not to see it in my rural fastness'.

Anyone who's spent time in rural France will know what he means. A couple of years ago we were in Sourdeval and attended the carnival. Several thousand people were on the streets all day, much lager and wine was consumed. We sat on the pavements until ten o'clock with our small children in an (admittedly noisy and smoky) atmosphere of perfect goodwill and freedom. Don't try that at Whitby Regatta.

I shall miss his despatches from the urban front line. What will he find to write about in rural France, where drive-by shootings or predatory youths disfigured by tattoos and/or facial ironmongery are rare ?

He is not alone in his decision. I must know of ten or more couples who have upped sticks to France. But he is rare in being totally upfront, not about why he is moving to France, but why he is leaving Britain (he currently works in a prison and hospital in inner-city Birmingham).

My university generation (mid-late 70s) has been (and is mostly still) saturated with the kind of leftism which assumes that most of society's problems stem from straight white males and the culture of our parents and grandparents. So it is strange that so many of us have ended up in the shrinking rural areas, whether here or abroad, where remnants of such culture cling on.

Dave - in turns hippy, probation officer, co-counsellor, radical therapist, musician, prison visitor - last year left Brixton for rural, white and conservative Lincolnshire while the children were still small. Pauline and Barry, impeccably liberal, in a Languedoc village whose inhabitants voted almost to a man for Jean-Marie Le Pen. Beth, ex-social worker in children's homes, travelling street magician and entertainer, from the heart of multiculti (and dangerous) Chapeltown to the isolation of the English Lakes. Gabrielle from London to the Presceli Hills, Sue from central Leeds to Perthshire. Dave and Louise from urban Bradford via rural Whitby to France. Carol from Bradford to rural California, Felicity from Vauxhall to Eire. Jill from Telford to the high Yorkshire fells (where only outcomers can afford houses now), Jenny from Peckham to Dartmouth. I could go on ...

But with the exception of Carol, who married a Californian only slightly to the left of Genghis Khan, my friends have maintained their 70s politics. The Guardian is now read on a slate worktop, overlooking a green-grey valley, or a pine table with pretty estuary views, but it's still the Guardian. They know something was wrong with the city, but it was only wrong for them as individuals. They haven't made any connections.

Similarly Billy Bragg chooses to raise his children in Dorset, Joe Strummer lived (and died) in rural Somerset, Rod Liddle (ex-Today editor) castigated English racism from Wiltshire. A couple of weeks ago I read a Jenni Murray interview in which the Woman Sour presenter and all-round PC exemplar described her decision to move from Wandsworth to rural Derbyshire (and send the kids to Cheshire grammars when they reached secondary school age). And or course every rock star buys a rural retreat or estate on getting the first million or two.

As Patti Smith (another one who headed for straight white society to raise the kids) would have said - 'Ain't It Strange'.

UPDATE - already he's found problems - namely the opening of a Starbucks in Paris. Link via Harry.