Rachel Johnson, writing in The Times on June 8, paints a laughable picture of her rich Notting Hill neighbours.
These people who have the money to live anywhere, choose instead to live cheek by jowl with their neighbours. However, they go to great lengths never, ever to actually meet them, apart from occasionally risking it in the communal garden where nannies are regularly dispatched to entertain the children.
Instead, displaying badger-like characteristics, the mega rich of Not-in-Hell are creating vast underground caves. These subterranean spaces are, apparently, home to personal gyms, cinemas and pools so they never have to do anything as unpleasant as mixing with the common people at the local multiplex or municipal swimming baths. Perhaps they keep their personal trainers down there too, letting them out for an hour or so a day to put the lady of the mansion through her perfectly coiffed paces before locking him away in his own personal gym until the next session.
London is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest capital cities and an exciting place to visit, but with such greatness come city grime, shared air, city crime levels and water that, it is rumoured, has passed through at least eight other people (most of whom are likely not to be healthy, organic-eating gym bunnies), before it comes out of a tap. Eugh.
I lived in London when I was single, without commitments; cycling to work in W1 via Hyde Park corner and it was fabulous. I lived in a lovely area, was able to pay my rent and bills, and have a great social life – all on the salary of a secretary. I am writing this a few (ahem) years later while sitting in a train on my way back there for a day of meetings. The difference is that I’ll be on the 4.30pm train home this afternoon – heading back to the Cotswolds, which takes less time from central
London than it can take to get back to Croydon in the rush hour. I’ll step out of the train at Kemble station and into my car, perhaps stopping for a quick drink at The Tavern Inn, opposite the station, and a chat with landlords Phil and Ann Basford. The pub has recently had a community defibrillator installed on the outside of the building; handy for anyone thinking of having a heart attack on the 18.30 from Paddington, but I bet it won’t be used very much, because as the train speeds along the tracks from London, you can almost see the stress lifting from the shrugging shoulders of professional commuters.
My London visits are once or twice a month. Most of the time I work in a pretty Cotswolds valley where our version of a traffic jam is waiting for the farmer in his tractor to finish chatting to hismate in a battered Land Rover on the opposite side of the road, or waiting for the cows on Minchinhampton Common (allowed to roam free during the summer months) to cross the road safely. Their version of the Green Cross Code is avoiding being hit by a stray golf ball on Minchinhampton golf course’s fairway, which shares the common with the cows.
I may have my office in the Cotswolds, but that hasn’t stopped me building up a successful business with clientele across Europe. Last week I did Amsterdam in a day, and was still home in time for tea (OK, tea was at 8.30pm, but you get the point): Up at 5am to catch the 7.30 from Birmingham airport to Schiphol; at Amsterdam’s World Trade Centre by 10am, meetings, lunch, catching the 4.30pm back to Birmingham and a quick trip down the M5 home. Birmingham also has direct flights to New York, though flying to the Big Apple in a day is a bit more problematic. And if you don’t like Birmingham airport, you can fly from Bristol or London Oxford airports too.
Back to Not-in Hell. In her Times article, Rachel Johnson talks about the Notting Hill butcher, the smart food stores and the designer clothes shops as though they don’t exist west of Chiswick. Guess what Rachel? We’ve got them here too … at half the price but not half the quality: Fabulous butchers, including Jessie Smith and Michael Hart in Cirencester and Lambournes in Stow on the Wold. Brilliant organic food markets such as the Natural Grocery Store on the Bath Road, Cheltenham. Designer clothes shops? Yup, we’ve got them too, in spades.
Nights out? Hell yes! (as Miliband junior unwisely said). We’ve got some of the most fabulous bars and hotels in the country (131, The Prom, Cheltenham; The Oak House, Tetbury; The Convent, Stroud). You want Michelin starred restaurants? Yup, we have them too: Lumiere and Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, 5 North Street, Winchcombe. And after all that, we have some of the most beautiful scenery in England. And no, not huge two-dimensional posters that cover the London underground (or A4 posters in a London cab), we’ve got the real deal, in 3D and surround sound (and yes, smell too during muck spreading but, hey, that’s how the country rolls).
Entertainment? How about any one of the amazing Literary and Science festivals held in Cheltenham, Chipping Norton, Stroud and Oxford throughout the year, when the country’s literary icons decamp to the Cotswolds en masse and we’ve got comedy clubs, theatres, concerts, festivals every weekend of the year.
There’s loads of stuff for the kids too, and it doesn’t have to include expensive parties – we’ve got hundreds of acres of landscape for them to experience first hand, and one of the tallest climbing walls in England… at Northleach.
And while it’s not yet perfect, every month more and more square mileage is covered by fast broadband – and we’re working on the rest.
Not-in-Hell? Not on your nelly, Rachel. You can have your tenement-living, subterranean shared living space with no parking and an expensive congestion zone. Give me a rocking, fresh-smelling Cotswolds any time of the day or night, but make an appointment first, because there’s so much going on here I’ll be out enjoying it.
Posted by Nicky Godding. www.rockthecotswolds.com. @rockthecotswold