I remember when the first countryside march arrived in central London, I thought it was a joke. People in funny jackets - many of whom were enormously subsidised by you and me for poisoning the landscape in order to grow food nobody wanted - were demanding the preservation of their right to kill foxes and to stop people walking across the British landscape. It mainly seemed a laughable irrelevance and I was amazed that the Labour Party paid it any attention.
On the other hand, I was passionately interested in the first stirrings of controversy about the election of a mayor for London. I'd lived in London all my life, I cycled the streets every day. You just needed to set me off and I would go on for hours. The mayor should be given sweeping powers to deal with everything from dogshit to public transport, from education to law enforcement, pedestrian precincts, free museum admission . . .
But now, suddenly, I won't even be able to vote for Ken Livingstone (to whom, in one of my great experiences on this magazine, I once gave a lift home from a New Statesman party. He gave me detailed directions - "I used to run this town," he said - and got hopelessly lost).
A year ago we decided almost on impulse to move out of London. And if we were going to move out of the big city, then we would look for real countryside. We drove around a lot of southern England and at the end of February this year we moved here. We're in a house on the edge of a very small Suffolk village. It's ridiculously, excessively rural. Three of the children walk across a field each morning to a primary school with just 60 pupils. The oldest child was at that school as well until the summer. He and everyone else in his year moved up to the same local comprehensive. They are picked up by a school bus that picks up pupils from a whole row of villages and drops them in the small nearby town.
We moved without any illusions about the British countryside, which was a help. All the arguments I ever had against living in the country still hold good. Britain is based on city life and in fact is mainly based on the city life of only one city. Virtually anything you want to buy is better and more plentiful in London. Instead of taking the girls half a mile to their swimming club, we take them five miles. Instead of cycling a mile to play squash, I drive ten miles.
People might say, oh, Suffolk, there's the Aldeburgh festival. I suppose so, but from our bit of Suffolk it's quicker to get to the Barbican than to Aldeburgh. And try getting by rail, or even by road, from East Anglia to somewhere else that isn't London.
What about the open spaces? We've got plenty of those. On one side there is a series of fields that must each be around half a mile across. It could be seriously disputed whether they really count as rural landscapes at all. They are planted with winter wheat, which, so far as I understand, is then turned into evil-smelling silage. They might as well be derelict industrial wastelands, except that a derelict industrial wasteland would have more wildlife in it. These fields are repeatedly sprayed so that they have no weeds, flowers, insects or birds. As spaces they are as unavailable to local people as if they had razor wire around them. There's nothing new about it. Just read John Clare, who lived a bit further north and went mad under the pressure of social conflict and the enclosure of his beloved fields and heathland.
There are compensations. You can breathe the air. You can see more of the stars. You can get tickets for the local football team. Unfortunately, after a season of supporting Ipswich, you see the benefits of not being able to get tickets.
Has it changed my views on the government's countryside policy? Not at all. I think that banning fox-hunting is a futile waste of time, just as I did before. Deal with factory-farming first and the agribusinesses, reform the subsidies and the bureaucracy in favour of small organic farms.
For me, leaving London was easy. I've still got it in my head. I can go there in an hour whenever I want. But my six-year-old daughter is starting to speak with a Suffolk accent and she's starting to forget she ever lived in London.
Now we're staring into the face of our first winter here. Have you seen The Shining? Except that we're both writers. Imagine The Shining with two Jack Nicholsons . . .