Class conscious

The famous property adverts in Country Life magazine are middle-class pornography. They're designed to be read with one hand, if you know what I mean - one hand turning the pages, the other reaching for the phone to dial the estate agents. In five years of fantasising about moving to the country, I viewed a dozen or so of the houses advertised.

The best one was in Dorset - a small Grade II listed cottage with a crystalline stream at the bottom of the garden, traversed by a hump-backed bridge still bearing a sign asking drivers of traction engines to slow down. It was fairly cheap by Country Life standards - ie, very expensive indeed and well beyond my own pocket.

It's increasingly unlikely that I'll move out of London, but I still seek out Country Life for the purposes of dreaming, and I find that its availability is a litmus test of the social pretensions of an area. It's available in Highgate, for instance, but not in nearby Crouch End. Any hotel with a real fire will have back numbers knocking around.

Yes, it's a posh magazine - why else would those house adverts be there? Every week, on the first page, there's a picture of a young woman who is always a) pretty and b) double-barrelled, and as long as she is both these things it doesn't really seem to matter whether she's got anything to do with the countryside. Last issue's, for example, lived in SW7.

Currently, however, Country Life is attempting to portray the countryside as a socially homogeneous place, united by opposition to any ban on hunting and Blairism generally. My own hunch - and it's been the major factor keeping me in London - is that the countryside is not socially homogeneous.

In London, when a person walks into a property, nobody knows if they are heading for a tiny flat, or actually own the whole building. If you travel on the Tube, no one knows what car you drive. In the countryside, though, your house and car are stark status symbols, and I fear that rural England is, accordingly, a hotbed of snobbery.

I can't stop looking at those ads in Country Life, though.

This article first appeared in the 08 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - To uplift the souls of the people