• What makes cities so comfortable?

    The urban condition – that in-built terror of small town life that makes city folk twitch when they try a new life in the country – is sometimes thought of as a new disease. 

    Not so. 

    Listening to Anton Chekhov’s 1900 play Three Sisters, all about three sisters who once lived in Moscow and are now reduced to the desperation of life in a small provincial Russian town, the following line rang out:

    “In Moscow, you can sit in an enormous restaurant where you don’t know anybody and nobody knows you and yet you don’t feel like a stranger. But here, you know everybody and everybody knows you, and you’re a stranger.”

    Anton Chekhov, Three Sisters

    Oh, to be anonymous! 

    It’s a catch 22 that many will be familiar with – I want to feel connected to a community, but I don’t want everyone I meet to know all my business. I want an element of mystery. 

    The allure of the city – as I found when first living in London – is that despite having a close circle of friends, you can still walk out of your front door and simply disappear, for days on end, into a mass of humanity in which you are unknown. 

    There is clearly a certain liberation and freedom in this very act. Sitting in a busy pavement café, surrounded by life, watching everything go by, part of and yet apart from it. This is the great gift of urban life, one that all provincials like myself discover as such an unexpected delight. 

    Some existentialism with your coffee, monsieur?

    The trouble that lurks in every city since civilization began is alienation. The risk that in being able to move freely, and unmolested, among strangers, one loses all connection with a tribe, and becomes so adrift that life begins to lose all its meaning. 

    No doubt Chekhov grappled with this dilemma in Russia over a hundred years ago, as it ran breakneck into modern life. And it is still the great dilemma facing us today. To sit in that enormous restaurant, or to go home where everything is known and familiar…

    City life sounding a bit tough? What Would A Soft City Feel Like?

  • I saw a hare… where?

    A hare standing in a grass field
    The photo I didn’t get (Photo by Vincent van Zalinge)

    “Here hare here”

    So says the note found by Uncle Monty on the door of his Cumbrian cottage in the classic 1980s film Withnail & I. But the hare – that larger cousin of the common rabbit that few of us are very sure about – is not something you see here, there or anywhere. 

    Until today. 

    Today I walked within a couple of metres of a real live hare, startled it, and then watched it lollop across the field to the far hedge for a few minutes. I couldn’t believe how big it was. I knew they were bigger than rabbits, but I didn’t know they were that big. 

    Strange thing is, I grew up in rural Herefordshire. I’ve recently spent another few years in a Herefordshire wood, and yet my first sighting of a hare was on a scrubby field next to the fast encroaching urban sprawl of southern Malmö – Sweden’s third largest city. 

    Sweden has wildlife

    I know this. The elk, the bears, the reindeer. This is a country with proper outdoors. By regional standards, it’s populous – but it still has a population the size of London in a country the size of Spain. 

    But Hyllie – a suburb that has sprung up next to The Bridge to Copenhagen – doesn’t scream wildlife hotspot. In mid-November, it looks like some bleak noir version of Dubai. Cranes, bricks, dust, mud, piercing security lights, diggers, noise, tower blocks, etc. 

    My apartment is in the midst of all this. Funny thing is, there are rabbits living in the building site outside my bedroom window. They scurry all over the building sites. And now their larger cousin, the hare, keeping to itself a field or two away. 

    Nature surprises you where you least expect it. 

    Since we’re getting back to nature, Ever Wanted To Be A Bear?