Upstate Diary

Be Aware Of The Risks

The Country Side Is Dangerous:

Be Aware Of The Risks.

Text Prosper Keating Photographs Toby McFarlan Pond

Originally published in No 7

PH: Toby McFarlan Pond

PH: Toby McFarlan Pond


 City people moving to the countryside — or just visiting — should be aware of the risks. One of the more obvious involves fur coats and jackets. Leave them behind. Or sell them. Drunken hunters — and some of them do like a drink — cannot tell the difference between you in a fur coat and a weasel. Fake fur won’t save you either — if it is any good.

Some of the city people wandering about in the countryside are a risk to themselves. The countryside is a dangerous place. It is not as dangerous as the wilderness — as anyone who has seen Deliverance or that film about Anthony Hopkins being chased for days by a bear knows — but it is dangerous nonetheless.

Bears do venture into the countryside and sometimes even into town for a bit of sly garbage-dipping. If you come across a bear going through your trash cans or your kitchen cupboards, remember that Anthony Hopkins film. The same applies to wolves and pretty much anything with teeth, big or small.

A friend who moved to the countryside from Paris described the countryside as a place where you are bored during the day and scared at night and the wilderness as a place where you are scared all the time — or should be. I am scared even on the sunniest of days as I ride my motorbike through the French countryside with its silent, shuttered villages and farms.

Anything could be going on behind those shutters — and probably is. When stopping for fuel, I choose gas stations in open country with no surrounding bushes or woods in which dangerous humans or animals might be hiding. It is a personal security policy that has kept me alive so far. You can never be too careful.

Nowhere is safe. Take the seaside for example. Not the ocean — which is probably more dangerous than the wilderness — but the seaside. Like the countryside, it looks nice in those postcards you used to send home before smartphones and the Internet, with all those beaches and cliffs.

You can be blown off cliffs and you can drown in three inches or less of surf in the time it takes bystanders to post videos of your death on Instagram. Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster looked fabulous frolicking in the sand and waves but have you ever tried it? Think about rubbing yourself down with sandpaper and smearing salt on the abrasions afterwards.

It’s like frolicking in barns and haystacks. This looks great in films but it’s another illusion peddled by filmmakers. Of course, a lot of barns have been turned into guesthouses or indoor swimming pools by incomers from the city. In Europe, many serve as garages for the fleets of luxury cars farmers buy with the government bribes they receive for not farming the land.

There has also been a decline in haystacks, removing one more source of potential danger facing city people brainwashed by the film industry into thinking of sex every time they see a haystack. Such folk really shouldn’t be allowed to wander around the countryside unaccompanied.

Another thing about the countryside is the need to drive very fast to stay alive. Country roads are dangerous for all sorts of reasons so the less time you spend on them, the safer you are. Moving between Point A and Point B at 80 mph instead of 30 mph reduces the time you spend on the road, in turn reducing your exposure to danger. Unless you hit something.

You can reduce the risk of this. Watching the road ahead is a good start. City people driving about tend to watch the scenery. Or their smartphones as they text friends to find out what’s going on in town. And then there are your friends careering from side to side all over the road as they poke at their GPS in blind panic because there is no web coverage. 

PH: Toby McFarlan Pond

PH: Toby McFarlan Pond

Hitting animals and people wandering about in the road is an ever-present risk but that’s life for you. Worrying too much about it is a bit like worrying about being hit by lighting. Or meteorites. When your number — and theirs — comes up in the great lottery of life and death, you’re a goner and your road speed has nothing to do with it.

Nonetheless, those warning signs showing leaping deer are there for a reason. Slow down. And then slow down some more. A large animal through the windscreen of a car at 80 mph can end up badly for the occupants. Entire families have met their earthly end crashing into cattle, wild boar, horses and, in Canada, moose. And deer.

Deer are very shy so if deer wander into the road ahead and start fucking with you, the chances are they’re as drunk as the hunters hiding in the foliage waiting to kill you if you’re dressed in fur. Deer graze. Like cattle. And horses. They are also partial to a bit of fallen fruit. Unlike bears, deer cannot climb trees.

The already over-ripened fruit ferments inside them. Result? Drunken deer. I had a mob of them dancing around my motorcycle in a country lane one night. It’s probably the lights that attract them. There are no disco balls in the woods.

Bears are boozers too. Fact. This is probably the origin of the children’s song The Teddy Bears’ Picnic although it is really not for children. If a bear lurches into your path and you can’t avoid him, accelerate. Don’t leave him alive. Bears dislike being hit by cars. Remember that Anthony Hopkins film. He can chase you for days and at some point, you’ll run out of fuel.

When sheep block roads, on the other hand, nobody runs them over. Country people get past them because they know how to get along with animals whereas city people — despite belonging to animal rights societies and owning hamsters and iguanas — haven’t a clue when they meet country animals.

City people will sit in their cars watching the sheep watching them with that passive-aggressive expression so typical of sheep. Here is a tip: just watch the fuckers freak out and run when you snarl the words “mint sauce” at them. Which proves that they are not stupid and can read Sunday lunch recipes. Hissing “Kebab” at them works well too.

Don’t try this with bulls. Bulls can be as mean as bears although they can’t climb trees, dig or swim very well. But when a bull runs after you, it’s as scary as being chased by a bear. Goats are another matter. They just look at you with those big brown eyes. They get up close. They nuzzle you. Their breath smells so fresh. And before you know it, you are goat-struck.

PH: Toby McFarlan Pond

PH: Toby McFarlan Pond

Country people laugh at city people for falling in love with animals but I’ve known lonely farmers who’ve fallen for goats. With cattle and ducks, it’s just for the sex. That’s why they never want your phone number. But with goats, it’s usually love. And goats don’t tell. They are more discreet than cows, ducks and sheep.

Anyone who gets it on with a sheep needs serious analysis. Sheep are useful for knitwear and Sunday roasts but that is all. You cannot have meaningful relationships with sheep because they are as emotionally detached as cats. And their breath is as bad as that of the average sea lion. There is something wrong with sheep.

Country cats are not like city cats. A city cat will scratch you if you upset him but if a country cat takes a swing at you, you might get Cat-Scratch Fever. My wife caught it from a kitten a friend of hers adopted and brought home to Gotham City from the countryside. There again, she tried to cuddle it. Cuddling country cats is a seriously bad idea.

The same applies to country dogs. A city dog will put up with being French-kissed and cuddled by his owner’s friends because his owner is the one with the dog food can-opener but try that anthropomorphism hanky-panky on with a country dog and he’ll eat your face. Literally.

City people often moan about cocks. They relocate to the countryside, get woken up by the local farmer’s cock before sunrise and call the police or the mayor to complain and that’s when cold hard reality washes over them. Suddenly all these country people don’t seem so quaint anymore because they have their ways and their rights and they defend them when necessary.

This kind of thing is why country people can be a bit standoffish with city people, even those progressive city people with beards and earnest eyes who produce their own wooden clogs and knitted underpants and bore anyone who stands still long enough about protecting traditional ways. And who form noise-abatement collectives to restore peace and quiet.

They don’t understand, of course, that peace and quiet in the countryside usually means terminal economic depression or the displacement of the natives by urban colonists whose arrival inflates local property prices beyond local means. Country people should have had the foresight to kill and eat more city people when they first started arriving. Probably.

Like the city, there are a lot of insects in the countryside. But country insects are not like city insects. Swat a wasp in your city apartment with a rolled-up copy of Country Life and it’s game over for Stripey. Try that in the countryside and you’ll have thousands of his mates on your case. Same with bees, although anyone who swats a bee probably needs a fatal stinging.

Country spiders may be smaller than the mutants in the wilderness but some of them can fuck you right up if you take liberties with them. City people who won’t pick up boxes in the attic in case there are spiders hiding under them can be very rash in the countryside. They will, for example, ignore the thick gloves on the woodpile when fetching logs for the stove.

Like many things in the countryside, the gloves are there for a reason. They are not part of the decor. As well as spiders, snakes like woodpiles too. Fortunately, country hospitals and clinics are staffed by medical staff experienced in dealing with urban fools of every conceivable variety but it is still a bore driving whining houseguests to hospital.

PH: Toby McFarlan Pond

PH: Toby McFarlan Pond

This is another problem few city people moving to the countryside anticipate: visits from friends and people they never thought of as friends before they bought a house in the countryside. The effect on the surrounding area of clueless city people getting into all kinds of trouble is multiplied and can be prejudicial to your relationship with your new neighbors.

That said, getting close to your neighbors in the countryside is not necessarily a good plan. Why do you think country people tend to live in houses a mile or more from other houses? Except in the villages, where they keep the shutters closed night and day. Think about that before you drive around ringing doorbells to introduce yourselves.

Even if you are managing to make the adjustment in your new environment, guests from the city can be a serious liability. Even the ones you like. It is annoying when they hurt themselves or worse. In the city, a dead guest is not an insurmountable problem: you can heave him or her over the garden wall or prop him up against the neighbor’s front door before calling the cops.

For all sorts of reasons, it is not as simple in the countryside. This is where pigs can be useful. They are omnivorous, which is worth bearing in mind if you have guests or neighbors who need to disappear. But as anyone who has read Animal Farm can tell you, they are not all like Babe from Pig in the City. They are intelligent but, sad to say, many of them are indeed fascists.

Another danger on country roads are farmers’ tractors and hay carts. Stuck behind for hour after hour, people have died in road traffic accidents at even quite low speeds after falling asleep at the wheel or becoming over-excited when the hay provoked erotic imaginings. This affects city people more than country people, who are not in as much of a hurry as city people.

Tractors can be just as dangerous when stationary. When I was a child in Ireland, my cousin had a motorcycle on which he visited widows in the countryside. He was a very fast rider at the best of times. And at the worst of times, like the occasion we met a tractor blocking the road after emerging from a field.

We were on our way to visit our great-aunt’s horse farm to the south-west of Dublin. It was more a manor house than a farm but she’d bought a couple of stallions from the tinkers and advertised them as studs. Some of the local country people warned her they were as virile as empty sausage skins but being an educated city lady, she knew best.

She had accessorized the property with a few farmyard animals and a lion she’d bought from some other tinkers who told her it was a dog. The local police shot the lion after it grew a mane and started eating cattle. Anyway, there we were, going like the clappers as we descended into the midlands from the Wicklow Mountains when we encountered the tractor.

I don’t know how my cousin managed to get us behind the tractor and through the gateway into the field but he did. As we lay in the ploughed field looking at the clouds chasing each other across the sky, the farmer appeared with two cross-eyed boys at his side: “Tis a good thing that gate was open or you’d have been killed, the speed you were going!”

It was logic but not logic as we knew it. City people have had uncomplicated logic bred out of them. Responding to orders barked in Irish, the two cross-eyed boys hauled the motorcycle out of the muddy furrows and back into the road, ready for us to continue on our way. Country people can be very kind to strangers in need of help — or even those beyond help.  

Mind you, given Ireland’s history of cannibalism — the main reason the Romans never invaded — who knows what they might have done had we been dead. There again, city people should be wary of films portraying country people as cross-eyed cannibalistic inbreeds. The city has more than its share of such people too although some of them are very nice all the same.

The countryside can also have harmful mental effects on city people. There was a boy on our street in Dublin who was sent to the country whilst his parents were in prison. Whilst there, he found out where milk really came from. He was never the same again. He started throwing stones at the milkman and developed so many nervous ticks that we called him Twitch.

Such experiences aside, we city boys didn’t have much use for the countryside anyway. We had the seaside, Dublin being on the sea. We could paddle all year round on the northern end of Sandymount Strand in the warm water flowing from the main city waste outlet. It was like our own personal Costa Brava.

I still don’t have much use for the countryside in anything larger than small doses but I respect the locals for having what it takes to live there and I never forget that it is their place, not mine. It will always be their place, even after I do what all urban artistic media types do and move there to be closer to nature or, more truthfully, because my wife is a country girl born and bred.

You can take country people out of the country but you can’t take the country out of them. And you can take city people out of the city but you’ll never take the city out of them. As long you don’t forget that simple fact of nature, you might have a reasonable chance of surviving the lifestyle adjustment you are making for whatever reasons you have for making it.

Prosper Keating is the European Editor of Fashion Unfiltered, Co-founder of 7 POST and former features editor at Vogue Hommes International.

Toby McFarlan Pond contributes to Love, Numero, Elle among others and is represented by