I’ve been away from my desk for a little while, staying in a lovely farmhouse in Derbyshire. I was interested to note that there were lots of non-white visitors, despite the reports that the countryside isn’t visited by ethnic minorities due to ‘passive apartheid’ or ‘rural racism’. A recent article by Sathnam Sanghera revisits this.
But what I also noticed was how middle-class the crowd was. The Sanghera article hints at some of the complications, and class is definitely one. We Brits choose our leisure pursuits through various cultural and institutional forms, with economics as an additional barrier. So what one is ‘supposed to do’ or enjoys doing determines holidays and day trips.
When I was a kid in the 70s and 80s we never went on holidays. We never went abroad, and we had one or two holidays to Butlins which we hated. Instead we went on lots of day trips, but mainly to theme parks and the seaside. One ‘institution’ was the annual trip with ‘the club’ (the local working men’s club), which alternated between Rhyl and Blackpool. We’d have trips to see the Blackpool lights too.
Middle-class friends didn’t go on these kinds of visits. As well as trips abroad, they visited the countryside and went on walks and to country pubs. I can’t imagine that my family would have ever seen the point of a country pub, as the local was good enough!
And obviously even trips abroad are different for each group. The middle classes are less likely to go to Torremolinos, as they don’t do sunbathing on the beach and are more into ‘activities’. The working class family is less likely to hire a cottage in Tuscany and spend time at art galleries.
So as Sanghera points out, some people don’t see the point of a visit to the countryside. Culture, including city cultures, ethnicity and country origin, and class, is important. And now the recession has everyone worried about their bank balance, the middle classes will spend time in the UK countryside instead of rural France. As more ethnic minorities become middle class, and inherit middle class values, we should expect to see a greater mix of faces in the countryside. But we still won’t see the urban poor, black or white.