Cotswold Voice: Postcode snobbery
PUBLISHED: 10:36 27 April 2016 | UPDATED: 10:11 04 May 2016
'We have moved from Gloucestershire to Wiltshire,' the teenager wailed. 'We have lost our 01285 telephone number. We have a Swindon postcode.'
Seventeen years ago Nigel, my chum in the banking industry, got fed up with working as a Master of the Universe and took early retirement. To make it quite clear he was giving a two-fingered farewell to the City of London he decided to walk the Thames Path from his ex-bank in Aldgate to his new house on the River Coln. He generously asked me if I wished to join him on this 175-mile trek and I did hike with him for some of the way, for I too owned an old barn on the small Cotswold tributary and I too had only recently abandoned the capital.
The Thames is woven into the fabric of every ex-pat Londoner. (As a North London boy the sight of Thames Head pub at Kemble, the source of The River, always makes my heart soar although I can of course never shake off my childhood prejudices about crossing it.)
What I liked about Nigel’s project was that it proved to me that I still lived on The River, for the Coln is one of three small rivers running through our hills that feed into the Thames at Lechlade. Our long walk to our respective homes demonstrated to me that I was still, psychologically at any rate, close to London and I felt then, and sometimes still feel now, more in tune with the capital in my mid-Cotswolds barn than I did or do to anywhere north of the A40, east of Burford (excluding London naturally), west of Andoversford or south of Tetbury.
I know I am not alone in this parochial view. I remember when I first arrived in the Cotswolds I was invited to a drinks party at Farmington, a mile or two north of both Northleach and the mighty A40 that splits our hills in half. An old boy asked where I lived and I replied I was a few miles to the south. “Good Lord,” he expostulated. “I haven’t met anyone living south of the A40 in years. It’s Vale of White Horse hunting country. Best to stick to Heythrop people.”
This gloriously insular view holds true throughout the Cotswolds. Every rural corner of our area has its own distinct identity and yet, not surprisingly, every one of those neighbourhoods is strongly influenced by somewhere with a more dominant populous. Chipping Norton and surrounds, for example, is in the sway of Oxford (and of course still looks to London). South Gloucestershire on the other hand is in the orbit of Bath and the sweep of Bristol. The west Cotswolds has its head turned by Cheltenham and, to a lesser extent, Gloucester and Tewksbury. Chipping Camden and its environs is pulled further north by Stratford-upon-Avon and ultimately by Birmingham. This is demonstrated clearly a few miles north of Moreton-in-Marsh, not only by Midlands redbrick replacing limestone as a building material but also by my FM car radio signal fading from BBC4 before, a mile or two later, returning strongly with some obscure Brummie channel.
And yet a large metropolis does not overshadow the mid-Cotswolds, where I live. Cheltenham is, for example, my nearest town, but the steep escarpment has made it an alien place that is as far as my ilk are concerned somewhere or other in the West Country. Cirencester is our local downtown but its influence (with the exception of Waitrose) in the surrounding backwoods is minimal. In fact, perhaps because we are on the creek that ultimately feeds into London’s Tideway, we are in thrall to the capital of the country rather than the capital of the Cotswolds - or at least it is to the former where most seem to sprint to for their sophistication.
I was reminded of all of the above last month when an old London friend of mine, who had for years been living in a hamlet a mile or two to the north of Cirencester, bought a magnificent 18th century town house a few miles to the south in the Saxon town of Cricklade, which boasts of its situation on the banks of the River Thames.
My friend complained that despite the glory of his new home his son was deeply unhappy about the move. “We have moved from Gloucestershire to Wiltshire,” the teenager wailed. “We have lost our 01285 telephone number. We have a Swindon postcode. And worst of all we are now South of The River.”
I sympathise with the young man. I do, I really do.
• This column by Adam Edwards appears in the May 2016 issue of Cotswold Life. Visit http://www.buyamag.co.uk/Regional-Magazines/Cotswold-Life to buy your copy today.