The country is vile because there are no servants, the central heating is pitiful and the food is suspect. It is full of sad houses circumnavigated by the invention of the electric blanket, deluded hostesses who consider marinated kippers the apogee of culinary sophistication and, worst of all, the country is full of neighbours.
Having driven up the motorway to Northumberland, Cornwall or Caernarvonshire, taken the A123 until the sharp turn under the low bridge, followed the white fencing until the big holly bush and done a handbrake turn up the rutted track (‘Honestly, you can’t miss us’), there is absolutely nothing worse than being told, brightly, that your charming friends have invited their neighbours to dinner on Saturday night. As the prospect of a cosy, eggy something in front of the Aga fades, together with any hope of watching Casualty, you realise inexorably that the neighbours have not been asked for your entertainment. You are the entertainment.
These neighbours are going to drive fifty miles over hill and dale, dressed in their best in order to dress you down over the marinated kippers. 'A film critic?' they say, with the interrogative quaver perfected by Lady Bracknell. 'We never go to the films.' I used to take this