I have vague memories of a large book which was filled with illustrations of wide-eyed children dressed in smocks running around fields of flowers. It might have been a book by Ruth Manning-Sanders, and it was very seventies (or possibly older) and filled with fairy tales and fables – and one of these was The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.
In this version of the tale, both were female cousins, and it seemed to be set in the 1920s. The Town Mouse was called Stephanie, although she preferred to be called Stevie. She wore trousers (a very daring and bold thing to do) and drove a motor car. She smoked using a long thin cigarette holder and lived in a three-storey town house. We were never shown what the town mouse did for a living, but we presumed she didn’t have to do anything apart from stand and look snooty in front of grand fireplaces.
In contrast, her cousin the country mouse lived in a small cottage in grassy woodland. She baked cakes with her own fair hands, grew flowers, and generally moseyed around everywhere in a shawl. We weren’t shown what she did for a living either, apart from the fact she was apparently poor – in a ‘no need to work and do anything other than bake cakes’ sort of way. The sort of poor that nowadays costs around £50,000 per annum. Let’s face it; the country mouse probably owned the mouse equivalent of Lola’s Cupcakes.
The Town Mouse then spends a few days visiting her cousin in the country and gets incredibly bored, and the country mouse spends a few days in the town and is scared of all the noise. They both decide they each like it better where they live, and are happy when they get back home – although more usual tales of this sort show the town mouse lives in luxury but has to be careful of dogs and mouse-traps, and so the country mouse prefers her humbler, safer dwellings.
It is an Aesop’s Fable – so we are supposed to draw a moral from this tale, which appears to be ‘don’t wish to be anything other than what you are’, or perhaps ‘accept and be happy with what you’ve got’. But what if the town mouse really wants to be a country mouse?
I realised this weekend that I am such a Town Mouse, even though all I want to do is to live in the country and bake cupcakes. Me and J went west on a day-trip to the seaside, and I wore a little sun-dress, white mini-cardigan, strappy wedges and wore my hair hippy-loose and carefree. We emerged from the car at Westward Ho! into a gale and my hair immediately wrapped itself around my face, where it pretty much stayed for the whole beach experience. The wind also played havoc with my sun-dress all the way down to the sea-front, where my wedges wobbled on the uneven stone. J had to guide me down to the sand as if he was escorting his 90 year old granny.
The only concession I made to being a wise sort of Town Mouse was packing a bag with jeans and jumper – just in case. I do a lot of these ‘just in case’ scenarios – it normally means I walk around looking like I am lugging potatoes, but this time it came in handy! We had gone for a barefoot walk by the sea-edge, letting the water dance to our ankles, and after a while I looked down at my hands and realised they had gone blue with cold. Although my hands often go faintly blue if I am chilly, this time it was alarming – my fingernails were bruise blue, bright blue veins shining through white translucent skin – it was like there was no blood left! J made me rush quickly into my jumper, and then we headed up to find some drier sand so I could hop and struggle into my jeans without showing my knickers to the beach.
So the sophisticated looking girl that went down to the beach came back with sand in her toes, wearing a strange combination of flared jeans, dress and jumper, hair any-which angle, and was vaguely blue around the edges. I think I need to learn more about the ways of a Country Mouse before I make any future tracks west.