I just found out I am a Bunburyist rather than a Weekender. What a relief. Weekenders are reviled throughout the English countryside. They drive up property prices so locals can’t afford to buy anything, then limit the use of their luxury barn conversions to bank holiday weekends. When they do show up, it’s in an enormous Chelsea tractor. I know all about Weekenders because the British media loves to do stories on them. Hardly a month goes by without a sarky editorial in Cotswold Life on these hedge fund men and their Cath Kidston, vintage print-bedecked wives, children, and kitchens. Channel 4 ran a whole documentary on how Weekenders ruined a small Cornish fishing village. To protect against this locust, one member of the landed gentry, Lord Vestey, reserves cottages in his hamlet for locals only. According to a tipsy and possibly dubious source down at the pub, even the government is out to get the Weekender: second homers are contributing to the country’s housing shortage and legislation or taxation or some equally unpleasant “-tion” is imminent.
You can understand why husband and I were worried. We do, after all, work in London during the week and go to the Cotswolds on, well, weekends. But that’s about where the similarities end. We don’t manage hedge funds or work in “the City.” We’re devoted to our country cottage and come every weekend without fail. If there’s a fete or a church service or a charity event, we’ll be there; we’ll even buy raffle tickets. And I’ve never set foot in a Cath Kidston shop in my life.
Frankly, I don’t understand why the countryside has been infiltrated with bankers. If you’re really wealthy, London is a wonderful place to live. If, on the other hand, like us you can only afford a scant quarter million on a flat and you desire to live in central London, you have to make some compromises. You might need to live on a street where you occasionally see a man relieving himself behind the dumpsters on the corner, or be neighbours with a house full of squatters on the premises of a former Conservative club (sign and irony still intact). You might wonder what that lady in a mini skirt and a cropped fur coat is doing talking to that gentleman when you leave the house for an unusually early morning jog, or, just once, be greeted by a large yellow sign asking if you know anything about the body dumped in the canal as you decide it’s best to upgrade your jog to a sprint along the tow path. And if you’re young enough, you can probably dismiss these kinds of things as quirky or colourful, the very fibre of your bohemian urban life. But we are old enough to realize that my husband’s recent modest inheritance — enough to give us some additional square footage in our current London neighbourhood but not to deliver us into the genteel reaches of, say, Kensington and Chelsea — was well spent on a cottage in the country, if only for the weekends.
It was Oscar Wilde by way of the Daily Telegraph that delivered me from my angst over my Weekender status. The term Bunburyist comes from the imaginary character, Bunbury, in Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”; he was invented as an excuse for Algernon to go to the country, where Algernon lives a different but equally vibrant life to his city existence. Building on this, journalist Kate Weinberg wrote a handy checklist to distinguish between Bunburyist and Weekender.
According to Weinberg, a Bunburyist buys groceries at farm shops and takes them back to the city. Tick. Other attributes include thinking of both city and country as “home,” socialising with residents of both rather than just importing friends from the city for the weekend, and “meddling” in local projects. Tick, tick, tick. That was us at the meeting to save the local post office.
A Weekender, on the other hand, will arrive in the country equipped with groceries from the city supermarket. Clearly these weekenders haven’t been to the Sainsbury’s at Ladbroke Grove, otherwise known as one of Dante’s circles of hell. If I “cheat” and forsake our local farm shop for the Sainsbury’s in Cheltenham, the nearest city to our country retreat, it’s to pick up toilet paper or laundry detergent to take back to London.
Weekenders are also identified by their limited activity, just “a couple of good walks.” Not with my husband. We’ll walk for sure, but we’ll also hurtle down hills on road bikes and jog the country lanes. We’ve joined the gym at the school in a nearby village, and there are noises about dry stone walling lessons.
Before I found out I was a Bunburyist instead of a Weekender I used to seek counsel from other weekenders in our Cotswold town. R. and R., a gay couple with whom we’ve made acquaintance, know the power of the pink pound and are unapologetic about their weekend-only tenure. They figure they inject more money into the local economy in two days than most full-timers do all week, which is true for us too if spend in pubs and restaurants is any measure. And as Bunburyists we have the advantage of being unfettered by the bitter local politics—something about the removal of a chess table—that prevent some full-time residents from enjoying a meal out in our town’s inn.