Journalism

Country Life

July 10th, 2004

I was in a tearing hurry to get to Charlbury station for the London train, but Sister George wanted to go in the other direction towards Hereford.

Sister George is my 1967 Landrover, and anyone who has this Series 11 model will know that reverse and first gear are frighteningly close together. My gearbox has no synchromesh left – if it ever had any to start with – and so the clutch has to be depressed differently for every gear change. At present, getting Sister George to travel forwards begins with preventing her from travelling backwards. Remember Tony Curtis and the motorboat in Some Like It Hot? It is only a matter of time before I too cover the eight miles between Old Minster Lovell and Charlbury entirely in reverse.

Tearing hurries are always a mistake in the country. We live here so that we don’t have to derange ourselves at city pace. Anyhow, top speed in Sister George is around 50 mph, and by then I am clinging onto the steering wheel just to keep my rear in contact with the seat.

I got to the station with two minutes to spare, and did my usual security check; leave all the doors unlocked and put the dog’s smelly marrow bone on the middle seat. I keep nothing in the Landrover except a tube of mints and the bone. Last Christmas somebody did take a look inside – I know because they left a stocking full of dog treats. I am thinking of putting up a sign just before my birthday. Champagne would be great.

I need not have hurried because the train was late as it is so often.

As I sat gloomily on the platform, wondering why I didn’t take Sister George’s advice and visit Hereford, a Muntjack popped his head through the hedgerow opposite. He had serene, sane eyes, and he did not care whether the train was late or if it came at all. His business was on the track-side, among the oxeye daisies. I watched him and I felt calm again.

He was a reminder too, of how important it is to have times of stillness in the country; time to let the animals come out, time to watch the tiny details of non-human life, whether it is duck-play on the river, or fox cubs in the first-cut fields. Why am I here, if not for this?

I have recently had a number of emails from ANIMAL LOVERS – it has to be in capitals because they shout at the rest of us. My sin is shooting rabbits, confusingly compounded with taking a tough anti-war stance. I am not sure why trapping or poisoning rabbits would make me a better person than I am if I shoot them, or why letting them eat my newly planted hedges and trees would show that I am a decent person. If I were to let on that I then skin, chop, and feed these rabbits to my cats, will it disqualify me from calling George W Bush a sanctimonious pirate?

Apparently yes, although I have yet to understand why humane pest control is in line with illegally invading a sovereign state.

I think of myself as a writer quietly living in the country. Since the rabbit revelations I have become a CELEBRITY HYPOCRITE.

Although I have every respect for Joan Collins and her lovely husband Percy, I am not joining UKIP, which sounds like a low-grade chain of motels.

I am pro-European, and though I regret the lunacies of Brussels, I do not want to live a life of splendid isolation in Little Britain. The trend towards nationalism makes me nervous.  New Labour has made things much worse by ignoring the voice of the countryside to such an extent that few country people feel able to vote for them.

As the countryside is naturally more small c conservative than the cities, I worry that right-wing politics will gain more ground here than is good for us. Bogies of immigration, mad clerics and euro-europe are meshing with the City v Country divide that Blairism has encouraged. BNP had a meeting here in a nearby pub last week.

BNP is not the answer. Tony Martin’s law is not the answer. I do not want the right to shoot a sixteen year old instead of a rabbit – not even if the kid is attacking me.

Back from London at last, I find that the moles are having a field day, or rather, a lawn day, because they have decided that Worms Are Us. I have tried everything from electronic sensors to holly down their holes. Nothing works, and the only good to come of this invasion is that my tortoiseshell cat, Minnie, killed one without marking it, and it now lives in my freezer. The god-children love it, and we are trying to find a way to do mole cryonics so that they can take it to school without it de-frosting.

De-frosted dead moles; that will do nothing for my celebrity hypocrite status. Who knows, I might go back to being a writer?