A Country Diary – 29
23 September 2005
THERE SEEM to have been a lot of car crashes in my life lately. First I wrote off my friend Kira’s car while pootling down the narrow lanes. Someone else came round the corner and we smashed. Then Claire, who helps look after the kids, went careering through a National Trust gate and ended up with one wheel hanging over the edge of the coast path. Both crashes have led to vast expense and enormous hassle, and we’ve had only one car for the last week. The upside is that it’s made me reflect on the absurdity and awfulness of cars. Having no access to a car as Victoria needed the other one, I decided to walk the other day to our nearby town as we needed some milk powder for Henry. It’s about five miles away, and I pushed Henry in his three-wheeled buggy. I left the house at three pm and returned at six thirty, having rambled over the most beautiful hills, dales and bridlepaths, most of which I had never seen before. We met goats in the Valley of Rocks, got lost in the woods and came across two gingerbread cottages. I bumped into our local farmer-poet, John, and had a chat about Coleridge, who was wont to ramble in these parts. During the walk I fantasised about getting a horse and using it as a practical means of transport, not just as a luxurious diversion. With a horse, I considered, I could walk for hours with very little effort. I could ride to town, tie the horse up, do the shopping and ride home. You could probably get away with drunk horse-riding, where’s the danger if it’s just walking? I could go to the pub by horse and the horse would take me home. No petrol costs, no garage costs, no car crashes which cost you over a grand to fix, no road tax, no blimmin insurance, no parking tickets. I truly believe they could be the way forward.
SO I TOOK myself down to our local stables for a riding lesson. Now, I’ve been on a horse before, and even galloped once in Mexico by mistake when the horse I was on was chased by a dog along the beach. But I am very much a beginner. Walking on the horse seems fairly straightforward, just imagine you’e Mr D’Arcy, although trotting is less easy. “You’re doing exactly what I just told you not to do!” said my instructor, as I held the reins up high in front or me. The inside of my thighs still aches and the lesson was two days ago and I must have trotted for all of two minutes. Clearly there is a lot to learn. But I will persevere. And by extraordinary chance, we have been offered a horse for the winter. A nearby stables needs a home for it till March, so we’re going to share it with a friend who lives in the village. Step one towards freeing ourselves of the evil motor car.
AFTER THE crash with the National Trust gate, I rang up the local warden and offered to pay for the gate. He was delighted with the offer, and I am going to go and get the old gate. This is part of my campaign to not pay for timber, apart from logs which I would otherwise have to poach. I thought that I could perhaps saw the gate up and make shelves out of it, or something like that. I think I like the National Trust. Also last week, I bought a huge load of logs from them, as I did last year. The man was very pleasant and I started to realise just how much good the Trust has done for the country. It was founded around the turn of the century in the middle of a huge anti-industrial and back-to-the-land movement. The idea was to protect the countryside esentially from exploitation by money-makers, and they seem to have done a great job. Just imagine what might have happened to the countryside had they never existed.
I HAVE started to use my Adana printing press. As Gav had warned me, the process of setting type, lead letter by lead letter, is very fiddly and time-consuming. I spent half a day just preparing the word “Arthur” to print, and then realised the “r” was back to front. But then yesterday I had another go and I seem to have improved: I made some headed stationery with our address printed in green on A5 pieces of paper. I am still waiting for the ink rollers to turn up, so I used a child’s ink pad to ink the letters on the press. The hardest bit of the whole operation is locking up the type. You have to surround your little block of type with lengths of wood which hold the type firm in a metal frame called a chase. This keeps the letters in the correct position and also prevents them from falling out as you operate the machine. It’s a real palaver, in short, and you can very easily see why they died a death when the computer came out. On the other hand, it was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, and the results are far more beautiful, quirky, original and satisfying than anything you’d get on a laser printer.