Country Diary: 4
The Idler’s Editor, Tom Hodgkinson, has retired to a Devonshire farmhouse in order to write a book. Here is the fourth installment of his fortnightly diary.
BEER, BADGERS, FROGS AND DOGS
NOT SO long ago my son Arthur, who has now grown out of the terrible twos and has entered the terrible threes, brought some frogspawn home. We put the black dots in a little plastic tank and waited. Two months later we have about thirty nearly-frogs in there. They all have tiny, useless front legs and tiny useless back legs, chiselled heads (like something out of Antz) and sinister black and yellow eyes that stare you out. They have been banned from the kitchen because of the stink and now they are in my Pub. I’m wondering about what to do about them. Are they about to start leaping free of their tank and exploring their air-breathing skills? Will we wake one morning to find a plague of frogs in the house, as we have awoken before to plagues of mice? Perhaps, having been reared indoors, they will they wither and die if we take them outside and set them loose in the stream? Have we created a family of effet, dandified indoor frogs, who will start sniffling if exposed to fresh air? I have already removed two froglet corpses from the tank; I blamed the deaths on the sudden drop in temperature from kitchen to pub. Any advice from frog-rearing experts reading this would be much appreciated.
IN CLASSIC country cottage fashion, we have roses around the front door, and last week I decided that it was time to get pruning, as the bush had become somewhat overgrown: visitors were being injured:;the postman was getting scratched by the rambling creepers and thorns as he tried to deliver our mail; our small children would come home weeping, rivulets of blood streaming down their tiny faces. So I attacked the bush, cutting it right back and virtually destroying its outcrop to the side. I piled up the cuttings to cut up into twigs dry out for firelighters (this has worked and I’m really pleased with myself). However, I started to worry that perhaps my pruning was a bit over-the-top, and that perhaps I had pruned at the wrong time of year. And maybe there will be no white roses around our doorway this summer.
THE PRIMROSES are starting to emerge, the snowdrops are dying back, and the daffodils are in full bloom. Last night on the road out of the village I saw a badger: he lolloped along in front of the car for about 100 yards before disappearing into my boot and is anyone interested in 50 men’s shaving brushes? Only joking, of course. It was a lovely sight: badgers are huge and so slow in comparison to rabbits it seems a wonder that they can survive at all, but I understand they are strong asnd potentially fierce. Indeed, I heard whispers the other night about the illegal pastime of badger/dog fights. Badgers like the one I saw are apparently stolen form their homes and trained up into vicious fighting badgers. They are then set against dogs in a ring and can do a lot of damage.
MY HOME BREW kit has still not arrived, and nor has my copy of Cottage Economy by William Cobbett. Cobbett was a 19th century radical, a sort of Michael Moore of his day, who was appalled at the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the old rural ways of life, and in true radical style, he combined his political writings with works of a more practical nature. Cottage Economy is all about how to look after yourself on a smallholding, how to keep pigs and sheep and hens, and it contains Cobbett’s infamous outburst against the ruinous habit of drinking tea. He preferred the beer that the rural types drank morning, noon and night pre-1750. Everyone brewed it at home, and that is why I eagerly await my homebrew kit. One reader has warned me off kits, recommending that I buy the ingredients separately. He’s right, I’m sure, but, as the Chinese philosopher say, journey of a thousand miles start with one small step.
MY PUB has been improved by a hunting print which I bought in an auction at Race Night, a pre-school fundraising night in the village hall. My friend Paul Hamilton, of the Peter Cook Appreciation Society, has also contributed one of those hideous prints of dogs playing poker. We also found an elegant piece of driftwood on the beach which I have propped up in the corner. I think it’s very stylish. It just needs a few fairy lights and you could put it in the window of Heals and flog it for ��250. And Pete Loveday is making a start on the Green Man pub sign that I plan to hang outside. So: it’s getting better every day. If I only had the beer.