The Idler Magazine

Country Diary: 50

Posted in Tom Hodgkinson’s Country Diary on 12 January 2007

10 January 2007

MY FRIEND Oli Claridge came down just before Christmas to build us a treehouse. We were lucky weatherwise: the three days he was here came just after a period of non-stop rain and just before a period of bitter cold. We spent about fifty pounds on materials, the basic beams, the screws and bolts and flashing lights — and the rest was made with bits of wood that we found lying around. Oli was very keen on ‘cargo cult’: ie the idea of using old bits if rubbish as decoration or for useful purpose. So we used old bottle tops for washers, to hold on the corrugated iron roof, and bits of old metal for wind chimes. The treehouse consists of a large platform with the house bit on one side. As yet it has but three walls, but as Oli said, it’s just a start. The thing will develop and grow over the coming years. We found two old wooden windows in the neighbour’s shed which we used, plus a load of planks from a clear-out of a local hotel. The overall effect is quite charming: a sort of Caribbean shack. With any luck it will help keep Arthur away from the computer but I must confess we’ve hardly used it yet as the weather has been so unutterably foul.

YES, THE WEATHER. It seems to have been raining for about four thousand years. The house is surrounded by mud, the grass is sodden and it’s been far too awful to go and work outside. Even the hardcore farmers feel the same way: my landlady said they’d been staying in doing admin. Two days ago it was Plough Monday, traditionally the day when the twelve days of Christmas feasting was finally over and the men and women returned to the fields. So I had planned to resurrect that medieval custom, but when I looked out of the window I decided to stay in.

STILL, we had followed the previous part, the feasting bit, and had eaten well over Christmas and New Year. Plenty of capons, ham, pheasant and spiced wine. A friend gave us a brace of pheasants and I sat down on New Year’s Eve morning at the kitchen table and plucked and gutted both of them. This was the first time I had done this, and I did it with the relevant page of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall open in front of me. Yes, I know I’m getting all this stuff through book learnin’, but without a relation or neighbour to show me how it’s done, then what alternative do I have? And we should be very grateful to Fearnley for giving us back these old self-sufficient skills. I now know that if we were starving all I would need to do would be to shoot some pheasants with my air rifle. The next step must be rabbit, another delicious wild food. Anyway the plucking and the gutting went fine, bar a bit of ripped skin, although I have to say that plucking is very time-consuming. We wrapped the pheasants in bacon, roast them in the Rayburn and had them for lunch with some friends. Delicious and completely free. We also ate parsnips form the garden and Victoria put the leeks into a fantastic leek soup which lasted for days.

MUNA the pony found her way into the veg patch the other day, and cleanly bit the head off the only cabbage up there that was beginning to resemble the sort of cabbage you might want to eat. She also laid into the diminutive brassicas. Other than that there was surprisingly little damage, and it also surprises me just how nimble that pony is. Yesterday I went into the dairy to find Muna in there. I had left the door to the yard open and she had wandered in, past all the empty bottles and rubbish bags, and was happily munching away at a bag of rice. With some difficulty I managed to persuade her to turn around and get out of the our larder. When she had gone I looked around and, expecting to find everything either smashed or chewed up. But there was no damage at all and apart from a lingering manure smell, you might not even have known she’d been in there.

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