Brian Viner; Country Life
Wednesday 06 July 2005
The line-up of scarecrows, and the earnest expression of the woman scrupulously judging them, contributed to the wonderful fete-i-ness of Yarpole fete. It was precisely the ruddy-cheeked, bucolic occasion you would get if you ordered a classic English village fete from Central Casting. They would supply a scarecrow competition, a tug-of-war, a coconut shy, genteel women dispensing cream teas, and a brass band playing Is This The Way To Amarillo? - and so did Yarpole.
I took part in the tug-of-war. In the past I have only ever watched village fete tugs-of-war, and marvelled at the fact that both teams of eight seemed to have been hewn from old Herefordshire oak. But this one was open to weedier types, so I and my friend Will, who had come up from London for the weekend expecting to do nothing more energetic than unload his car, volunteered our services.
The contest was decided by the best of three, and remarkably our team won the first and last of them. If grotesque grimacing and sudden bursts of flatulence did us any good, then I can claim to have made a considerable contribution to our victory. But I think it was probably the 18-stone farmhand with forearms like hams who made the difference.
And I didn't really pull my weight in the construction of Madeleine the scarecrow, who was already fully formed when I got home from covering the tennis at Wimbledon. The children introduced me to her, and I was impressed, if slightly narked that she was wearing my favourite straw hat as well as a rather expensive pair of pink gardening gloves that I bought Jane for Christmas.
We were all a bit worried when we propped her up ready for inspection at the fete, because she was next to a far more conventional scarecrow, with a carrot for a nose. But I think the judge was swayed by Madeleine's sheer elegance. And if she fools the birds like she fooled our neighbour Carl, she will prove to be more than just a good-looker.
When we got home, I stood her with her arms outstretched over my cabbages, and that evening Carl, whose garden is next to our vegetable patch, reported that he had had a one-sided conversation with her, before realising that it wasn't Jane doing t'ai chi.
It was lovely to come home to such rural pleasures. Jane was pleased to have me back, too, not least because there always seems to be some spectacular domestic drama when I'm away. This time it involved a bat, which flew in through our bedroom window late one night and, as Jane tells it, began swooping terrifyingly at her. So she pulled the duvet over her head and screamed.
Luckily, her parents were staying in the spare room, and her dad thundered gallantly to the rescue, his heroism not at all diminished by my mother-in-law's anxious call after him: "Bob, are you wearing your pants?" He was. And he released the bat into the night. When Jane told me the details over the phone, and I ventured that the bat had probably been far more scared then her, she said, curtly: "No, it bloody wasn't."
'Tales of the Country', by Brian Viner, is on sale now (Simon & Schuster, (£12.99)
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