Dinner with consenting adults

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The Independent Online
I HAVE finally conceded defeat. Too many rural motorists cannot or will not read the glaring notice I have pinned to the handsome gate of our converted warehouse. Besides, whenever we go away overnight, some prat unpins the fluorescent missive. Throb, throb, throb go the Sierras and the Volvos outside my windows as Brian Redhead is being served up before breakfast. Most have got the message and been pretty sweet; but some are too stoutly anarchic or thick to switch off their motors while they spend money in the shop next door. At least they are obeying the 'Use it or lose it' injunction of local shopkeepers in their campaign to survive the age of the motor car. (By the way, it is 'garage-plus' shops that are now doing the village store in.)

The Everest salesman did not seem over-awed at the size of our subsequent order for secondary glazing for the bedroom. But then it is not a big room and its windows are picturesque rather than picture. Much attention has been lavished on this room as a contribution to reforming my performance as a lover. Out have gone the matching Anglepoises; banished are the pictures of all the children progressing from nappies to primary school. In have come lovely matching lampstands from B & Q, fetching candle holders and a lock for the old plank door. I have even taken a devilish little wood-planing thing to a piece of timber and fashioned a perfectly fitting addition to the door, which should stop the little beggars peeping.

I do not say any of this will put me in the Eric Gill league, either as a craftsman or a leg-over specialist, and wouldn't want to be quite as catholic in the latter taste as he (Mrs North has taken to calling him the 'dog-botherer', though she claims she does not understand why it's so funny). I am not even sure that I shall ever quite achieve the full-blooded attitude to sex that some of the yokels manage.

We motored a couple of hours east of here last weekend, into territory so modern that a motorway sweeps through it. The countryside wasn't bad for what a Herefordian regards as practically a suburban scene. We were out to dinner with the only certified hero I know. A nicer bunch of people you could not hope to meet, but I shan't mind what I say or do at a dinner table ever again. One good fellow, a yeoman farmer of less than 40, puffed happily away at big cigars and was put out only if someone twanged his big paisley braces.

He spent quite a lot of time with a hand up his sweet neighbour's micro-skirt, and invited me to get a hand on his wife's knee, just to see how she responded. I don't think he was mad, or anything; just high spirited. He contrived to make me feel as though she would be offended if I didn't at least try.

It's easy to see the point of dedicatedly bad behaviour among consenting adults. Here was a bloke, after all, whose farm had been carved up by new roads, and which was in any case too small to make a living on. Its useless and lovely barns are worth far more as conversions than as haylofts. Like many a talented farmer, he'll probably end up as one of these bull-wankers, flogging pre-sexed semen, or renting out tractors, with some property development on the side if he's lucky. No wonder he wanted to take his life to the edge a bit; don't we all, if there's any fight in us?

The next day we went round to a lovely bloke who seemed to epitomise the way to get along. A proper farmer, mind, and I mean it. Another yeoman type, not pretentious or plummy at all. His family combines farming with butchering, which was always the way. He now owns a bit of land (which becomes a market on Sundays), a quarry and a trout farm. He is, in short, a man who farms planning permissions. So we sat in his Catalogue Baronial kitchen, drank champagne and discussed when was the best time to book hotels for the 1994 West Indies cricket tour. Lucky we caught him, really: he's off to the Antipodes for a month or so next week. A real good old boy, he was, and I wish him joy of what he's made for himself.

I only wish I could lay my hands on serious spondulix myself. Things look fairly perilous here, as I suppose they should for a writer. Indeed, last week a sign in the village shop caught my eye. It said that if any local person was interested in renting one of the housing association homes that are growing apace in the mud up by Mill Lane, just beyond what was once a ford and waterwheel, he or she should apply to the parish chairman. The site is a field which used to contain a lovely tree, but it disappeared one dawn to make way for houses.

The parish chairman said, yes, for working purposes I could be described as a local: my couple of years or so apparently counts as having served time. I thought it would not be difficult to describe my circumstances as less than prosperous. I reflected that what little equity I have in this ex-coal shed could easily be reduced upon its sale (the West Indies, champagne, shooting parties, double glazing - I have recent insights into expenditure). I braced myself to tell the girls they'd be sharing a bedroom.

The trouble was Mrs North. She thinks chaps should stand on their own two feet, and that it would be all too easy to give in to a life of dissipation and dependency. Damn. The only way out looks to be to work terribly hard and become very distinguished. Not that I expect suddenly to lay my hands on Graham Greene levels of talent, but I did reflect a little wryly on the ways of the world the other day, when I happened to be in Antibes and looking at an exhibition about the great old dilemmacist. There lay a gorgeous gold Rolex. It had been given to him by some Latin president or other, and looked charismatic even though it stopped several years ago. I pondered with what happiness the peasants must have skipped out to the sugar cane in the fields, knowing that their labours would allow a distant literary giant to know whether it was time to potter down to Chez Felix for lunch.

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