Gardening: Floyd and me and a load of old cobras

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The Independent Online
FINNEGAN is away, attending the ill-mannered display at Cowes, so I have lost my guide to the Dublin Horse Show. Without her presence, the intricacies of dressage and equipage and so forth are lost on me; nor, more crucially, can I readily ascertain the whereabouts of hospitality tents. Persiflage is more my line.

I quite get on with horses but, as between men and women, so I find it with horses: relations are fine so long as I make no attempt to understand them. On the only occasion I ever got up on one (a horse), it stopped in the middle of a clearing in the rain and would not move until I succeeded in frightening it by waving a pair of red socks in its face. Not standard practice, says Mary, who got me interested in watching the business wherein the animals are induced to jump over plastic walls without knocking them down while ladies in the audience comment on the prowess of the riders and curse Jilly Cooper for having thought of the book first. Personally, I take the greatest pleasure in observing the contours of the ladies' rumps encased in their riding breeches.

THE weather gets me down dreadfully, never more than when I am rung up from London and told how everyone is suffering from the blistering heat. We have had seven consecutive dull months; even the meteorologists agree that the weather stinks. There must be some way to turn the incessant downpour into income. We might ship it to Saudia Arabia. Collecting rainwater would, I think, be an activity very suited to Irish energies.

An alternative industry occurs to myself and Keith Floyd, the demon chef, whose latest oeuvre, Far Flung Floyd, contains an account of being fed cobra by the Vietnamese army. These animals, Floyd tells me, resemble frogs' legs in taste and texture. They are easy enough to prepare: it is only necessary to grasp them roughly where their ears would be if they had any, and sever the head, saving the blood for an aperitif. Cobras are apparently prolific and live off vermin, of which there is an abundance in this country. They like a moist climate. I believe we could accommodate them.

What Floyd and I have in mind is a series of snake farms situated in the south and west of the country which might, by a little industry, supply the best tables in Europe. A new breed of shepherds would be trained up in basic herpetology in order to round them up on cold nights and put them in heated pens. The consequences for employment could be enormous. Consider also that snakes are very clean animals, environmentally friendly and take up hardly any space at all. All being well (which, presently, it is not), Eire is to get pounds 8bn from the EC. Here is something really useful to spend it on. I believe Floyd and I are on to a winner.

THE SEASON of symposia is upon us: Yeats, Wilde, Swift, Russell, Joyce, Joyce and Joyce again; everywhere you look there is Joyce. I am fed up to the back teeth with the man, even though I did write his biography myself. A youthful indiscretion, it is sneered at by American academics but cribbed by their students, who find it quicker to read than Professor Ellmann's ponderous tome.

One of these American teachers irritated me at Furness in Kildare at the weekend by the constant issue of conversational interruptions and superfluous comment such as 'Oh, you have a boat', when it was plainly evident that there was such an article sitting on the lake; or worse, 'Are you guys heavily into swings?' (there was a swing hanging from a tree). Is that what passes for English at Rutgers University?

The symposia infested by these savants take the form of 'summer schools', which last a week or so and are patronised by suburban lovers of literature keen to swap domestic drudgery for intellectual stupor. Fair play to them, say I. John Lennon, an acquaintance who takes a keen interest in fringe politics, proposes to hold a William Thompson Summer School at Baltimore in west Cork next February. Thompson was a communistic follower of Saint-Simon, precursor of Marx and admired by the Webbs. He founded communes in the Glandore district. February seems an excellent time to stage his summer school.

Lennon, who orchestrated the election to the Cork City Council of an illiterate sandwich-board man some years ago, says he has invited La Cicciolina and Alessandra Mussolini to address the assembled scholars. Pointing out that La Mussolini was eminently qualified to speak on the subject as her grandfather had been editor of the Socialist newspaper Avanti, I declined to attend and, to seal the bargain, Lennon poured the dregs of his beer over my head.

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