Gardening: Rollicking with Jones the Python

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The Independent Online
They have ploughed the fields around the copse on top of the little hill behind the house, so I haven't been up to pay respects to the little wood anemones which are surely now a scatter of white in the undergrowth. Besides, the last few weeks have been a cross between a blitz and a bacchanal. The Safeway pounds 2.19 Hungarian something or other has been slipping down by the bucket. Gays from the Smoke; girls who are no better than they should be (the mouth on them]); even some newspapermen. They steamed in and stirred up the muddy pond of our rural life. What with the excitement and the rain, walks have been truncated affairs.

It felt like a purifying day off, to slip into the northern bit of mid-Wales and stomp over a mountain with Terry Jones and his biologist wife. Jones - medievalist, story-writer, film-maker and ex-Python - was one of the visionaries who put money into Vole, the magazine Richard Boston started in the late Seventies, and which finally died under my editorship a few years later.

It was a grand magazine, whose purpose and territory I find pretty hard to describe to people too young ever to have seen it. I suppose one would say that it was cosmopolitan but determined to be rustic; green but determined to be amusing; mature but determined to be anarchic. Towards the end of its short but giddy life, I thought a dose of populism might save it from extinction. Our core readership, I'm afraid, mistook my efforts for vulgarity.

Anyway, Terry was a munificent supporter of ventures he thought worthwhile. Thus, he invested in a brewery started in the 13th-century Penrhos Court at Kington, which is near here in Hereford. On opening day, it is said, Richard Boston joined nearly everyone in swimming in the local stream. They say that, streaked with mud, the great journalist made a fine primordial beast.

The place no longer makes beer, but Jones's friend and erstwhile partner, Martin Griffiths, has in the meantime performed an all-but-incredible rebuilding of what must be one of the most beautiful and evocative buildings in the entire country. (He and his wife, Daphne Lambert, have made it a top-notch restaurant and hotel.)

Terry is looking more and more like Tom Jones's adoptive father (out of Fielding, not the valleys). He is solid more than stout, and ruddy rather than flushed. He looks every inch a man who rollicks. Our party romped up crags and flew over the snow-stuffed tussocks. We slithered down ice-slides. And then we dived into a village pub and Terry shed moutain gear to reveal that he was still in his double-breasted blazer. He went off to check on the state of some deal or other, but even being in hourly touch with LA can't make this man other than a romantic.

On our way back to the Jones cottage, we came across a neat and busy farm with an impressive range of buildings mostly packed with sheep, in for lambing in the modern way. The farmer roared up in his four-wheel-drive pickup, and then a lad skidded up to us with two half-frozen dogs on the back of his motorbike. (The word is that dogs are being ruined by their days on the pillion: running and shivering by turns must play havoc with their systems.) We were surrounded on every hand by muddy, sleety fields in which lambs in bright orange plastic macs trembled rather than skipped.

The worst winter ever, said the man. The place was bursting with animals, and far too little grass. He simply didn't know what to do with all the beasts. He made no bones about it's being at least partly the fault of his own greed. They have been crossing their tough little Welsh sheep, which would just about manage in this weather, with the Blue Faced Leicester, a vast leggy creature whose lambs fetch great money - if they live. The strategy works in most years, but is scuppered by the kind of sustained inclemency we've seen this year.

When I worked as a shepherd in the late Seventies, shed lambing hadn't quite come in. We were well down the hill, and could perhaps afford the risks involved in having lambs from our goat-like Blue Leicester ram. Thinking back, I can remember wonderful, cold, sunny lambing seasons, and some soggy ones. But my boss hadn't pushed production to the point at which, in a one-in-ten year of nasty weather, the fields (and the sheep) would not be able to cope.

We did see anemones after all. Up in town to catch the buzz, we walked off lunch in Kew Gardens, and found them there. There was also Solomon's Seal which - so we were informed by a neat label in the Dutch House garden - the 17th-century botanist John Gerard had suggested was good for curing the bruises wives are bound to sustain when their irritated husbands are drawn to thump them.

Submissive wives are at a bit of a premium these days, which is perhaps why some men prefer to go to Thailand for a sort of mail-order wife. The arrangement doubtless sometimes has its sorry or sordid side, and must often produce relationships as odd as those many people manage even after years of knowing each other. But there seems to be a positive side.

We went to the open day at the Buddhapadipa Temple, in the grounds of a Thai monastery in some prime real estate in Wimbledon. The wafts from the cooked-food stalls transported one straight to Asia. A monk hunkered down in the pseudo-baronial ex-dining-room and sprinkled water in blessing on all comers as the light streamed in at the leaded windows.

Outside, the crowd included many couples who reminded my Wimbledon host of the Yellow Pages couples he had seen in Thailand. Presumably, this was an excellent sign. Either the white husbands had got keen on Thai culture for themselves, or were determined to run the little lady over to a patch of Wimbledon which would be redolent of home.

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