Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

A smidgen of renown goes a long way in a county in which human beings are outnumbered by sheep, cattle and poultry by a ratio, at a rough guess, of a hundred to one. As the author of a weekly newspaper column and a book about life in Herefordshire, I find myself invited with increasing frequency to be a judge in this competition or that. I was even called upon last week to open an open gardens day in the hamlet of Bleathwood, which involved cutting a ribbon. I posed with a whopping pair of shears, but shears can't cut ribbons, no matter how hard you try, so when the media photo call was over – in other words, when the man with the Instamatic had put it away – I was handed a more practical pair of scissors.

I know that some of these pleasurable duties come my way because Monty Don, a more bona fide local celebrity, has politely declined. It is now my ambition to be asked to judge something, or open something, for which Monty has declared his availability. Then I will truly have joined Herefordshire's A-list. In the meantime, my knowledge is expanding, or at least my ignorance is diminishing, in all kinds of areas. A few weeks ago, I had to learn something about carpets, as a judge in the Red Carpet Awards for fine examples of carpet-related journalism; and more recently it was cider and perry, as a judge at the Three Counties Show in Malvern.

The reason I was invited to judge the Red Carpet Awards is that Kidderminster – the nerve centre of the carpet industry – is not too far away, and several of the movers and Shake-'n'-Vac-ers in carpets live in Pudleston, the next village to ours. The awards, organised by the Carpet Foundation, an alliance of the country's leading manufacturers, are dished out at Claridges in September. But first, we judges had to decide who the winners were, and so gathered at a smart London restaurant.

My fellow judges were a terrifically distinguished bunch, including the designer Nina Campbell, the former Bond Girl Fiona Fullerton, and the former editor of the Daily Express Sir Nicholas Lloyd, all of whom had done the job before and so knew their weaves from their tufts.

I didn't, although I do know about words, so decided that if the opportunity arose, I would make an impassioned speech about how the Carpet Foundation needs to give the word "carpet" a positive spin, to counter its use in a whole load of negative metaphors, among them "carpet bombing", "carpetbagging", "to be swept under the carpet" and "to receive a carpeting".

The opportunity, I'm pleased to say, did not arise. I think Nina Campbell, who is formidable, would have told me to sit down. Still, I did learn quite a lot about carpets that day, not least that whenever the Carpet Foundation invites a comedian to speak at the awards do, there is a sweepstake on how long it will take him to make a "shag" joke. It is rarely more than 20 seconds.

I learnt plenty, too, about ciders and perries at the Three Counties Show. Not least, that when you sample more than 60 of them on a very hot day you (a) need someone to drive you home afterwards and (b) need a long lie-down under a cold compress when you get there. My fellow judges, invited by the Three Counties Cider and Perry Association, were Geoff Morris, proprietor of Orchard Hive & Vine, in Leominster, and Martin Rich, a cider-maker from Somerset. So again I was very much the layman, ignorant of the finer or even the blunter points of cider-making.

The tasting unfolded with Geoff, who is a former chemistry teacher, talking effortlessly about things such as malolactic fermentation, and me wondering whether I could reach the fifth category (bottle-conditioned ciders and perries) without falling off my stool. Still, I was gratified to find that, by and large, the stuff that I liked was the stuff that they liked. Which oddly enough had been the case with the carpets, too. Sometimes in life, naive enthusiasm is all you need.

'Tales of the Country', by Brian Viner (Simon & Schuster, £12.99) is on sale now.

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