Alex James: Rural Notebook

So nice to dog-trade with rich people
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The Independent Online

"The idea is that you bid. You bid to buy the dog. You will then own that dog. You will own that dog purely for the duration of the race. If your dog wins, you take half the pot. Do you understand?" We understood. He was clearly a pleasant type of fellow, addressing a tight puddle of tweed through a megaphone. It was all very jolly. I knew it would be: "Hound Racing" at the farm next door. A makeshift track maybe 200 yards long, half a dozen jumps constructed from hay bales and the hounds of the local hunt.

Geronimo, my four-year-old, had his heart set on buying the dog with the black collar, but I pulled him out of the bidding at the 50 quid level, losing out on the sale to a regal 14-year-old gentleman. There was a Tote system in operation too, a picnic table manned by rather pretty young stable girls. We stuck a fiver on the black dog.

It was well attended without ever being busy: a rarefied version of a crowd, a kind of backstage feeling on a sunny breezy Sunday afternoon. I haven't had much to do with the hunt since we arrived. I let them come over the land because the master of hounds asked me nicely, but here they all were and suddenly there was nothing so delightful as being idle, dog trading with rich people.

I managed to sell our dog a couple of times. Since he mated with Lady Bamford's lurcher, Socks has developed a nasty habit of marking the front leg of the grand piano. One of Britain's leading conductors unwittingly stepped in a small puddle while attempting to demonstrate how to conduct Beethoven's Fifth on Thursday: the last straw. We booked the vet on Tuesday, but it seems Socks' services are now in demand in all the big houses in the neighbourhood.

The black dog won. Geronimo had won seven quid, but he thought he'd won the dog and was inconsolable.

Defra, we salute you

I was in Suffolk today poking around the area where bluetongue was first discovered a year ago. The disease affects ruminants, those animals whose milk we can make cheese from. In some parts of Europe the disease has been catastrophic, but it was dealt with so effectively here only a handful of animals were culled. Farmers I spoke to were full of praise for Defra's handling of the situation.

Our cheese is safe.

Do the hustle

The farm where the very first case of bluetongue was identified is a rare breeds survival park. It was nice and it was busy. White park cattle, freaky ducks and very fat pigs. The farmer sells small bags of grub to smiling families, who happily feed his animals for him.

Hustle of the year. Bravo!

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