A Country Life: The drive of your life

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The Independent Online

For the first 18 years of my life I lived in an ordinary, between-the-wars, three-bedroom semi in Southport, Lancashire.

For the first 18 years of my life I lived in an ordinary, between-the-wars, three-bedroom semi in Southport, Lancashire. I had friends who lived in much grander houses, but I didn't envy them the size of their bedrooms nor even the size of their gardens. All I envied was the length and width of their drives. We had a modest drive, but once the car was parked there, it was inadequate for a game of cricket, which, principally, was what drives were for. Only occasionally would my mother deign to park the car on the street, so that the drive could accommodate the bowler's run-up.

I left home in 1980, first to live in a slum in Paris, then in a university hall-of residence in St Andrews, Scotland, then in a little house by the harbour in St Andrews, then in another student hall-of-residence in Atlanta, Georgia, then in a ground-floor flat in a north London mansion block, then in an Edwardian terraced house, also in north London. None of these abodes had drives.

When we moved to our present house in Herefordshire, its drive made up for all those lost years. It is about 300 yards long; it is lined with daffodils and snowdrops, with laurel and rhododendron, with pine and birch and even a monkey puzzle tree. It's not much good for cricket, owing to the uneven bounce and the likelihood of losing the ball after every shot; nevertheless, it is the drive for which, as a youngster, I would have traded almost anything, perhaps even my collection of Shell 1970 World Cup coins. I am very fond of our drive, and proudly proprietorial.

Last Saturday night, as our neighbour Carl made his way home from the pub, he noticed a car parked on the daffodils about 50 yards along our drive. Curious, he thought. He wandered over and shone his torch in, revealing a man sitting in the driving seat being pleasured by a woman crouching over the hand-brake. The beam of Carl's torch understandably played havoc with this arrangement, and once they had hurriedly put everything away they drove off, leaving behind a chortling Carl and a bunch of flattened daffodils.

Carl told me this the following day. He thought it hilarious, but then they weren't his daffodils and it's not his drive. As hard as I have tried, I have been unable to find the funny side. My precious drive has been sullied. I am now wondering whether to erect a sign, although I'm not sure what it should say. I don't want to give people ideas.

A dandy present

For my last birthday, my sister-in-law Jackie, aware of my determination to improve my rudimentary knowledge of gardening, kindly sent me The Complete Book of Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit - The Definitive Source for Growing, Harvesting and Cooking, by Matthew Biggs, Jekka McVicar and Bob Flowerdew.

It is a mighty book, so mighty that to read it in bed I first had to read "The Complete Book of Biceps, Triceps and Pectorals - The Definitive Source for Building Upper Body Strength". Having mustered the strength to lift it, though, I have been studying it diligently, and have even been able to deploy my new-found knowledge that the fibrous root system of the Jerusalem artichoke makes it useful for breaking up uncultivated ground.

The trouble with such books, however, is that reading them can be counter-productive, reminding the enthusiastic novice that there is such an overwhelming amount to absorb that he might as well give up. For example, having learnt that the leaves of our pesky dandelions are high in vitamins A, B, C and D - even higher in vitamin A than carrots, would you believe? - and that a dandelion salad in spring is considered an excellent blood cleanser on account of its diuretic and digestive qualities, I find myself sidetracked by an extraordinary list of the dandelion's alternative names.

It is also known as - deep breath - pee in the bed, lion's teeth, fairy clock, clock flower, clocks and watches, farmer's clock, old man's clock, one clock, wetweed, blowball, cankerwort, lionstooth, priest's crown, puffball, swinesnout, white endive, wild endive and, my absolute favourite, piss-a-beds. We are having guests next weekend. I can't wait to offer them a light lunch of piss-a-beds salad.

Picture this - if you can

Flicks in the Sticks, rural Herefordshire's and Shropshire's wonderful mobile cinema, pitched camp at Pudleston village hall the other night. The film was Dirty Pretty Things, Stephen Frears's brilliant thriller about organ-trading (that's livers, not Wurlitzers) by illegal immigrants in London desperate for jobs, money and, above all, passports.

The last Flicks in the Sticks film we saw in Pudleston was Calendar Girls. It seemed perfectly natural to sit in a village hall enjoying a drama about members of the Women's Institute, but it was somewhat disorientating to sit through a story quite literally about London's underbelly and then to emerge into the peaceful Herefordshire night, with only the distant hooting of an owl disturbing the silence.

Dirty Pretty Things should not missed, but it should ideally be watched in a Soho fleapit, not surrounded by genteel parish elders, one of whom asks you, as you are sitting there reeling from the image of an unwitting man having a kidney removed, whether you are coming to the next event at Pudleston Village Hall - BBC Hereford and Worcester's Gardeners' Question Time.

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