Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

I'll call them Julia and Peter. They are a striking-looking pair; Peter is at least 6ft 4in tall and Julia was obviously quite a stunner in her youth. Peter is a son of the Herefordshire soil, but Julia came from Cheltenham, and was a fashion model before she got married.

They are retired now, having farmed on quite a large scale. Peter farmed, at any rate, while for Julia it is positively a matter of pride that she has never so much as owned a pair of wellies. But it wasn't as though she shirked her responsibilities as a farmer's wife; she just dealt with them in her own ladylike ways. Magnificently, she used to curl the eyelashes of their dairy cows while they were being milked, which relaxed them, apparently, and significantly improved the yield.

Here in Docklow, Jane's curling tongs have yet to be deployed, though we are obviously doing something right with our hens, because eggs are positively rolling off the production line. Friends who have lived all their lives in the country, have hens are that are nowhere near as productive as ours, and I like to think that this has something to do with my breezy conversation while I give them their morning feed.

I don't see why they shouldn't be kept abreast of what is going on in the world, although obviously I haven't mentioned avian flu. Actually, I'm exaggerating; I don't exactly converse with them, but I do always greet them with a merry "hello girls", and I think they pick up the friendly vibe. That said, there's always a danger out here in the sticks of confusing human and non-human animals. Indeed, I was recently on the receiving end of such confusion myself, shortly after the vet had castrated our golden retriever, Milo.

Our friend Angie looked sympathetically at his swollen red scrotum, newly bereft of testicles, and said to Jane: "Was this what Brian looked like after his operation?" Jane checked for signs that she was joking but saw none. "Brian had a vasectomy, he wasn't castrated," she explained. "Oh," said Angie, guilelessly. "Is there a difference?"

There are, of course, several. One is that Milo's operation cost £80, while mine was free on the NHS. Mind you, at least he was seen in Leominster; I had to go to mid-Wales. His op was also intended to curb unseemly bursts of frisky behaviour and I don't think mine was.

THE DECISION to have his friskiness surgically removed was taken on the eve of the Church Fete, when our neighbour Bill came over to help set up tables. Bill's son came along too, with his girlfriend, a petite, pretty young woman. She was greatly taken with our new Jack Russell puppy, Paddy, and got down on her hands and knees to play with him. Then Milo saw his chance. He pinned her to the ground with no chance of escape, and began pumping frenziedly. I dragged him off but he was at it for at least 45 seconds before I could get there from the bric-a-brac stall. It was a horrifying spectacle, although I'd be lying if I said that there was not also some laughter, largely because the young woman took it in such good humour. I apologised profusely both to her and Bill, who said, wryly, "that's OK, we'll give you first choice from the litter". Whatever, Milo's fate was sealed right there, and I can only be grateful that in his pre-operative state he never encountered a cow with beautifully curled eyelashes.

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

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