Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

Now, far be it from me to bite the hand that feeds me - that is, the hand that makes phone calls selling advertising space in The Independent - but these calls do seem to follow a dispiritingly predictable pattern.

If Jane answers the phone and says, "Hi ... yes, fine thanks very much ... yes, the weather's quite nice thank-you ... yes, the children are back at school ... yes, I'm glad I'm not in New Orleans, too...' then I can be sure that on the other end is Cheryl from the advertising sales department of Joe Bloggs Media Inc hoping to sell her a six-by-two at the back of Menopausal Woman & Home magazine.

The pitch, once it begins, rarely varies. It's always deadline day, they're always just about to close the issue, there is always one last space, and because it's a last-minute offer, they can offer us the absolute rock-bottom price of £150 plus VAT, whereas every other advertiser has had to pay the full whack of £225.

Moreover, it's a beautiful publication with a young metropolitan readership, the perfect target audience for us. This is the point at which Jane says, 'Actually, we aim more for the middle-aged provincial market.' 'Ah,' says Cheryl, 'when I say young, I mean the under-75s, and when I say metropolitan, I mean settlements of more than seven houses.' And so it goes on.

There are some, I should add, who cut to the chase. If they don't express the slightest interest in the Herefordshire weather, they are far more likely to get our business. As long, that is, as it's the right type of magazine.

The call we had the other day was a doozy. It started with all the usual stuff about it being deadline day, with the very last five-by-one just begging to be taken, like the last puppy in the pet shop on Christmas Eve. And all for just £95 plus VAT, and a readership that could not be a better target for us if every reader had coloured concentric circles painted onto his or her backside. 'I'm sorry,' said Jane, 'I missed the name of the publication.' 'Oh,' said Charlene. 'Didn't I tell you? It's Allergy.'

We let Charlene down gently; after all, it can't be much fun trying to sell holiday-cottage ads in Allergy magazine. But afterwards we realised that we had missed a unique marketing opportunity by not snapping up the five-by-one and offering a welcome pack of half a dozen free-range eggs, a slab of Hereford Hop cheese, a bottle of local cider, a tube of Anthisan cream, a pack of Piriton tablets and a nasal spray.

INCEST IS a foul practice but also, it emerges, a fowl practice. An old friend, Nicola, who moved from London to Somerset with her family at about the time we moved to Herefordshire, has e-mailed me to say that a fluffy yellow chick recently emerged from beneath one of her broody Buff Orpingtons.

However, it soon became clear that the mother was a middle-aged Light Sussex hen and the father a young Light Sussex cockerel, one of the hen's progeny from last year, which means that the mother of Nugget, the chick, is also her grandmother.

This carry-on would be gravely frowned upon were it to happen between humans, of course, but Nicola, after some initial concerns, assures me that incest is perfectly acceptable in poultry circles.

In fact, it is referred to as line-breeding and is an acceptable way of producing purer versions of a single breed. It doesn't mean that they will be born with extra heads or limbs or anything - which is rather a shame for those of us with three children who each prefer leg to breast.

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