Brian Viner: Country Life

"But don't worry," says the doctor. "They make fully operational prosthetic penises these days. The only thing is, they're rather expensive. They cost £1,000 per inch, so you need to discuss the matter with your wife, and decide what length you want. Do you want to pay £4,000, or £8,000, or even £12,000?"

The following day, the doctor returns. "Have you discussed it with your wife?" he asks. "Yes," says Gerald, a little glumly. "And what did you both decide?" the doctor asks. "We're having a new kitchen," says Gerald.

Now, you might reasonably wonder what that story has to do with our existence in North Herefordshire, and the answer is, not much, although there is always the potential for nasty car crashes on winding rural roads, especially in this season of trundling potato lorries followed by long lines of exasperated motorists, with only the vehicle directly behind the potato lorry in any position to profit from the fact that a little bit of cargo is shed at every bump, and only then if it is a open convertible, in which case, the driver will end the journey with a couple of kilos of newly dug King Edwards on the passenger seat.

Apart from that, I have to concede that a joke about a man losing his penis is slightly tangential to a column about country life. What reminds me of it, though, was a comment made by our friend Jane, at a dinner party we hosted last Saturday night. Another guest was telling us about her job as a Viagra sales rep, and explained that, in Britain, Viagra is not marketed for women, too, as it is in America. Someone - I forget who, although I'm almost 65 per cent certain it wasn't my wife - then asked whether there is a product on the British market that enhances pleasure for women during intercourse.

"Do you mean a Farrow & Ball colour chart?" Jane asked sweetly, with the comic timing of the late Ronnie Barker. As an example of the faux-naïf genre of humour, it was right up there with the response of another friend of ours, when I told her about a marvellous North African restaurant that I had just been to in London. "What sort of food do they serve?" she asked. "I suppose it's Moorish," I said. "Oh," she said. A fleeting pause. "Do you mean like Pringles?"

Anyway, I've meandered from my topic, namely the phenomenon of the rural dinner party. It is a very different kettle of fish to the dinner party in the city; almost literally so, in fact, because there aren't many fishmongers in the towns round here - indeed, the one in Leominster recently closed - whereas every small town has several top-notch butchers, and they have to compete with the farm shops as well as each other. A woman from East Sussex who was staying in one of our holiday cottages last week couldn't get over this. In Crowborough, where she lives, there isn't a butcher or even a baker. The supermarket is king. But not yet king of the Welsh Marches, I'm happy to say.

Just as the food component of the dinner party tends to be different out here, so does the people component. Our guests last week included the aforementioned Viagra sales rep, a head of English at a sixth-form college, a health visitor, a primary-school dinner lady, a dentist and a BT engineer, whereas our dinner-party line-ups in the city tended to be much more homogenous. Five journalists and a psychiatrist, that sort of thing.

Nor were instruments for castrating bullocks ever passed around the Crouch End dining table, as they were last Saturday. My friend Ian was keen for me to see how medieval they looked, and I am grateful to him, too, for enabling me to top and tail this column with roughly the same grisly subject matter.

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

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