Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

MY FRIEND, Robbie, got married a couple of weekends ago in his native Glasgow. Having clung tenaciously to bachelorhood well into his forties, his grip was finally eased by the lovely Fiona. Maybe that was why it was such a jolly wedding: the unrestrained celebrations of those who had almost given up hope. Maybe, too, that was why there were so many speeches. The groom spoke, as did the bride, the bride's father, the groom's father, the best man, and, most memorably of all, Robbie's former Sunday school teacher, a wonderful old girl of 91, wearing a turquoise Alice band. I'll call her Miss Cameron.

Miss Cameron, who clearly still looks upon Robbie as being six years old, had asked to speak as soon as she received her invitation. And when it was her turn, she got nimbly to her feet and walked purposefully to the microphone. In a refined Glaswegian accent, she told us what a splendid pupil Robbie had been at Sunday school, and how appreciative he had been, on their various outings to local parks, of the colours in God's palette. Not only that, but on one occasion he had fashioned a boat out of a discarded cigarette packet and sent a worm for a sail in a puddle. This, as far as Miss Cameron was concerned, made Robbie a latter-day St Francis of Assisi, and was clear proof of his essential piety.

I looked around the room while she was speaking, and decided that it was just as well Robbie hadn't tied the knot, like most of his contemporaries, 10 or 15 years ago. An audience of early thirtysomethings would have struggled to suppress sniggers during Miss Cameron's anecdote about the worm. But as mature citizens, we were charmed, although I confess to a chuckle when the man sitting next to me whispered that he, too, had been a Sunday school pupil of Miss Cameron's, and that she had always taken a somewhat unreconstructed view of the Bible: "She told us once that the reason the dinosaurs became extinct was because they were too big to fit into the Ark."

Still, she must have done something right because this neighbour of mine is now a professor of divinity, who also told me that Miss Cameron has never wanted anything for herself, but for decades has worked tirelessly to help alcoholics and drug addicts in blighted areas of Glasgow. "It was once said of her," confided my new friend, "that her heart is as broad as her mind is narrow."

Now, you'll be wondering what any of this has to do with country life, and the answer is not a whole lot, although I have been thinking of Miss Cameron's goodness and utter lack of materialism in the turbulent wake of a car boot sale we went to in Leominster last month.

The children wanted to flog some unwanted toys, thus raising some money to buy Christmas presents. But Jane and I thought we would seize the opportunity to get rid of a few things, including a gilt mirror with an eagle on top that we both absolutely loathed, and had been in one of our holiday cottages when we bought them. To cut a painful story short, we chucked it in the boot and sold it to a ruddy-faced guy within about 15 seconds of arriving at the car boot sale. He was plainly a dealer, and when I asked him for £30 he could hardly get the notes out of his wallet fast enough. But in the frenzy of the morning, we didn't give this a second thought until we got home, when Jane typed a description of the wretched thing into Google, whereupon a picture came up of, if not our mirror, then something eerily similar. It was described as Regency and valued at £3,750.

I don't suppose ours was an original, not least because the man from whom we bought our house is a shrewd cookie who would never have left something so valuable behind. But even so, the sheer stupidity of selling a thing like that at a car boot sale haunted me until I encountered the saintly Miss Cameron, and realised there is no value in acquisitiveness.

So I wish the ruddy dealer well. Sort of.