Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

Country life would not have suited WC Fields, despite his bucolic surname. Not our version of country life, anyway. Children and animals - old WC's bêtes noires - are the twin staples of our everyday existence out here in north Herefordshire.

Country life would not have suited WC Fields, despite his bucolic surname. Not our version of country life, anyway. Children and animals - old WC's bêtes noires - are the twin staples of our everyday existence out here in north Herefordshire.

They are the source of most of our headaches, and most of our fun. But I'm glad we moved when our youngest child was just about ready to go to school full-time.

My favourite example of what can go wrong when you're living in the sticks with a toddler comes from our friend Cynthia, on whom I will confer a pseudonym to preserve her reputation.

Cynthia was sitting on the kitchen sofa one day while her son Ben, then aged two, was brmmming his battery-operated Thomas the Tank Engine toy up her legs and over her shoulders. He then brmmmed Thomas on to Cynthia's head, where its four wheels promptly got horribly snarled up in her hair.

It was, she realised to her horror, stuck fast. In its utter refusal to budge even in the face of swearing, then pleading, then praying, it clearly resembled the 08.03 Arriva (ha!) train service from Leominster to Cardiff that I had the misfortune to board a couple of weeks ago.

Anyway, the inevitable then happened. The doorbell rang. So Cynthia went to the door with Thomas the Tank Engine looking cheerfully outwards from the top of her head, hoping against hope that it might be a friend dropping round.

But that's one of the drawbacks about country life; folk tend not to drop round unexpectedly, not when it involves a bone-rattling journey up a half-mile dirt-track. Moreover, she hadn't lived there long since moving from Birmingham, so there weren't many friends it could have been.

Instead, it was the postman, who didn't bat an eyelid to be met by a woman with Thomas the Tank Engine on her head, although she did wonder whether it was the wind in the willows she could hear as he walked back to his van, or a bemused postman muttering "bloody townies".

Back in the sanctity of the kitchen - having overlooked the obvious solution of keeping her interesting headgear in place until Ladies' Day at Royal Ascot, and passing it off as a Philip Treacy number - Cynthia very tentatively tried to cut Thomas out of her hair with scissors. But it couldn't be done. Every time she cocked her head to look in the mirror, all she could see was Thomas, smiling with what by now seemed to her to be a determined malevolence. In the end she had to wait for several more hours until her husband Mark came home, and then several more hours still until he had stopped laughing.

I don't know what the moral of that story is. Don't let your young son run battery-operated locomotives over your head? Don't move to the country? Don't have kids? Whatever, after nearly three years of country living I have conceived a simple equation: if the number of children under your roof, added to the number of animals, adds up to more than three times the number of adults, then it's time for a readjustment.

Here in Docklow, we find ourselves on the wrong side of that equation to an almost laughable degree. At the last count, we were caring for three children, 11 chickens, two cats, a dog, a pony, a rabbit and a snake. And while I have taken surgical steps to prevent the arrival of more children, there seems to be nothing I can do to stop the menagerie expanding.

Jane appears to have set her heart on getting a Jack Russell, whereas I think our golden retriever Milo is quite enough dog, the more so as he periodically stages what we have come to know, with scarcely any thought for the sensibilities of the Irish Republican movement, as an H-block protest.

Basically, it's a spectacular overnight bout of vomiting and pooing, possibly brought on by his inexplicable fondness for eating cow pats. We wake up to it roughly once every two months and it means just about the worst possible start to the day. Still, at least our kids are all out of nappies.

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

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