Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

Last week in this space, I bewailed the expanding gap in our house and garden between adults on the one hand (latest head count, two) and children and animals on the other (latest head count, 17).

Last week in this space, I bewailed the expanding gap in our house and garden between adults on the one hand (latest head count, two) and children and animals on the other (latest head count, 17).

The gap then narrowed temporarily with the departure of our miniature Shetland pony, Zoe, only to expand even further with the acquisition, the very next day, of two cuckoo silkies, fluffy little chickens with fabulously stylish topknots.

That takes our poultry numbers back up to 11, which equals our all-time high, before Mr Fox stole into the night with two of the Buff Rock bantams and the Gold Sebright.

Zoe, at least, left with our blessing. Only one of our children was still small enough to ride her, and he rarely got the urge. So, despite her magnificent contribution to the garden in the form of top-quality manure, and the excellent exercise that shovelling shit offers a man in a largely sedentary job, we advertised Zoe in the Hereford Times.

Suffering from the classic misconception that something we wanted to sell would be something nobody wanted to buy, we asked £200 for her, and have been fielding calls round the clock ever since.

The first call arrived within about three minutes of the Hereford Times hitting the streets, and by that lunchtime we could have sold her 20 times over. But obviously we wanted her to go to the best possible home, and a charming woman called Fiona, who could scarcely believe her luck in buying a pedigree Shetland mare for only £200, got the nod.

Fiona explained that she already had a male Shetland and was keen to give him a mate. Which sounded perfect, except that the chap was called Vinnie Jones and we weren't at all sure that we wanted Zoe, a rather classy broad, to become a footballer's wife.

Still, Fiona duly arrived with a horsebox and took Zoe away, followed by Jane and the children, who wanted reassurance that she would be happy in her new life.

Their sadness was instantly dispelled when they saw her idyllic new surroundings, not to mention Vinnie, who came thundering over and gave her the kind of amorous attention that she certainly never experienced in our orchard.

In Fiona's care, moreover, she will be in more knowing hands than ours. We made sure Zoe was fed and watered every day, and had her hooves clipped, and whenever the vet saw her, he said she was in excellent fettle; but owning a pony for two years didn't turn us into particularly horsey people.

If it had, we wouldn't have sold her so bloody cheaply. Apparently, we could have got £400, easy-peasy, and probably more.

BUT THAT'S the thing about moving from the city to the country, you have to throw away all the things you once needed to know, such as bus routes to Finsbury Park underground station, and acquire a whole new set, such as the value of Shetland ponies.

And even after nearly three years in the sticks, we still have a long way to go, as I was reminded in a different way the other day when I ventured into Orchard Hive and Vine, a splendid shop in Leominster selling English wine, as well as those Herefordshire staples perry and cider.

With Geoff, the proprietor of Orchard Hive and Vine, I am to be a judge in the cider and perry competition at the Three Counties Show, in Malvern, next month.

We got chatting about our judging roles and he told me earnestly that last time he did it, some of the cider he tasted was a little bit "mouse", some was a bit "rope", some was acetic, and some was high on indoles. I laughed nervously, and said I wouldn't know a cider that was high on indoles from one that was high on LSD.

He patiently explained to me that judging is all about the pH level of your saliva, and I explained to him that I'll actually be passing judgement more along the lines of "nice" and "not so nice". It was his turn to laugh nervously.

I'll keep you posted.

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

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