Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

When you live in rural England you get to know certain stretches of road better than you know members of your own family, and thus it is with us and the Hereford-to-Ludlow stretch of the A49. If we could invite it for Christmas, we would.

Our friend Jennifer, meanwhile, is even more intimately acquainted than we are with the A49 between Ludlow and Hereford. Maybe it's because she is on such good terms with it that she thinks nothing of trundling up and down it four or even six times a day, as she did recently when she drove to Hereford from her home in a village near Ludlow to pick up her 12-year-old daughter Susie from school, drove Susie back to Ludlow for a dental appointment, then back to Hereford for the rest of the school day. Last week I ran out of space in which to tell this story, but trust me, it's a corker.

When they got to Hereford after the dental appointment, there was still enough of Susie's lunch break left in which to buy her a much-needed new pair of school shoes. They rushed into shop A where Susie rejected everything Jennifer liked, so dashed round to shop B, where Jennifer rejected everything Susie liked, so scooted to shop C, which had the wrong size of the right shoe, so hammered across the road to shop D, which had the right size of the wrong shoe.

They then decided to give shop B one more try, and it was there that they finally agreed on a pair, which Jennifer bought and Susie put on. Susie then trotted off to school, while Jennifer stuffed the old shoes in a bin and scurried anxiously back to the car park, because her ticket had expired 10 minutes earlier.

She was delighted to find that a traffic warden had not, after all, beaten her to it, but less delighted to find no sign of her car keys. She emptied her bag and checked every pocket, then repeated the process three more times, before deciding that she must have left the keys in one of the shoe shops. So she ran back to shop B, where the purchase had been made. No keys.

She then legged it in turn to shops A, C and D, but in none of them had anyone found a set of car keys. So Jennifer dashed back to the car park, now convinced that she must have dropped the keys by the car. She hadn't. Then a thunderbolt of realisation struck her. She must have inadvertently dropped the keys into the same bin as the shoes. She flew back to the bin and, with a grimace, peered in. This was not a straightforward business. The litter bins in Hereford are rather fancy metal jobs with flaps, so peering in means getting your head through the flap. This she did, but found no shoes. It was the wrong bin.

I wish I could say that she emerged from the bin with a half-eaten lamb kebab on her head, but really, it's a story that needs no embroidery. Jennifer stuck her head into three more bins before she finally found the discarded shoes, and with them the unwittingly discarded keys. She then hurried back to her car certain that, the way her day was going, there would be a penalty notice fixed to the windscreen. Happily, there wasn't. And even more happily, she had not been interrupted while rummaging in one of the bins by another parent from Susie's school, sweetly offering to buy her a sandwich. Her day could, as she gamely says, have been worse.

Besides, which of us has not had a Jennifer-type experience? Only last week I searched high and low for a book I'd been reading and eventually found it in the fridge. This is, I think, a side-effect of middle-age. It doesn't matter that the young and the old have feeble memories, because other people are not generally reliant on them remembering things.

But the middle-aged have to remember on behalf of our children and sometimes our parents as well as ourselves, and with all that on our plates it's no wonder that keys get put in bins and books left in fridges. In the country this effect is intensified, because we're constantly criss-crossing the county getting kids to school, to netball practice, to parties, to guitar lessons, as well as keeping the dog walked, the chickens fed, the fire stoked, the compost heaped, the bills paid. It's a mad, exhausting business. But you should see the views.

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