Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

At the risk of turning the saga of our dogs into a Bleak House-style serial, I am returning to the subject one more time, although more than anything else as an illustration of how life is never dull in the country. Cold, muddy, smelly, sometimes. Dull, never.

Take the Tuesday before last, the day on which I was due to take Paddy and Milo, our two sheep-killers, to their new homes in an ovine-free zone of the North-west.

They'd been in kennels for 10 days while we tried to find a future for them, but I'd had to take them out on the Monday, because at 11am on the Tuesday I was due in Wigan to interview the manager of Wigan Athletic FC, and wanted to be on the road by 8am, before the kennels opened.

I couldn't bring the dogs back home for the night, because it would have been distressing for the children to see them, only to be separated again, so I called on my friend Alex, who lives on a farm, and who kindly offered me the use of her stable.

The dogs would be secure overnight, she said, and I could collect them as early as I liked the following morning. She showed me to the stable, which, if they ever remake the 1977 mini-series Jesus Of Nazareth, will make a perfect location.

Incidentally, I read recently that when Franco Zeffirelli got to the Last Supper scene in Jesus of Nazareth, Ian McShane, playing Judas, slipped shiftily out of the room with Zeffirelli*s camera following him. Then he popped his head back round the door and said: "Now, have I got this right? Eight cod and four haddock, all with mushy peas?"

Anyway, it was 7am and still dark when I got there the following morning. I opened the stable door, and was greeted with wild excitement by the dogs, who seemed less appreciative than I was of their New Testament setting, and were anxious to get out, cock their legs, and then climb into the back of the Volvo.

I gave them each a Bonio, put them on leads, and then turned to find that the stable door had shut behind me. I was locked in.

I am pleased to say that the surrealism of this situation - being shut in a cold, dark Herefordshire stable with a pair of dogs, all three of us desperate for a pee, when I needed to be on the M6 heading for Wigan - did not escape me. But after I had chortled awhile, I began to weight up the seriousness of my predicament. After all, it might be some time before anyone heard me yelling to be let out.

Eventually, the power of prayer, combined with some sustained door-jiggling, got me out. I just made it to Wigan on time and then drove on to Southport, the town where I grew up and where Paddy and Milo are now living happily, and where the only chance of them re-offending is by bringing down the occasional elderly man walking on the beach in a sheepskin coat.

Now, while all this was happening, my wife, Jane, was engaged in altogether

different but similarly surreal business. Her friend Rachel was getting married and another friend, Angeline, decided that it might be a laugh to buy Rachel some sex aids. Somehow or other, Angeline knew about a sex shop just outside Church Stretton, in Shropshire, and if that's not the oddest place for a sex shop, then I don*t know what is.

So, while I was still picking bits of straw off myself at the Wigan Athletic training ground, Jane and Angeline were waiting in the reception of a rural sex shop, having been told that they couldn't yet go in to look at the toys because there was a man in there who wanted privacy. Eventually he emerged, and what a denouement it would have been had he happened to be a vicar or magistrate of their acquaintance. In fact, they didn't recognise him, hard though they scrutinised him, while both pretending to look the other way.

That evening, swapping stories of our respective days, Jane and I agreed that country life is unpredictable, to say the least.