Writing about luxury is no easy matter in Herefordshire in late November. It is grey and cold, and people keep killing themselves – or worse, others – by driving brainlessly on the A49 between Hereford and Leominster; three deaths in the past fortnight. Nor is there anything de luxe about life indoors. Whenever the temperature rises outside, hordes of flies emerge quite literally from the woodwork. At least we have the consolation of knowing that it's a common problem; Jane came home yesterday with the news that there has been such a demand for fly spray in Leominster that supplies are running perilously low. At the hardware store on Draper's Lane she bought the last canister in town, which I've been firing like a madman in a Sam Peckinpah movie. My office looks like the inside of an Eccles cake, so multitudinous are the little black corpses.
In the meantime, we've both been racking our brains for something luxurious for me to write about, and it finally came to me while I was feeding the chickens and Jane was shopping in Hereford, probably standing in a fly spray queue. I called her. "I've thought of something luxurious to write about," I said. "What?" she said. "The table," I said. "Perfect," she said.
The table is a beautiful, ornately tiled job, which seats 10. It was imported from Spain at considerable expense a few years ago by my cousin and his wife, and currently stands in their back garden in London, admired by all who see it. Next year they are moving from their house to a flat and have very generously offered us the table, with only two conditions. One is that we serve them a slap-up meal from it next summer, which is no problem. The second is that we organise its transportation from Highgate to Herefordshire, which is a problem, because it is the heaviest table in the world, or at least in Highgate. It took eight men to carry it off the lorry and into their garden and when I casually mentioned this to GB Liners, the removals company who moved us here in 2002, they said they didn't fancy the challenge, thanks very much.
So I phoned our friend Derek, who used to be a fireman and now sells large rugs, and is consequently the nearest man I know to an expert on lifting. Derek recommended a London-based firm, rather splendidly called Headley's Humpers. I called them and told them about the table. They said they'd go and take a look, which they did. Then they phoned me and said they didn't want the job either, if it was all the same to me. It would require too much manpower. The path at the side of the house was too narrow. It was, all things considered, a hump too far.
We looked on the internet and found another London-based outfit, called Aussie Man and Van, with an appealing website. I liked the idea of handing the task to a bristly, no-nonsense Antipodean, although the guy I spoke to sounded as though he came from nearer to Weybridge than Wollongong.
Nonetheless, he exuded calm reassurance. He introduced himself as Alex and said he'd been in the army; tricky challenges were meat and drink to him. We arranged for him to look at the table the following Monday; he said he'd call me as soon as he'd seen it, to give me a price. Monday came and went with no call. On the Wednesday I called Aussie Man and Van. Ah, they said, unfortunately Alex no longer worked for them. They would look into the matter and call me back. They never did.
I'm now turning to Herefordshire again for a solution to this problem. I know a local builder with shoulders as wide as the River Wye and I've mentioned it to him, on the basis that strong men don't like to admit defeat in matters involving brawn. I told him that if he knew anyone prepared to take on the job, I'd pay £500 and organise some labour at both ends. "Might do it meself for that," he said, in the strongest Herefordshire accent of anyone I know. "Hundred and fifty quid's worth of diesel and £350 in me arse pocket." He's thinking about it. We're all thinking about it. Not even carrying it will be as exhausting as thinking about it.