Brian Viner: Country Life

'Like plenty of other naive souls, we left the city in search of a cheaper as well as a simpler life. What a laugh!'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has almost certainly never been to north Herefordshire, but if ever he does pass through he's assured of a warm welcome. In fact, he and his favourite two wives can have both of our holiday cottages for the night, and a cream tea featuring Jane's delectable home-made strawberry jam, in recognition of his efforts to force down the price of oil.

That's if Royal Bank of Scotland hasn't already repossessed our house, because of the rising cost of fuel. What with our oil-fired Aga, and our oil-fired central heating system, and our petrol-driven lawnmower, and the cost of driving three children all round the county every day, we are burning money quite a lot faster than we can make it.

I heard on the radio the other day that the fastest-escalating rural crime concerns the emptying of oil tanks outside isolated houses, shortly after they've been filled to the brim. I can't say I'm surprised. Cars are no longer the most nickable outdoor item hereabouts, not when there's a month's worth of oil to be siphoned off. And of course the delivery of oil is not exactly a discreet process, so it's easy to know who in the neighbourhood is getting tanked up, so to speak.

Like plenty of other naive souls, we left London in pursuit of a cheaper as well as simpler life in the country. What a laugh! Our petrol consumption has more then quadrupled in the six years since we waved goodbye to Crouch End, although of course it's true that we don't have to buy our own eggs any more, and we are more or less self-sufficient in Little Gem lettuces.

Then there are all the other hidden expenses of living in the country, starting with the septic tank. There are children at boarding schools who drain the family resources less than our septic tank; if we could send it to Eton instead of having it maintained and emptied six times a year, we would.

Indeed, my advice to anyone buying a big old house in the country is to consider very carefully what's beneath your bottom and above your head. Once you are satisfied that your effluent is well looked after, and that your house can keep its lid on during a storm, you can exchange contracts with a relatively clear mind. We were so smitten by this place during the purchasing procedure that we didn't really tick either of those boxes, which is why our fourth child, dear little Bertie, was sold to a local chimney sweep to pay for roof repairs.

Speaking of chimney sweeps, that's another expense we never anticipated. We have some extravagantly high chimneys and a battalion of jackdaws, which is a disastrous mix. To cap the chimneys would need either scaffolding or Fred Dibnah, and one's dead, while the other costs thousands. So instead we fork out twice a year for Ken Dodd to come round. Ken Dodd, believe it or not, is the name of our local sweep. You should see the length of his tickling stick!

Still, at least we don't have to take responsibility for the jackdaws' wellbeing, unlike our ever-growing menagerie of pets. I heard on the radio that veterinary practices are Britain's most profitable small businesses and I was surprised only that anyone thought this newsworthy. Of course they are. We once had to pay a £110 vet's bill for a hamster that cost us six quid, on account of him needing overnight accommodation. When Jane got the bill, she asked whether he had used the mini-bar.

All of which brings me to Rufus, though there's scarcely room to tell the story. Rufus was our son Jacob's hamster, who came to a sorry end at the teeth of our friend's dog, a Border terrier called Millie. Our own dogs are not allowed upstairs, but while visiting last week, Millie trotted into Jacob's bedroom and tugged at the door of Rufus's cage until it opened. You can guess the rest. We found poor Rufus dragging himself, entrails hanging out, around the bedroom carpet. I put him out of his misery by taking him outside and dropping a large stone on him, mainly because it was the right thing to do, although I was also relieved to cut a vet's syringe out of the equation. Naturally, we've promised Jacob a new hamster. I'm all for calling him Abdullah.

Brian Viner's latest book, 'The Pheasant's Revolt: More Tales of the Country', is now available in paperback (£7.99)