Orla O'Loughlin, artistic director of the Ludlow-based Pentabus theatre company, e-mailed me on Tuesday to say that they have now engaged someone to adapt my book Tales of the Country, about my family's first year in north Herefordshire after leaving north London, for the stage. His name is Nick Warburton, and he has an illustrious track record in writing for the theatre, as well as for radio and television. He is certainly a man of impressive versatility, with a stage adaptation of Tolstoy's complex novel Resurrection on his CV, as well as episodes of EastEnders.
Orla has suggested a meeting later this month between her, Nick and me, and I can't wait to find out what his visions are for the stage version of Tales of the Country, which doesn't on the surface have much in common with the works of Tolstoy, although I like to think that Count Leo and I dealt with similar sweeping themes: love and marriage, age and death, the irrationality of human behaviour, the place of the individual in history, whether urinating on a molehill will stop the mole coming back, what to do with an ailing chicken, that sort of thing. Jane, meanwhile, is wondering whether Nick's pedigree as an EastEnders writer might influence the way he dramatises our trials and tribulations in Herefordshire. "Bleedin' moles! Bleedin' place is full of 'em! Ain't they got nowhere better to go?" Or, "'Ere, I 'eard you got a chicken giving you problems? I know this geezer who can get rid of her for yer, no questions asked."
I suppose the pub is the only way in which Docklow, where sheep outnumber people by about 100 to one, can be compared to Albert Square in the fictional London Borough of Walford. Not that the King's Head much resembles the Queen Vic, although a change of ownership is a seismic event here, as it is there. The King's Head changed hands last month – for the fourth time since we moved here seven years ago – and is now run by Paula and Tony, an amiable couple who had been living in rural France for a decade or so. I confess that the Gallic connection caused Jane and I some excitement when we heard. We wondered whether confit de canard or crêpes suzette might perchance find their way onto the King's Head menu, especially when we heard that Paula, a Lancastrian, had been to cookery school. But it turns out that she learnt to cook not in Nice, Nancy or Narbonne, but Nelson, making her a hotpot and jam roly-poly specialist, which on reflection is precisely what the King's Head needs.
After all, out here in sheep country, continental influences are quite often regarded with suspicion. At the bar of the King's Head a couple of nights ago a local farmer, Tim, told me in disbelief that he'd just had a vet round, sent by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to check on the welfare of his animals, and that said vet came from quite a lot closer to Benidorm than Bromyard. "What do the Spanish know about animal welfare?" Tim asked me, rhetorically. "Their national sport is bloody bullfighting." Not a man known for hiding anything under a bushel, Tim added that he'd raised precisely that paradox with the vet, who'd responded rather chippily – and on slightly shaky ground, it has to be said – that our national sport is fox hunting.
So much for European union. Indeed, I am often reminded on such occasions of the final some years ago of the pan-continental TV quiz show Going for Gold, hosted by the great Henry Kelly. The two finalists were a woman from Ireland and a man from Norway, and after they had finished with level scores, they stood side by side facing a tiebreaker question, with the winner to be the person who first blurted out the correct answer. "Name an American state beginning with the letter V," said Kelly. "Visconsin," said the Norwegian, quickly, and lost.
In other words, the semblance of European unity will always be undermined by linguistic and cultural differences, as was discovered by the Spanish vet inspecting Tim's livestock. Still, Tim is a hard-working fellow committed to the principles of responsible farming and I'm sure that even after their snippy exchange, the vet gave his animals the thumbs up, or whatever the Spanish equivalent of thumbs up might be. I just hope it's not a two-fingered V-sign.Reuse content