Living The Country Life: Arthur Ransome? Not in front of the kids

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The Independent Online

Any romantic notions I had of desert life receded some years ago, when I read that a Bedouin tribe had delayed the date of its annual migration across the Sahara, a date enshrined by a thousand years of tradition, in order to watch the last episode of Dallas. Still, cultural practices do not only travel from west to east. A couple of weeks ago, the upper-middle classes of Shropshire and Herefordshire descended, in a veritable caravan of four-wheel drives, upon Ludlow racecourse. For the next two days the main pavilion became a noisy and unruly souk, full of jabbing fingers and ululating women. The occasion, of course, was the Boden sale.

This is a nomadic phenomenon, the legendary mail-order clothing entrepreneur Johnnie Boden having realised that the nation's Annabelles and Gileses do not all live within an easy drive of the company's warehouse in the wastelands of north-west London. In fact, most of them don't. So he put the show on the road, and it has become one of the hottest tickets in - or rather out of - town.

I confess, incidentally, that there is a Boden flavour to my own wardrobe, although I have always felt faintly disappointed, having slipped on my olive-green moleskin trousers and harlequin polo shirt, to look in the mirror and see not a svelte "Piers, actor" or a tanned "Hamish, wine buyer", as in the celebrated catalogue, but "Brian, could lose half a stone".

Actually, I would need to have lost a lot more than half a stone to have found much to fit me at Ludlow racecourse. By all accounts there were excellent bargains to be had, but mainly for the skeletally thin or the abnormally large. I didn't go because I was in London, and Jane was resolved, in a quite unprecedented show of restraint, that if she went she would only spend money on clothes with which the family could perfectly happily do without. So we were quite relieved to hear that there wasn't much anyway for the conventionally sized, and especially relieved to have missed the frenzy of the opening morning. Someone later told me that it couldn't have looked more like a scrum had Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio been present, driving forward and groaning a lot. For the purposes of this column, however, I rather regret not going. There are few spectacles as compelling as ordinarily genteel folk engaged in an unseemly stampede for a beige corduroy jacket reduced to £30.

On which subject, I hear that some truly unscrupulous tactics were deployed. A woman of my acquaintance was inspecting the left half of a nice pair of brogues when she noticed a man alongside her admiring the right half. Surreptitiously, she slipped it into her basket and wandered away, watching from a safe distance, only a little guiltily, as the poor chap launched an energetic but ultimately forlorn search for the missing shoe. Defeated and disillusioned, he eventually put his shoe down and 20 minutes later she sidled back to claim it. Despicable.

The trouble with Titty

To my considerable shame, I have never read Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons. When people ask me if my children have settled into their rural life, I am inclined to reply that, at its best, theirs has become a kind of Swallows and Amazons existence. As I understand it, this means things like swimming in rivers and looking for badgers. But I have never known for sure. So, the other day, when I saw copies of Swallows and Amazons being sold, somewhat improbably, in the tea room at Worcester Shrub Hill railway station, I picked one up. As I stood in the queue waiting to pay, however, I flicked through the opening pages and saw that one of the protagonists was called Titty.

I have just finished reading the rather bloodthirsty Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to my older children at bedtime. Swallows and Amazons would be the perfect antidote. But how would I cope with a character called Titty? Either my kids would keep giggling or I would. I did think of changing her name to Kitty but that wouldn't work, because they often read over my shoulder. I also thought of lobbying the publisher to change her name in the next edition, rather as the politically incorrect passages in Enid Blyton's books have been amended for these more sensitive times - "Dick! I'll make your bed," cried Anne, shocked to see it made in such a hurried way (Five Get Into Trouble, first published 1949). But that would be ridiculous.

Whatever, to my considerable shame, I put it back.

Season's eatings

Last Sunday, we visited our friends Catherine and Charles, who live between Ludlow and Much Wenlock, and like us moved from the city, only earlier. Like us, they keep chickens. They also keep bees. But they do so more organically than we do - organically in the sense that if their bees have not produced honey, and their hens have not laid eggs, then they do without. Catherine says that this enhances her sense of connection with the soil, which makes us feel rather inadequate for buying Safeway eggs by the dozen whenever our birds fail to let rip. The trouble is, that our speckledies are still too young to lay and our Buff Rocks are currently on a kind of work-to-rule, delivering about an egg a week between them. As I don't want to wait until the end of January for my next omelette, we're going to carry on putting most of our eggs in a Safeway basket. It's hard to live off the land within a 20-minute drive of a supermarket.

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