Living The Country Life: It takes a strong man to clear our jungle

Share
Related Topics

Rob Dixon is a legend in our house. My children saw him winning a strongest man contest on the telly and for weeks afterwards would pretend to be Rob Dixon attempting immense feats of strength. Jane and I roared encouragement as they lifted small encyclopedias with one hand and bent entire wire coat-hangers, among other awesome achievements.

Anyway, to their delight, we currently have a genuine champion strongman in our employ. It's not Rob Dixon. That would be too much to hope for. It is Nick Hill, Strongest Man in Herefordshire 1993, although as the contest hasn't been held since, the title is still his.

Nick is a tree surgeon, one of the few jobs in which the feats required to win a Strongest Man competition actually come in useful. I suppose if you're an engine-driver then it might on occasion be quite handy to be able to pull a train with your teeth, especially on the Hereford to Paddington line where it would probably speed the service up. But by and large there isn't much call for such skills in real life.

For Nick, however, hardly a day goes by without him having to toss the odd caber. And he tells me that caber-tossing was an important part of the contest 10 years ago. He must have picked up his caber with a surge of confidence, and eyed his fellow-competitors with disdainful superiority. Who knows, maybe the disdainfully superior look was returned by the HGV driver when it came to the next discipline, pulling a seven-tonne truck 25 metres. Whatever, Nick was duly crowned county champion.

He is a fine fellow, though I would say that, wouldn't I? A version of the old joke about the gorilla with the machine-gun comes to mind. What do you call the Strongest Man in Herefordshire carrying a chainsaw? Sir. Although he doesn't seem to mind "Nick".

He is here thinning out our three-acre wood. It had become almost impenetrable, so he has cleared much of the laurel and willow, and we are hoping that he will leave his charming signature, several tree stumps carved into beautiful toadstools. There is a lot more to Nick than immense strength.

Mind you, this morning when I asked him to rig up a tyre swing for the kids, a gleam came into his eye. He told me that he can get a type of rope used by the SAS, and also knows where to put his hands on a lorry tyre. I'm half expecting to drive along the A44 and find a juggernaut on its side, with one tyre missing. And perhaps a few SAS men trussed up nearby.

No sooner had Holly and Bramble, our rabbits, escaped from their hutch after one of the children (none of them are owning up) accidentally left the door open, than Maurice O'Grady, pest control guru, called by with a couple of traps. The countryside is amazing like that. If we look westwards through our living-room window we can see for 40 miles without setting eyes on a single other house. Yet gossip and rumour and titbits of information spread like wildfire.

Maurice, it turned out, had heard from our gardener, Tom, about the rabbits going awol. They're members of the same shooting club. Maurice and Tom, that is, not the rabbits.

So my eight-year-old son Joseph put a carrot in one of the traps and left it on the bottom lawn overnight. And the next morning, there was Bramble. Holly is still nowhere to be seen, and has probably met Mr Fox by now. But Maurice was amazed that we'd caught even one so quickly. "If it'd been me setting that trap," he said, "I wouldn't have caught your rabbit for weeks. But your boy gets her first time."

Naturally, Joseph was thrilled. We have since been calling him "Trapper Joe" and wondering whether there's anywhere in Leominster where we can buy him a raccoon-fur hat. Meanwhile, Maurice, who favours the flat cap, dropped in yesterday to pick up the traps. We gave him a cup of coffee and talked infestation, as you do with a pest control guru. A few years ago, he told us, there was a woolly bear epidemic in Herefordshire. We were agog, until he explained that woolly bear is the name given to the larvae of the carpet beetle. "And it only eats natural fibres," he added, with what sounded like admiration.

The great escape

I suppose that, just as Monty had Rommel's picture up in his tent, a pest control guru needs a healthy respect for his prey. But respect gives way to frustration when the prey is untouchable. Maurice told us of a badger in these parts that has made a terrible mess of several gardens. I asked how he planned to deal with it.

"Badgers are protected," he replied, sadly. "Didn't you know that David was fined £400 with £200 costs for killing a badger?" Jane nodded solemnly, while I explained that I don't listen to The Archers. Maurice looked at me in amazement, making me feel like the central character in a Bateman cartoon: the man who lives in the sticks and never listens to The Archers! How I can recover his esteem, I'm not sure. Perhaps by trapping a woolly bear.

From rus to urbe

We live in an attractive, ivy-covered house built in 1850. One of the former occupants of the house was a Mr Manzoni, the architect who designed the Bull Ring in Birmingham. I often reflect that it must have been nice for him to get home to a comfortable Victorian house of an evening, after a hard day's work modernising a city centre.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones