Tales of the Country: Making a fountain out of a molehill

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One of my son Jacob's favourite books is Moles Can Dance by Richard Edwards. It very charmingly tells the story of a young mole who wants to learn to dance, but is told by his elders that moles simply don't. So the youngster asks a cow, a frog, a fox and a woodpecker if they will teach him, but they all tell him that moles don't dance. Finally, however, he spots a girl dancing. He watches her closely, then dances home. By the end of the book, all the moles are gyrating by the light of the silvery moon.

I have visions of similar nocturnal scenes unfolding in our garden. We have dozens of molehills, much to the fascination of our Swedish neighbours, Ingmar and Kerstin, who tell us that moles don't exist in the greater Gothenburg area, or indeed anywhere in Scandinavia. Describing a mole to a Swede is one of the many faintly surreal things I have had to do since moving to the country, although events are about to take an even more surreal turn, when I head outside at dusk and - bladder permitting - carefully urinate on each and every molehill.

This, I have been assured, is a good way of discouraging moles from exploding on to a lawn. Another way, apparently, is to place a fresh dog turd on the top of the molehill, although the glint in the eye of the person who told me this makes me wonder whether he was having me on. After all, folk have been carted off in straitjackets for antics less crazy than carefully positioning fresh dog turds on the tops of molehills. Perhaps he is even now hooting with laughter at the thought of this becoming one of my early-evening rituals, along with watering the vegetable garden.

I told my friend Robin all this at the weekend, and he revealed a somewhat more ruthless way of tackling the mole problem that bedevils him at his home near Ludlow. Last week, he attached a hosepipe to the exhaust-pipe of his diesel-powered car, fed it into the molehill, and let rip.

But before doing so, he had to phone his local mechanic, Nigel, to ask whether diesel would yield the same potentially deadly carbon-monoxide fumes as ordinary petrol. It only occurred to him later, having not explained the reason for his enquiry, that Nigel probably wondered whether to refer him to the Samaritans.

Now, let me state unequivocally that I do not plan to gas any moles myself, not least because of Jacob's fondness for Moles Can Dance, and my own for The Wind in the Willows. I'm sure it doesn't cause them undue suffering, but it does seem a bit radical, and I would much rather deploy the wee and poo methods, as I'm sure they are known in erudite horticultural circles, to persuade the moles to pop up in the adjacent field.

That said, I bet Robin is not the only person round here committing moleicide, which represents a further riposte to the reader who suggested that, by killing the mice that invade our pantry, and by inviting our chimney- sweep to remove a jackdaw's nest that was preventing us from lighting a fire, I am not yet entitled to call myself a countryman. The true countryman, he implied, would deal more sympathetically with animals. Robin, needless to say, has lived in the country all his life.

Naked dancing in the neighbour's fields

A neighbour of ours died last week. You might have read his obituary elsewhere in these pages. His name was Jeremy Sandford, and he wrote the seismically influential television docudrama Cathy Come Home, which, in 1966, bankrolled the homeless-persons' charity Shelter virtually overnight.

In the lanes around here, however, Sandford was known not as an important writer, but as a cast-iron eccentric. His affection for travellers, New Age and otherwise, many of whom he encouraged to live on his land, was noted approvingly in the obituary pages, yet in these parts, received an emphatic thumbs-down.

None the less, I wish I had met him, and our friend Shelagh wishes that she had met him, too. She recalls once being told, with considerable distaste, that he gave parties at which people cavorted naked in the fields. That sounded pretty swell, Shelagh thought, wondering how to wangle an invitation.

Her recollection reminded me of a Secret Lives programme about Enid Blyton, which tried very hard to dish the dirt, but could find nothing more damning than the fact that the author of Famous Five Go to Billycock Hill liked to play tennis in the nude. My respect for her shot up tenfold. And come to think of it, respect is due to me for getting Famous Five Go to Billycock Hill into the same item as Cathy Come Home.

What car parks tell you about the cost of living

While Jane and I were being shown around the school in Hereford that we hope our daughter Eleanor will attend when she reaches secondary-school age, I admired a notice outside the A-level economics classroom. The definition of an economist, it declared, is someone who, by looking out of the back window, can tell in which direction a car is travelling.

Economically speaking, I am someone who cannot tell which way the car is going even when I am actually driving it. And yet, I reckon that I have hit upon the perfect way of comparing the cost of living around Britain: parking charges. On consecutive days this week, I left my car at stations in three different counties. A day at Worcester Shrub Hill cost £2; at Hereford, £1.40; and at Ludlow in Shropshire, £1. Outside Paddington station in London, by contrast, £1 buys hardly enough time to see a relative on to the train.

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