Tales Of The Country: Who's the one with the waggiest tail?

Click to follow

The village fete season is in full swing in Herefordshire, but of course some fêtes, like some villages, are more appealing than others. Last Saturday I took the children to the Yarpole fete, which was a classic of its kind, complete with pet competitions, a sack race, a coconut shy, morris dancers, a brass band playing a Beach Boys medley, capable women in flowery dresses offering tea and flapjacks, and a second-hand bookstall full of scarcely resistible bargains, such as a 1979 edition of 1000 Freezer Recipes, and a good-as-new copy of Val Doonican: The Special Years. And, crucially, the sun shone, which in truth was not surprising. Even the Almighty would think twice about defying those capable women in flowery dresses.

The village fete season is in full swing in Herefordshire, but of course some fêtes, like some villages, are more appealing than others. Last Saturday I took the children to the Yarpole fete, which was a classic of its kind, complete with pet competitions, a sack race, a coconut shy, morris dancers, a brass band playing a Beach Boys medley, capable women in flowery dresses offering tea and flapjacks, and a second-hand bookstall full of scarcely resistible bargains, such as a 1979 edition of 1000 Freezer Recipes, and a good-as-new copy of Val Doonican: The Special Years. And, crucially, the sun shone, which in truth was not surprising. Even the Almighty would think twice about defying those capable women in flowery dresses.

What was a surprise was that Joanna Trollope was not behind the tombola taking notes. It was a parochial occasion in the finest sense of that undeservedly maligned word, with a large noticeboard devoted to "The Parish Plan: A Shared Vision", and another publicising a forthcoming talk on local glow-worm trails. When the following day I explained where we'd been to a friend who has lived for years in rural Worcestershire, she winced and said: "ah, death by village fete". Maybe familiarity breeds contempt; the children and I enjoyed every minute. Especially the pet competition.

Regular readers will be aware that this time a year ago, ours was a pet-free, urban household. Now, Homo sapiens is outnumbered three to one by fish, fowl, cats, dog and pony - although the ratio will become a little more sensible next week when three out of the four remaining kittens move on.

The one we are keeping is Tiger, who at the Yarpole fête romped home in the Cutest Cat competition. Eight-year-old Joseph, who entered her, and was given a rosette and £1 in prize money, has yet to stop beaming. The accolade was in no way diminished by the fact that the field was pretty limited. OK, there was one other contestant. The field for the Dandiest Dog and Waggiest Tail competition, by contrast, was positively Grand National-like. Our golden retriever, Milo, was entered by 10-year-old Eleanor, who had to walk him round a parade ring, like at Cruft's.

Apart from repeatedly sniffing a collie's bottom, Milo behaved with great decorum and wagged his tail stylishly, but the judge, a local vet, instead awarded the Waggiest Tail first prize to Trixie, who belongs to Eleanor's friend Isabel. I congratulated her through only slightly gritted teeth. It's easy to see how serious dog shows spawn jealousy and even conspiracy. But I honestly didn't entertain for longer than a few minutes the idea of surreptitiously starching Trixie's tail before next year's fête.

The Prettiest Bitch prize, meanwhile, was given to Milo's best friend Millie, a border terrier who belongs to our friends Jane and James. The £1 winnings was pocketed by James. "Only £399 to go and she's paid for," he muttered, dyspeptically.

Ban fox-hunting? Tell that to our chickens

One of our chickens is missing. When yesterday I went to lock them up for the night I found that Marigold, the gold seabright with an exquisite dark brown and terracotta plumage that would go down a storm on the catwalks of Milan, was not perching in her usual spot. I can only assume that she has been nabbed by a fox, and although she lays the teeniest eggs, I am gutted. As doubtless she has been, too.

All of which brings me to the ban on fox-hunting voted for this week by the House of Commons and seemingly certain to be implemented. When I lived in the city I sat on the fence with regard to fox-hunting. As a country-dweller, ironically with much more fence on which to sit, I have become increasingly opposed to a ban, not least because there are many more pressing issues over which our legislators should be getting their knickers in a twist. Intensive battery farming for a start.

Moreover, the case in favour of fox-hunting has been made to me calmly and articulately by local people I have come to like and respect, whereas the case against seems tinged with hysteria. On Tuesday, there was a Radio Five Live phone-in on the subject, and it was striking how reasonable the pro-hunting lobby sounded, as opposed to the anti-brigade, whose line all too often was "you're just sick in the head".

If there is a sickness, it is the one infecting our national psyche, which equates animals with people and sometimes elevates them higher. If you are not convinced of this odd imbalance, you should try walking through any English town centre with a sweet, gurgling baby in a push- chair, as well as a handsome dog on a lead, and see which gets the more adoring glances.

As for the cruelty factor, farmers who don't care how foxes are culled, as long as they are, have told me that if they are not hunted by hounds they will be shot. It is not pretty to see a fox ripped apart by a pack of baying hounds, but the fox dies swiftly. Often, those that are shot crawl off to die an agonising death. And speaking of death, I'm rather hoping not to find Marigold's remains, although it has been said by some of her admirers that her feathers would make a fabulous cushion.

Your dirty thoughts

My thanks to everyone who has written with advice on how a chap with a vegetable garden should keep his fingernails clean. One correspondent advises Grune Tante, a soap containing fine wood shavings. Another suggests surgical gloves. I quite like that idea, especially if I can get someone in a nurse's outfit to snap them on for me, and then pass me a trowel.

Comments