On the road with the cow-botherers of Milton Keynes

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The Independent Online

I'm back from my mini national book tour. All in all, a pretty much unending series of deserted bookshops and long, dull evenings in some of the most suffocatingly bland rooms that only the hotel industry seems capable of producing.

I'm back from my mini national book tour. All in all, a pretty much unending series of deserted bookshops and long, dull evenings in some of the most suffocatingly bland rooms that only the hotel industry seems capable of producing. I have learnt one good trick along the way. If you sign a book then the bookshop can't return it to the publishers and have to get off their corduroy arses and sell the thing. I insisted on signing every single book in every shop I've visited. If anyone manages to find a copy of my book without a signature then they'd better hang on to it, it'll be worth something one day. I found a signed photo of me on eBay that was for sale for 99p and hadn't had a single offer for a year. I've bid £500 in an attempt to raise my market price. You never know.

Milton Keynes was a particular highlight. When I'd finished my "event" I asked everyone where I should go to get pissed. There was a long silence and much shaking of heads. A couple of people looked at each other conspiratorially, but there was nothing. Eventually, a lone voice spoke out from the back of the hall. "There's nothing here for you, absolutely nothing. You'd be best on your way back to London." Normally, I would have taken the advice gladly. I'd have got into my top celebrity sports car and roared back to the safety of the big smoke using the "celebrity lane", quaintly known to some as the hard shoulder. But there was something weird about this situation. Something smelt fishy and it wasn't the large, bearded man in a greasy apron sitting right next to the stage. What exactly were they trying to hide? Everyone definitely looked uneasy, and I thought that I'd don my private investigator hat and do a bit of sniffing about.

I bade the adoring throng farewell with some story about how I'd forgotten that I was having supper with Robbie Williams that night. A visibly relieved audience parted, Red-Sea like, to let me make my exit. I was in some enormous shopping complex and I found myself in a warren of identical looking grey breeze-block corridors. I rounded a couple of corners before turning back on myself and sneaking back up to the rubber double doors that lead into the side of the venue. As I'd suspected, no one had gone home. The large, bearded man had taken centre stage and was sitting in the very seat that I had been occupying only minutes before. He was talking very softly and the audience were mesmerised, an attitude that I would have greatly appreciated during my "turn", but I digress. I snuck through the doors and crawled behind a large bookshelf from which I could just about make out what the bearded man was saying: "... headlamps are compulsory and remember, no Friesians. We'll begin in the field near Horner's Wood and make our way down to Fowler's Brook, there should be loads of them there."

What the hell had I stumbled on? My mind was in a whirl. The whole audience trooped out into the car park and got into a big, old coach. I hopped into my car and followed at a distance. Ten minutes later, the coach pulled up at the entrance to a large field next to a rather ominous looking wood. The entire audience spread out in a seemingly pre-ordained pattern and advanced through the field until one of their lamps alighted on a dozing cow. The crowd would converge on the light and, to whoops of excitement, one of them would give the cow a hefty push and over she would go. So they were cow-tippers? One of the most pointless and cruel of country pursuits and here was an entire organisation seemingly using my book "event" as an excuse to meet up unnoticed before heading off to indulge in their curious pastime.

I slipped away as their lamps alighted on another slumbering bovine. I drove back to London at top speed, my mind racing. I felt the need to tell someone, but who? After the 50ft chicken affair no one would believe me. I was going to write to a local paper and alert them, but I simply didn't have the time. I had to write my third anonymous glowing review of my own book on Amazon. Business is business.

Rowan Pelling is away

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