Tom Hodgkinson: What sort of swine would steal my food?

Tom Hodgkinson@indyvoices
Sunday 10 February 2013 01:00

How long will this extreme weather last? It's becoming exhausting. Snow is followed by rain, then wind. Travel is dangerous. Cars are stranded.

The upside of the bad weather for us, however, was a lovely period of doing nothing. We were completely snowed in for a week. Five-foot snow drifts blocked the roads and even plucky 4x4s were abandoned. This all meant we were unable to get in the car and drive anywhere. No school. So we stayed in and the days went past in a blur of old movies, naps, emailing, snowball fights, brisk walks, carrying wood, lighting fires, cooking, and not spending money. We must have saved a fortune. Not so bad, really. My 12-year-old son, though, was determined to escape our retreat. He showed a sudden and unprecedented enthusiasm for walking, trudging three miles to the next village to see his mates.

Yet, there was one other sour note in our week of sweet idleness: we became victims of rural crime. In the normal run of things, we receive weekly boxloads of milk, fruit and vegetables from Riverford, the excellent home-delivery grocery service (organic, naturellement). During the snow, the Riverford driver was unable to reach us, so dropped off our boxes at the shelter by the bus stop on the main road, a two-mile walk away.

Victoria and I put on our backpacks and waterproof trousers, set the children down in front of Miranda, and set off to retrieve our organic foodstuffs. It was a beautiful walk. The snow covered the fields and trees. A few hardy sheep nibbled at the grass and all was quiet, bar the occasional group of youths driving by on quad bikes. We started to enjoy a sense of hardy resourcefulness and self-reliance. Man's invention, automobiles, lay disabled in the snow drifts, while we strode purposefully by.

We arrived at the bus stop. The first thing we saw was a lone organic satsuma in the middle of the road. Odd. We crossed the road and entered the shelter. There was only one box there, containing a few pints of milk and a piece of organic cheddar. The fruit and vegetables were nowhere to be seen. Clearly a lactose-intolerant vegetable thief had seen the food boxes and swiped them.

At first we gave thanks that at least the milk and cheese were left behind by the thief – Victoria and I agree that morning tea without milk is hell itself. But as we trudged back home, I allowed darker thoughts to cloud my brain: what sort of unfeeling swine would steal food from a family stranded in the snow? It really beggared belief and I started to compose a letter in my head to the Daily Mail, complaining of the moral degeneracy of our times. Maybe the vegetable thief was now laughing at us for being middle-class and buying organic vegetables? Had he taken the food back to his mum's? Maybe the whole family was collapsing with hilarity as they considered our pain and ate our slightly dirty parsnips.

Maybe it was the youths on quad bikes. Were they going round stealing from abandoned cars? It struck us that the snow provided a great cover for rural crime. No one is around, so nicking stuff is easy. The sinister youths drove past us again as we walked homewards. We glared at them and tried to examine their quad bikes for signs of organic food boxes, but saw none. Then I suddenly remembered with horror that I had left my car unlocked near our village, with beers and my ukulele in the boot. Perhaps the youths had stolen this, too? We inspected the car on the way home. The beer and uke were safe. The youths were removed from our list of suspects.

If you put aside the incident of rural crime, though, we enjoyed our hibernation. In fact, I wish it could have gone on for longer. Tomorrow, alas, I have been summoned to London for a meeting concerning our forthcoming grammar guide. In the tradition of the 19th-century radical William Cobbett, Idler Books last year published a guide to English grammar. To our delight, the book has been picked up by a major publisher, which plans to bring the guide to a much wider reading public. At tomorrow's meeting we are to discuss our plans for publicising this work, so I must tear myself away from my cosy Epicurean retreat and enter the busy world once more.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

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