Thursday, 12 November 2015

Rat race

Frustrations have been running at an all-time high here over the past couple of weeks. First of all I sprained my ankle racing the dog down a dirt track in the murky half-light of early morning when I hit a rogue rock lurking beneath the piles of fallen leaves. So light duties only for me and the dog for a little while. Very darn annoying! As for my husband, accustomed as he was to being able to go out and stalk a fallow buck or two whenever he felt like it back in Hampshire, he has had a very itchy trigger finger with nothing remotely deer-like to have a pop at up here in North Wales. Such was his desperation to shoot something, he erected a full-on deer stalking high seat overlooking the turkey and hen enclosure and resorted to trying to outwit the rats that we suspect are operating a corn racket at our expense. After an hour spent getting into all of his stalking paraphernalia and sitting motionless on high alert, he saw but one rodent, which flicked him the Vs before disappearing headlong back down a rat run never to be seen again. My husband was raging. What a sorry state of affairs. Something had to be done…

The arrival of our friends from Dorset for the week with their two handsome Labradors and a veritable arsenal of new toys, sorry I mean essential weapons, provided the perfect counterpoint to get us out of our fix. The dog had a couple of playmates for the week to exhaust him with endless hours of his favourite Bumsniff & Chase game and my other half had an excuse to never have a gun off his shoulder for five consecutive days. A rifle range was constructed, amusing paper targets dusted off and set up (a baboon in this case… don’t ask) and hours were whiled away spent lying prone in a cow pat (only later did they realise, much to my amusement). And when they weren’t on the range, they were wandering about with the dogs and shotguns under their arms flushing out the pheasants that had mistakenly taken refuge in our woods. Panic not, there is not much danger of the pheasant species becoming extinct in our little corner of the world given the ratio of those hit to the ones that got away. That said, they did manage to bring down enough for us to enjoy a delicious meal of free pheasant fajitas. A particular high point of our food-for-free culinary repertoire to date I might add.

Home, home on the range....

And also a good warm up for what was to come the following week. Trigger finger well and truly itched (I’m actually quite surprised that he doesn’t have RSI to be honest) and a long sit down required for me and my gammy ankle, we headed off to the Big Smoke, my first time back in London in OVER A YEAR! I’m not quite sure what I was expecting after being away for so long. It all just seemed so familiar and I surprised myself by remembering the labyrinthine network of rat runs that I used to take to avoid the rush hour traffic in South West London. What was even more surprising was my voracious appetite for all of the many different types of food on offer. Without wanting to sound like the mighty hill billy I am inevitably becoming, I was all of a sudden overwhelmed by an urge to eat anything and everything that had very much NOT come from my own hands. Does that make me the worst kind of self-sufficient wannabe? Bear in mind that you are looking at a woman whose greatest indulgence for the past six months has been to buy a bag of ready prepared salad instead of traipsing up to the vegetable patch to scour the plot for the last mangy scraps of soil and slug-covered leaves.  I think I can safely say that there is no danger of us becoming all puritanical about the provenance of our food… We inhaled a Chinese meal with all of the zeal of a shipwreck victim after three months at sea. We pretty much bit the hand off the lovely man selling kudu biltong at the station (you see, even in the middle of the city his mind is always on sodding deer!). We ate sushi walking down the street in South Ken, not because we were hungry but just BECAUSE WE COULD. It’s probably a darn good job we were only in the capital for a weekend or they would have to take me home in a forklift truck. But for everything we consumed, there was always some sort of (perhaps sheer fantastical) discussion about how we could use what we have grown or caught ourselves to recreate in some way the plethora of cuisines we sampled. Pigeon paella or bunny burritos anyone?  Or how about some squirrel dim sum? However for the record (and you may absolutely quote me on this) I very much draw the line at rat au vin.

When we weren’t stuffing our faces, we were intent on getting our fix of culture and giving the children the Full London Experience. Which basically meant riding the tube on a wet Saturday afternoon up to the Natural History Museum with apparently every other family with children under ten within the M25. Now not a week before we had some friends visiting from Essex with their children so we played our trump card for any little boy (or girl or fully grown man or woman for that matter – let’s not be gendered about this) and took them on the steam train which runs from our local town and constitutes our one major tourist attraction. Now my kids have been on the steam train so often that they truly believe a full size, 1930s steam train is the most normal way in the world to get from A to B. While our southern guests gasped in awe at the chuffing billy, my two didn’t give it a second glance. Fast forward a week and my daughter’s eyes were on stalks as we trundled along the District Line, giggling in absolute glee at the number of stops and starts and the sights of London flashing by. So over stimulated was she by the journey, she conked out as soon as we got the museum and spent all of the hours set aside for Cultural Improvement Activities (at the risk of sounding like Mao Tse-Tung) snoring away in the pushchair. Ah well. Perhaps you can absorb culture by osmosis just by physically being there?



Replete with food and culture and just as we were perhaps sliding slightly into the territory of “oh bollocks, London is actually awesome, have we done the right thing…?”, we attempted to travel five miles to go to a party.  Now our nearest village is about five miles away and it takes us a little over five minutes to drive there, day or night, summer or winter. Unless you get stuck behind a flock of sheep being moved from field to field, or the cows coming in for milking (in which case you might as well whip out your newspaper and read it cover to cover and then have a short snooze while you’re at it) you can pretty much guarantee you will be at your destination five minutes later. Very much NOT the case in London. Kids asleep, babysitters briefed, make up slapped on in pantomime-like quantities to mask nine months of no sleep and being outside in the elements, we headed out for our Big Night On The Town. One hour and ten minutes later we were still heading. Well not really heading, more like standing. Stuck in an almighty gridlocked queue on Battersea Bridge while the fireworks rained down around us. Beautiful I’m sure but not when you have two hours in which to see all of your very best friends for the last time in quite possibly the next 12 months. We sat slowly stewing in the back of the cab, bemoaning the fact that we could have driven to Liverpool from our house in less time (as distance of 40 miles), helpless to get there any quicker. Coming home was somewhat less problematic, as we joined the hip and trendies by sharing an Uber (i.e. a taxi for those of you not down with the kids). I think we can safely say that neither I nor my husband (copious amounts of champagne and whisky notwithstanding) had the slightest clue of how this marvellous, high-tech service actually works. All we know is that we didn’t have to pay and we got home safely (thanks very much to our dear friend who made this happen!).

And so before we knew it, it was time to head back up the road and leave the Big Smoke behind us. Children exhausted and asleep in the back, we reflected on our weekend and what it felt like to be back in London. A range of mixed emotions it would be fair to say, from feeling very old and nostalgic to be back in the place where we spent the heady, carefree days of our youth to relief at not having to battle the hordes and masses on the tube every day. Sad to be leaving dear friends behind and excited at the prospect of bringing our kids to stay “once a quarter” (we boldly decided) and show them the sights and culture of our great capital. We came to the realisation that you don’t actually have to live somewhere to enjoy somewhere. In fact, the novelty factor can make a place seem even more amazing. Given the choice of city living and having the countryside as the novelty or vice versa we realised that we’d plump for the latter any day of the week. A sentiment wholeheartedly endorsed as I got out of the car to open our gate and inhaled my first lungfuls of fresh air. Total bliss. And despite the driving wind and rain we all enthusiastically got togged up and headed up the field to blow away the city cobwebs, check on our animals and collect some eggs and veg for dinner. I never thought I would have a craving for runner beans but after the excesses of the weekend they have never tasted so good. Even the kids couldn’t get enough of them! And as for my better half, we had not been home for more than a couple of hours before he was back up that bloody high seat, cammoed up to the hilt and gun at the ready, no doubt in his mind about the rat race he prefers…

High seat (not to be confused with a high
 chair - can't really feed the baby up this one...)

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