Friday, 12 December 2014

Life in the country


If you have ever found yourself wondering what Berlusconi's 'Bunga Bunga' parties were like, then all you need do is watch the film, 'The Great Beauty' (Paolo Sorrentino) as H.I. and me did the other night. Right. That's the end of the film critique.

It's the season for works parties, and you cannot go into any bar or restaurant here at the moment without an office-full of people in paper hats or matching woollens, screaming at each other from a distance of 12 inches.

I opted out of a works party last night, partly because I am at home nursing man-flu, and partly because I don't think that the owners of the 'works' were going to be there, and I am a bit of a snob when it comes to things like that. Also, the party was held in a gigantic storage warehouse some distance from the main house, and about 12 miles from the middle of Bath.

Although busses and taxis were being provided, I always want to be able to escape within 5 minutes of deciding that I don't want to be somewhere, and the only thing that would make me get into a car and drive when drunk is alcohol. If I got caught with only one milligram more booze in my veins than legally acceptable, then all my carefully-hatched plans for the next ten years would be destroyed, and I would never get a second shot at it.

Many years ago, I lived in a tiny hamlet about 8 miles from Bath, and my next-door neighbour was Chris Patten, who later became the last Governor of Hong Kong. My best friend ran a wine bar in town at the time, and almost every night I would drive home having visited him for a couple of drinks - not rat-arsed, but certainly over the limit.

Chris (yes, I was on first-name terms) was being punished for refusing to remove a part of a speech he had written for Margaret Thatcher which she disapproved of, and this punishment came in the form of being appointed Junior Minister for Northern Ireland, a post from which Mrs T. probably hoped he would not survive.

The narrow lanes around this little hamlet were always teeming with police, both in uniform and without, but they had all long since carried out extensive searches into my background, and all knew the number-plate of my car very well. One invaluable, positive spin-off from this intrusion into my privacy was that they would never stop me for any reason when driving around the area - they had bigger fish to catch.

The biggest draw-back to having Chris Patten as a next-door neighbour was constantly having to knock on his door to get him and Jonathan Dimbleby (my spell-checker suggests 'Dumbbells') to move their cars so I could leave my own house. He and Mr Dumbbell played tennis at every opportunity, then went back to the cottage for refreshments afterwards. Chris would be driven back from London in a ministerial car, then decant himself into an old Morris Traveller to visit his constituents.

At this time, I regularly baby-sat for my wine-bar-owning friend by looking after his huge Deerhound/Greyhound Lurcher, Bill, as Bill loved staying with me in the country. Chris (Lavender and the kids, as he wrote on a Christmas card to me once) had a very old and very blind little mutt which used to wander around near my garden, bumping into walls and constantly growling for no apparent reason.

Bill was the most gentle and playful dog - until another dog growled at him, whereupon he would turn into a murderer in about a quarter of a second.

Our cottages were - and still are - set at the bottom of a precipitously steep hill, and the lane going down it was lined either side by a handful of houses containing our nearest neighbours. Chris's cottage was - ironically - once the temporary headquarters for Oliver Cromwell, and his troops left the famous spring (by which the hamlet was named) untouched for the sake of Cromwell. All other springs in the locale were poisoned. The photo above is of my cottage, taken about 100 years before I moved in.

One Sunday afternoon, I was cooking lunch for friends when I heard the familiar growling of the Pattens' dog as it stumbled around near my front lawn, and I thought nothing of it - until I remembered that I also had Bill as a guest.

I looked at the open door, then I looked at the empty sofa, but before I had a chance to react, I heard the unmistakable sound of Bill trying to kill something outside.

I ran through the door and found the mutt lying on its back with Bill's jaws wrapped tight around its neck as he tried to bite through the spinal cord of the Patten's family dog. The noise was ghastly, and brought people out of their houses, including Chris.

As I was wrenching Bill off the blind mutt, our neighbour directly above - who was an ardent and unreconstructed Socialist - leant over and shouted, "Let your dog kill the bloody thing! It should have been put down years ago!"

Luckily for 'the kids' I managed to get Bill off and lunchtime was saved - as well as a minor diplomatic incident.

Happy days.

29 comments:

  1. I have to face this tonight. I have the car, the 20 mile drive home, and I have to not drink and it is the office party.

    I will read the rest of this later, I tired after the fourth paragraph.

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    1. I will read the rest of your comment tonight. I tired after the first paragraph, which is unusual - you don't very often use paragraphs, so I never know the best place to tire.

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    2. I put the paragraph in especially for you as I know you find my comments difficult without.

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  2. It is an awful noise...dogs fighting. My old, half blind, deaf dog was attacked on Monday night by a German shepherd. It was terrible. I couldn't sleep that night. The sound of him screeching played over and over in my head.

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    1. I had a friend whose puppy was bitten in two - whilst still on a lead - by a German Shepherd, on its first trip out. I bet that was worse.

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  3. How gruesome …… especially the German Shepherd story !!
    Love the cottage ….. have you got an up to date photograph of it and what was it like inside ? …. and aereated water and ginger beer … how terribly modern accommodating they were 100 years ago . XXXX

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    1. I'll go there at some point and take some current photos.

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  4. All I can say is tom you sure do see life.

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  5. I've just experienced the loud bellows of a twelve inches apart Christmas lunch party on a next door table while trying to catch up with old friends. Had forgotten how annoying it is.

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    1. People can't have fun quietly these days.

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  6. As a shy introvert with social anxiety disorder, I'll avoid a party like the plague. Don't want to make small talk with strangers; nor really interact with them at all. I was born that way; my earliest memories really. Love the old house photo. Show us a current pic.

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  7. Since i'm a telecommuter, I have no office parties to attend, which suits me just fine.

    This weekend my town is having a Christmas do where some wine shops are providing free tasting samples. The last event of the evening, other than fireworks over the harbor (the chief reason I want to go) is something called "reverse happy hour." No idea what they mean by that, unless it's simply giving people a warmish place to sit or stand so they can sober up before driving home.

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  8. You really should share your writing more widely, or am I missing something and you are, in fact, on the staff at some national rag?

    Snippet does the angel to assassin thing too. VERY embarrassing.

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    1. No - you are my only readers! It all happens so fast with dogs, that it's impossible to say who started it.

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  9. I thoroughly enjoyed that story!

    Thank you for the kind words to me a few days ago, that sort of kindness from people I've never met always seems to warm my heart and surprise me just a little bit.

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    1. I have often been on the receiving end of the kindness of strangers too - not just Blanche!

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  10. In my bleary-eyed state I thought Chris Patton was biting the dog on the neck, and when the neighbour had yelled, "It should have been put down years ago!" it was to voice his displeasure with Mr. P's work. I'm awake now.

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    1. Now that would have given me an article to sell - not just 'Man Bites Dog', but 'Government Minister Bites Dog'!

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  11. What a delightful cottage - it reminds me of the one in The History of Mr. Polly - love the ginger beer sign.

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    1. Love The History of Mr Polly Elaine and Hobsons Choice. XXXX

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  12. I always thought that as soon as CP left Hong Kong, he would have taken a seat in Parliament and become leader of the Cons. I think he would have been very good at it too.

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    1. A friend of mine once asked him why he was not in the Lib Dems to which he seemed more suited, and he answered, "There's no point in being in politics without power'.

      Bath was very foolish to get rid of him.

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