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Country Boys

1 A moving story

Hello. To be honest, I didn’t want our new column to refer to Country Boys. Too redolent of butch Rust Belt riffraff for me. But Teddy had his way (as always) so I’ll just have to go along with it.

It’s meant to be our account of moving from the hustle bustle of our old life in Parsons Green, West London, to the rural serenity of our darling cottage in the Wiltshire village of Frame Hampton (it’s quite small but the biggest one round here).

Although we only moved a month ago (still cardboard boxes and piles of books everywhere, dear) we already feel settled in nicely and are loving our first real encounter with nature and country life.

We haven’t been out much. The local pub, the Ratcatchers Arms, looks a tad basic but we hear great things about the Fecund Ferret on the road to Compton Chamberlayne.

Now we’re well into autumn, the leaves are turning iridescent colours of red and gold. In our tiny garden the silver birch is already assuming a skeletal look and the Hypochondria is ablaze.

Last weekend Teddy and I put on our new Ultralight Free Soldiers (chance’d be a fine thing, I said to Ted) and hiked up to Walton’s Spinney where you can just see Stonehenge on a clear day. I have to report that the Pilton’s Crapwurt is flourishing after the recent rain, although in the northwest corner there looked to be a nasty case of Hymenoschyphus Fraxineus (that’s ash dieback to you, lumberjack). Let’s hope all will be well.

More next time when we continue to adjust to rural life and, Covid permitting,  look forward to Christmas: chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose (or has someone already written that?)

Oliver

Part 2

Hello again. I’m not sure Teddy’s settling into our new country life as well as I am. I think he misses Parsons Green and, more particularly, the West End. 

I’ve told him that’s all over now; his days in the theatre are finis: exeunt all. It’s his own fault. Lighting directors should be seen and not heard, I said. Throwing that hissy fit with Judi before lockdown made him practically persona non grunta. 

Well, he’s done the retraining, is good with computers and can work from home. So that’s why we moved to Frame Hampton. Just fucking deal with it! Course I don’t tell him that.

Me? I’m like a pig in, actually. I love the peace and serenity here in Wiltshire and it’s so dark now the clocks have gone back. I’m settling into a routine keeping things nice but I’m insisting that Ted and I go for a long walk at some point during the day. Sometimes he’s not that willing but I can be quite firm when I want to be!

The other weekend we drove over to Cerne Abbas and that was nice. Later I overheard Teddy Zooming his old mates at the Colly and saying what fun we had climbing all over the Giant’s you-know-what. Sometimes he can be so unbelievably schoolboy smutty. I just let him get on with it.

The leaves have almost gone now. Our darling village, so green and luscious when we viewed the cottage in the summer, is ghostly and bare. The only splash of colour is from the leaves of the variegated Paranoia Magna on our south wall. The early frosts remind me that it’s nearly Christmas.  

We’re in Covid Tier Two so we have decided to keep ourselves to ourselves and I guess it will be turkey crown a deux this year. Truth is we’ve not been out too much mixing with hoi polloi. We venture to the village shop, of course (Sikhs are lovely people, aren’t they?) and already I hear that villagers refer to Teddy and me as The Boys. Would that that were true, darling! 

Till the next time and try to have a jolly Christmas despite the pandemic.

Oliver 

Part 3

Hello again.  Breaking news: We decided to go to church. No. Stop it. Don’t take the piss. It has been (socially-distanced, no hymns) Christmas, after all. Actually, Teddy was brought up on daily chapel when he was at Harlow (Sure that shouldn’t be Harrow? — Ed)  and I often used to go with Mummy when I lived at home in Corby. Our village church, dedicated to St Addis, is a fine Norman building with exquisite stained glass and a no-nonsense nave. Alas, the vicar, the pinch-faced Rev Petronella Prune, is an absolute disaster, darling (as they say on Strictly).  

No organ: ageing, ponytailed would-be rocker ‘playing’ electric guitar; spotty youth on keyboard. New form of service, of course; no sign of the Book of Common Prayer. His Tedship distinctly unimpressed. Our Pet wouldn’t know Thomas Cranmer if he rose up from his martyr’s grave and bit her on the bum, he says.

La Prune was a microbiologist before she retrained for the ministry, we’re told, and lives with the sexton, a burly, unsmiling former provost sergeant in the Royal Military Police called Sally. Teddy thinks they might be g*y.

Whatever, we’ll not darken their door again. If pressed, I’d prefer Songs of Praise and buttered  buns by the wood burner. After all, we grew up with Aled, didn’t we?

Rural idyll update? You’ll think me amiss! In truth, there’s not much to tell. Christmas was a bit of a Tier 2 isolated non-event to be honest. Bit fraught between His Nibs and me. At times I’ll admit we were like two cats in a sack (there’s a thought!). At present we’re OKish. But little Frame Hampton now feels definitely ITBMW, as darling Christina used to say.

Something’s peeping through the undergrowth at the village pond, though. The lovely Sikhs at the shop say they’re snowdrops. How would they know, asks Ted. The plains of Punjab are hardly replete with them (such a bitch!). Well, I say, the Sikhs have been in the village longer than us so they would know. 

One highlight to report: we spotted a quite rare Wright Tit on the lower branches of the Weeping Zackondia. It has a distinctive twitch and the inability to spot a good splash (Ollie, pet, this allusion is way too obscure, especially for the average Drone reader - Ed).

Till the next time. Stay safe! Oh, and a happy new year!

Oliver

4. Billy the Ghillie

Oh, hi! This Covid thing is such a pain in the arse, isn’t it?  Well, I can tell you that little Frame Hampton’s freshest (!) residents have had it up to here (Stop it!). Even though the nights are getting shorter, winter has seemed s-o-o-o long, especially when you can’t get out and about as much as you’d like. Teddy, ever the coquette, says he can’t wait to press the flesh with the locals (well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?). On our lovely walks we’ve been savouring nature’s new year stirrings in the undergrowth (chance’d be a fine thing, says I) but it’s a slow process.

Big breaking news is that before the latest lockdown we’d been learning how to fish: hooray, up she rises, eh? No, the thing is that the lady aboriculturalist from up at the hall was fluttering her eyelashes at young Theodore outside the shop (you’re barking up the wrong tree there, love, I thought) and she tells him that, for a wee fee, the Scottish manager of the trout farm on the River Nadder gives fly fishing lessons. So that’s how we came to meet Billie the Ghillie, suitably masked, of course.

Forget what you’ve heard about it never being difficult to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine, this Big Mac’s a real charmer, although I can’t understand a word he says.  Apparently, he held a senior editorial position on People’s Friend before he adopted the country life (there appears to have been some ‘under appreciation’ of his talents, pal).

Of course, the season doesn’t start till April but florid-faced Billie’s been giving us some early grounding. He said I had a naturally relaxed wrist. Teddy sniggered: I really hate him when he does that. Anyway, roll on the spring when, Covid willing, we can get to grips with a Pheasant Tail Nymph and an Elk Hair Caddis or two.

In other news, we’ve started to tackle our darling little garden. Truth is the lawn could soon do with an early high cut (says he, quoting Old Man Manners in the BBC Gardeners’ World magazine) but we haven’t got a lawn mower. Himself says let’s forget it and turn it into a flower meadow. Bollocks to that: I can see a trip to B&Q at Chippenham coming on. Otherwise, sharpen those scissors,Ted. Ha! Ha! 

Meanwhile, I don’t like to probe too deeply but I suspect something nasty’s going on under the Double Entendre in the lee of the silver birch. Least said, soonest mended, eh? Keep you posted. Missing you already!

Oliver

5. Walter Gabriel: who he?

Hi! Remember when we moved to Frame (small but perfectly formed) Hampton last summer and Ted had problems adjusting to rural Wiltshire after a very different life in London? He missed his mates in the theatre: the opening/closing/change of cast nights, the drink-fuelled curtain down sessions in Joe’s. Now, though, he is really beginning to embrace life here; he’s a lot happier and has even taken to ‘singing’ in the bath. Thank fuck for that: he can be quite spiteful, you know.  

Actually, he’s now in danger of going over the top, countrywise. We have these long debates about whether his Barbour should be green or blue; Hunter or Le Chameau wellies; Tattersall country check shirts. Ties replete with pheasants (when does he even wear a tie, for God’s sake?). He’s even threatening to sport one of those chocolate brown trilbys racing ‘connections’ wear in the Silver Ring at Market Rasen races. 

Mummy says: ‘Who does he think he is, Walter Gabriel?’ but I don’t know what she means (I think he was a character in Mrs Dale’s Diary — Ed).

Me? I’m fine, honestly. Actually, between us, I’m missing Mum a bit. Covid has kept us apart and long phone calls are never the same, are they? Especially when she’s worrying she’s running out of minutes. FaceZoom? She’s tried, bless her, but it’s not going to happen. 

Still, I keep myself busy doing the housework, shopping online etc while His Tedship is slaving over his iMac. You know, I like nothing better than preparing a pot roast and watching Fred and Ginger clips on YouTube while supper’s a-simmering (and he’s got something to keep him quiet).

Teddy had a good nature spot the other day: he was up with what he calls ‘the balls-aching reflux’ (how many times have I told him to knock the late night cremes de menthe on the head?) when he caught a family of badgers gambolling by the compost bin. And I could have sworn I saw a Lesser Spotted Wyngarde Warbler, or something that looked like one, flying over the Major’s hedge as I hung out the washing.

Apart from that, the weather hasn’t been conducive to roaming the fields and woods of Wiltshire, to be honest. But the last few days have been better and we’re welcoming the lighter nights and the promise of spring (or, at least, the end of winter). Daffs are already showing their heads and some club, the Masons I think, have planted hundreds of crocuses on Fowler’s Piece. They’re such a joy! Oh, I promised to update you on mysterious goings-on under the Double Entendre at the bottom of the garden. Turns out it’s foxes using it as a loo. No great drama: just a play on turds, says Ted, roaring loudly at his own joke. More like Much Apoo About Nothing, think I. But say nothing.

Oliver

Part 6. MacKenzie stirs the shit 

Ciao! Now that’s what I call music! Bijou little Frame Hampton’s comin’ out of lockdown, perkin’ up and suckin’ diesel, fella (as they say on Line of Duty). The kids are back at school (only they’re on holiday at the moment!) and it’s so lovely here in the heart of rural Wiltshire. 

The other day we sashayed over to Brierley Fulbright and wandered along the escarpment and through the woods by a sparkling stream to Potterne Parva. Just divine! The perennial Burnet Saxifrages were peeping through and I have high hopes for the Common Cat’s Ears later in the year. Back home, our lawn has burst into life: just as well we treated ourselves to a Hayter Harrier motor mower. That’s goodbye to the best part of £700 but Himself, who’s garnering funds quite nicely, thanks, insisted. And Lenny at B&Q says it’s money well spent. We’ll see.

The other morning a terrible pong hung over the village. For fuck’s sake, what is that, asks His Tedship in a bit of a tizz. A spot of sleuthing (Miss Marple’s got nothing on me) reveals it’s a MacKenzie Mark II Muckraker distributing something called slurry over Farmer McDonald’s big meadow the other side of the Mineards Memorial Scout hut. Ugggh!

One bonus of the improved weather and Boris’s Covid roadmap is that we’re able to see more of our neighbours (and bollocks to little Mattie Hancock, I say!) Next door, for example, is the Major, a genial old buffer with a fascinating back story (as Teddy likes to call it). He’s one of the Fortescue Pirbrights and an old ‘Africa hand’. 

As far as I can gather, he served in a weird special forces outfit called the Selous Scouts in UDI Rhodesia. Says that when ‘Johnnie Mugabe’ took power he decamped across the Limpopo to join the South African Defence Force but came home after ‘the De Klerk surrender’. Fascinating old cove, prone to dark hints about manoeuvres with the lads in Hereford. Not sure I believe him, though.

In other news, we saw the ecclesiastical gays, the Rev Prune and her ‘companion’, burly, moustachioed Sally the Sexton, on their tandem riding up Badger’s Mount. We’ve no time for them so, naturally, we blanked them. Useless fucking Herberts. Better news is that Farisha, daughter of the darling Sikhs at the village shop, has been accepted to read medicine at Oxford. Such a sweet child. Deserves to do well.

Oliver

7. Last train to Becontree

Hi. You’ll never guess the harebrained scheme occupying what the Tedmeister calls his mind just now. He only wants to get a dog! I’m going to have to box clever on this one. I hate dogs: nasty, arse-licking, excitable creatures. But Teddy calls them ‘fur babies’. I ask you. A sheepdog is mentioned. Is he mad? They’re the Poles of the canine world: aka absolutely barking bonkers. Then, a husky (talk about call of the wild, love). 

Doesn’t he realise they’re like wolves on an E-shift? I’m going to try to steer him towards one of the new, en pointe cross breeds, a Maltipoo, Cockapoo, Cavapoo, or Sprocker, perhaps. When I quip that I’m rather drawn to a Labradoodle, he doesn’t get it.  Some fell on stony ground, eh? ‘Twas ever thus. (I’ll update you on this anon).

By the way, when is Boris Johnson going to sort out his hair? I know he’s had it cut but it’s time Carrie took him in hand, proclaims Eduardo (never too subtle, he). He’s right, though. I was discussing it with mummy during our weekly phone call. She says a simple gel would do the trick. Apparently, L’Oreal has a nice one as long as you don’t go for the firm hold (as if I would!).

Back in the real world, we’re emerging from lockdown hibernation with a spring in the step and a gleam in the eye. The weather’s picking up and darling little Frame Hampton is blossoming no end. Even the Great Galloping Bladderwick, which we thought we’d lost during the frosts, is recovering well and is almost in leaf. We yomped over to Walton’s Spinney on Holder Hill. You may recall I was worried about the Pilton’s Crapwurt, which is all over the south facing slope. But all looks OK now. 

Also, we’ve discovered a dinky little farm shop (nice quality but spiteful prices) on the road to Benfield Beversbrook. Good! Buggalugs can afford it and I hate that fucking down-market Aldi in Chippenham. We’ve heard that the Fecund Ferret, a gastro pub on the way to Compton Magna, has been awarded a Michelin Plate, whatever that is. We really must get over there now the restrictions are easing.

But first, though, our patch — bijou and gardenette as it may be — will need some tidying as spring wears on. No prizes for guessing who our horny-handed son of toil will have to be but answers on the back of a BBC Gardeners’ World magazine if you must.

Dig you, babes!

Oliver

8. Alma in the doghouse

Hello again. Well, after months of lockdown, Boris’s new roadmap means we have been finally able to take the plunge. Into the public bar of the Ratcatcher’s Arms, that is. 

Early evening. Car park replete with the white vans of thirsty, self-employed artisans. Teddy insisted on the Public when I would have preferred the more sedate Snug. Talk about the Wild West! Bar fell silent as we strode (!) in. Himself called for a tankard of foaming Barty’s Ballbreaker XXX. I, sotto voce, an ice cold Tio Pepe. More strained silence: well, I might just as well have asked for a beaker of virgin’s piss with a cherry and a paper parasol. 

Eventually, amid much teeth sucking from management, it was a schooner of warm amontillado for muggins here. The clientele weren’t exactly rude; they just stared a lot (I told Mr T that his wearing yellow cords and a cravat would be seen as a pisstake). In between playing cards, darts and pool they spent the time having high decibel ‘conversations’ about footie and there was an increasingly filthy story concerning a three-legged poodle and Alma Cogan (nope, me neither). Somehow, I suspect that Teddy’s idea of starting a ukulele group there would fall through the cracks of Frame Hampton’s cultural ambition.

Isn’t it great that practically everything is open again? And ‘throbbing’, as the Boss says (bucket of water here, nurse). He even went up to town last week to meet a couple of pals from the Lion King. Alas, he said that a quiet lunch in Covent Garden was spoiled by a group of geriatric journos on a neighbouring table over-indulging on Peruvian Chicken and expensive red wine and lemonade.  

In the real world, we drove over to Fonthill Bishop and wandered through Great Ridge Wood between the rivers Wily and Nader. Marvellous! The bluebells were at their iridescent best, naturally, but we were particularly bowled over by the bird’s foot trefoil and the purple loosestrife. 

Now Ted announces he’d like to visit the seaside sometime (bless). Billy the Ghillie says Swanage is nice and well within Yaris range. But he advises going before high summer when, apparently, it’s inundated by south London riffraff in string vests and funny hats ‘gettin’ a bit of colour’.

Lastly, I promised to update you on The Dog. Luckily, Teddy did a bit of online sleuthing. When he found out the cost of the blinking things plus food, jabs, neutering, pet insurance and boarding when we finally get to Ibiza, his ardour cooled (tell me about it, ducky). So now we’ve got a rescue moggie which Ted insists on telling everybody is a ‘domestic short haired’. Name? Still the subject of, often bitter, debate: watch this space.

Oliver

9. Reverse ferret at the Ferret

Hello again. Well, guess who’s a lucky boy then? Moi? Chance’d be a fine thing. No. Teddy’s been invited out to a posh dinner! Turns out he went to Harlow (Harrow — Ed) with a chap who’s a company commander in the King’s Royal Hussars over at Tidworth Garrison and he’s invited him to a ceremonial bash. 

‘It’s in the mess,’ Ted says, excitedly. ‘It will be when you get there, love’, I reply, quick as a flash, waspish. The KRH, as Squaddie T now insists on calling them, are the ones who wear those amazingly tight crimson trousers and charge around Wiltshire in armoured vehicles with their wots-its sticking out in front. (Nuff to bring a tear to the eye!) 

Needless to say, confined-to-barracks Private Oliver has had it up to here with: What shall I wear? Should I salute the colonel? Which way do I pass the port? Nevertheless, I promise to let you know how he gets on. 

Talking of eating out, Ted and I still miss the Chook Chook Indian Railway Kitchen in Putney. I’d kill for their Afghani Soya Chaap or a Lahori Cholley right now. We’ve tried the Erect Ghurka Tandoori in Calne (jury’s still out) but we’re giving the much vaunted Fecund Ferret on the road to Lydiard Dismore a big miss. The other evening we Yarised into the car park to see a sign with the dreaded words: Chef Wanted. Then, a menu proclaiming, tautologically: Chicken coq au vin in a red wine sauce. Imagine! Ted turned to me and inquired: ‘Shall we demur, Ollie?’ So demur we jolly well did. 

The Wiltshire countryside is gorgeous at this time of the year: trees, shrubs and flowers in their pomp and the summer flowering Double Entendre is magnificent. Swallows and swifts (I can never tell the difference) dive bomb our little cottage and are nesting under the eaves. Sprightly little wagtails strut about the lawn in the mellow gloaming (chorus of We’ll Gather Lilacs here, maestro!).

I mustn’t forget to update you on the name Teddy’s given to our new rescue cat. I’m not keen although I suppose (as usual) I’ll have to put up with it. However, if Himself thinks I’m going around the village calling: ‘Lolita, Lolita, come to daddy for nice din dins’ he can Nabokov. Miaow!

Oliver

10. The fruity fumblings of Petronella Prune

Breaking News! Frisky Vicar Unmasked! The Rev Petronella Prune, BA (Hons), University of West Bromwich, Priest-in-Charge at St Addis by the Closet, Frame Hampton, Wilts, has been sent on ‘pastoral retreat’ after an incident in a Salisbury nightclub. 

According to the lady arboriculturalist up at the hall (who seems, to me, to be taking rather an unhealthy interest), La Prune was spotted indulging in several breathless sets of tonsil tennis with the archdeacon’s daughter after a diocesan think tank. The shame. Well, now she’s been banished into outer darkness and has been replaced by a very underwhelming former bank manager, a late entry to the priesthood. 

He, says Ted the Snob, obviously didn’t go to a good school. And what about burly, moustachioed Sally the Sexton, the other side of this infernal triangle, I hear you clamour? She’s decamped to London to join the Met’s Special Swat Patrol Gang (Group, surely - Ed). Good fucking riddance, say us Boys.

They lowered the tone, actually and we’re just beginning to realise there’re some extraordinarily nice and interesting people in the village. The other evening, for instance, we were in the Ratcatchers’ beer ‘garden’ (Hah!) when a very grubby Land Rover pulled up and out stepped a couple straight from the pages of Country Life. 

It was the ‘Young Master’ and his lady from what the locals insist on calling ‘the big ’ouse’, aka Frame Hampton Hall. They perched near us and His Tedness, who, embarrassingly, will talk to anybody, was in like polished shit off a shovel. Soon they were chatting away merrily. Turns out the YM is an Old Carthusian, whatever that is: they used to play ‘rugger’ (a form of Rugby, I believe) against each other when Ted was at Harlow (Harrow — Ed). 

Apparently, his name is a bit of a mouthful: Algernon Smith-Smyth. He was telling us it used to be worse: Smith-Smeeth-Smyth. But they dropped the Smeeth after an unfortunate incident in a horse box at the Royal Show. His wife is a really lovely girl called Olivia (nice name!) who’s from Somerset. There was much hearty laughter when Algy said they became engaged after he caught her by the Quantocks (I must say the way Ted comes over all man’s mannish, engaging in this sort of ribald banter, sometimes confuses me). Enjoy the summer!

Oliver



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