January 2017: Hit the Ground Running – or Swimming!

I’m aware that as one gets older, time is meant to pass faster, but so far January has been ludicrous. It’s passed in a couple of blinks. And I know it’s still passing, but I seem to be missing it. First there was Christmas, which was delightful and was made even more cheery by my sister Caroline, who was with us for four days. We laughed and supped a lot. Great fun! Then the New Year was upon us and so was Colin our magically quick and competent local painter and decorator, who painted the entire hall and upstairs landing, two coats, in just two days. No sooner had he gone, than a team of tree/hedge surgeons from Farm Linc arrived to cut-back the encroaching woodland along the dyke. It’s been just over 20 years since we planted the main wood and both cherry and blackthorn suckers were starting to seriously encroach on the grazing. Now that they’ve been tidied-up, I reckon we’ll cut at least another two large bales of hay there every season. Incidentally, if you live in or near Lincolnshire and need fencing and other jobs done, I can wholeheartedly recommend Farm Linc. They’re excellent people: fast, efficient and very good value for money.

The hedging crew finished on Friday the 13th, traditionally not the luckiest of dates, which this year just happened to be my 72nd birthday. I’m sure the Devil must be after me. So I’ve walked under as many ladders as I could find, sprinkled salt around the floor, crossed table knives, cracked mirrors, opened umbrellas indoors and stacked shoes on the table. That should put him off. Maybe we should cut a turf maze in our garden, like the extraordinary one in the Huntingdonshire (now, sadly, Cambridgeshire) village of Hilton, which was cut in 1660. The idea was that if you were being followed by the Devil you could carefully trace your path to the centre of the maze, with him following you. Then, when you’d arrived at the centre, you made a HUGE leap back to where you’d started – leaving nasty Mr Devil behind you, unable to find his way out. That at least was the theory, but it would have taken an Olympic athlete – even a doped-up Russian one – to have got half-way across, from a standing start. And anyhow, I don’t think the Devil was particularly stupid – even if he did resemble Mr Trump. Incidentally, I think Andy Hamilton got him (the Devil, that is, not the other man) to a T on that wonderful Radio 4 series, Old Harry’s Game. Now I think I’m starting to digress, which is not the right way to begin the first of my blogs for 2017. So back to the unfolding narrative, such as it is.

There was another, rather more real, blot on the horizon of Friday the 13th. The TV and radio News had been full of dire warnings about an expected tidal surge down the east coast, which would be amplified by strong northerly gales. It was expected to hit Sutton Bridge, about five miles away from us, in the early morning. Luckily, however, the winds had dropped, so there was no damage reported. Maybe we were completely foolhardy, but Maisie and I then decided to keep our lunchtime appointment at The Olive Branch in Clipsham. The village is architecturally very fine, with beautiful 18th Century stone buildings. If you didn’t know you were in Rutland, you might think you’d stumbled across an outcrop of the Cotswolds, except that property prices were half as expensive. But we didn’t go there for picturesque houses: the food at the Olive Branch is, as they say, to die for. So just like 2016 we celebrated my birthday in fine style. Another fabulous meal!

On our way home, the news about the later high tide at Sutton Bridge wasn’t so good. And then we checked the Flood Information Service on the web: if the coastal defences were breached, our farm would be about 3-4 miles away from the inundation. But it was a very worrying time, as in a flat landscape distances don’t mean much – and water can flow fast along dykes. So as a precaution in case I had to drive, or swim with my exhausted wife slung across my back, I decided not to start on the sherry until 7.30 when the most severe risk had abated. That was a British compromise, very much in the tradition of Keep Calm and Carry On. I will confess, however, that my first sherry was a generous tumbler-full. Cheers! I hope you all have a happy, prosperous and worry-free New Year.

PS On second thoughts, Maisie is probably more at home in water than I am. So I could have had a drink, as she’d have been carrying me. Dammit!

PPS Oooo, I forgot to mention that next weekend I’ve got to get really tarted-up – black tie and lounge suite (although not, of course, at the same time, dear boy!) – for a prestigious award. To be honest, I’d be better-off wearing brown than black trousers, given my present state of nerves. I’ll try to persuade Maisie to take some nice, relaxed pics of it all. Then we can be gracious and matter-of-fact about the entire pant-wetting procedure. So stay tuned!

PPPS For her many fans, I’ve decided to post two pictures of Pen: one of her looking noble, the other when she was in the grips of a Wallace and Gromit moment.

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