Being an alcoholic has its advantages: a friend in Rome says the AA meeting there is a great pick-up joint

I tried to talk to my 16-year-old daughter the other day about "dope", and she told me it's now called "pot". I said: "How funny - that's what we called it in the Sixties." She snorted, and replied with the usual: "God, Mum, you are weird!" I must say that whenever I've tried to smoke the weed it has, indeed, made me feel rather weird. I much prefer the effects of alcohol.

A girlfriend and I sat up till 5.30am last weekend. When we rose four hours later, we couldn't remember a thing we'd talked about, but we were thrilled with ourselves at being still able to do it, aged 53 and 54. I sometimes do wonder whether I am on the verge of alcoholism. But apparently, this has its advantages. An old friend of mine goes to AA meetings in Rome and says it's the best pick-up joint for females in the world. There are thousands of priests in Rome, and it would appear that half of them are alcoholics.

I think I shall scream if I hear anyone, ever again, talk about "whingeing farmers". I grew up on a pig farm in Kent and witnessed the never-ceasing sweat and toil of my parents, trying to save us from incipient bankruptcy.

I was the eldest of five children, and my mother not only did all the washing, housecleaning and decorating unaided, but she made all our clothes, the bedsheets and the curtains. She also helped build the pigsties, and was in charge of castrating the pigs when the time came, as well as taking them to the abattoir. My father, who had a wrecked leg from the war with the Japanese in Burma, was out from dawn to dusk, in all weathers. The hours they put in between them would have brought a comfortable life, and even holidays, if they had been working in most other professions.

But, unfortunately, my dad loved pigs. Still, whatever their hardships, my parents were luckier than today's farmers: the figures that came out in the recent report on the farming industry show that farmers' incomes have dropped by an incredible 90 per cent in the past five years. If this government doesn't do something to help them, and quick, our wonderful landscape, worked and cared for by these citizens of the soil, will become a neglected eyesore. If you have ever seen "set aside" fields, you will know what it will look like.

As usual, I attended the Labour Party conference this year. My friend Ann Mallalieu and I helped start a campaign about six years ago called Leave Country Sports Alone. As members of the Labour Party (Ann is a Labour peer), we wanted to point out that it wasn't just "Tory toffs" who enjoyed country sports, but also thousands of genuine Labour supporters. I'm afraid that many of them have recently written to us saying that they are not going to vote for the party that seems intent on turning them into criminals. Some have sent us their torn-up membership cards. The Deputy Prime Minister did nothing to change their minds with his speech about the "contorted faces" on the promenade in Brighton. I spoke to one old chap who said: "That Prescott can talk. Has he not looked at himself in the mirror lately? More chins than a Chinese telephone directory!"

The urban-rural divide is fast widening in Britain. Real countrymen and women are now a large ethnic minority, and their way of life, their customs and practices are just as foreign and misunderstood by the majority of the population, who live in cities, as those of Muslims, Sikhs, homosexuals and other minorities were in years gone by. But tolerance only comes through education, and a recent survey of the nation's school children reveals an alarming lack of knowledge of nature and the countryside (four out of ten do not know in which season harvest time falls). Many people seem to believe that killing any animal is morally wrong, and yet they still eat battery-farmed chickens and their eggs.

If we do need more laws from the nanny state, I would suggest that supermarkets should be forced to display a picture, on the cling-film wrapping, of the animal that has died to provide the meat being bought and consumed.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare is a non-charitable organisation that spends millions of pounds on advertising campaigns to portray hunting as a barbaric pastime practised by ugly people slavering at the mouth with bloodlust. It donated well over £1m to the Labour Party before the last election. Could this have been in the hope of buying legislative time?

There is a rumour abroad that the IFAW has offered another £1m to the party. Is there a teeny whiff of the Bernie Ecclestone syndrome here?

Last winter, when I was staying with my friend Jeremy in West Cork, he decided to take me for a day out with the West Carbury hunt. As we trotted along to the meet, he said: "Penny, I hope this isn't going to be too dull for you, compared to hunting in England." I smiled at him, feeling slightly relieved. An hour later, I realised I had never been so terrified in my life. We jumped in and out of field after field, over banks surmounted by dry-stone walls with hedges on top, and across bogs and piles of rocks. I came home with a huge bruise all over my chest, after being thrown into the air at every obstacle and landing bosom first on the front of the saddle. At the end of this exhausting day, Jeremy asked the huntsman: "Did you catch a fox?" "Ah, noo," he said. "When did you last catch one?" "Well, er, not widdin' livin' memory," came the answer.

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