Back from my week in the country and I have a correction to last week’s column to make. In it, I referred to the cat I was looking after with the following words: “Tybalt is not exactly a loving or affectionate cat to anyone except A—,” A— being the person I was tending the cat for. I am very happy to report that as it turned out, Tybalt realised fairly quickly which side his bread was buttered on, or which dish his Sheba went in, and from pretty much the first evening he decided that I was more or less acceptable.
He also worked out I was a sucker, and one day made it as clear as he could that there was no theoretical upper limit to the number of sachets of food he could eat at a sitting. I sent a message to A— asking what the upper limit actually was and she said, “One, but then I’m not trying to bribe him,” and as I read it I heard the unmistakable sound of a cat who has had too much Sheba throwing up in various parts of the kitchen. It was really quite an impressive amount, far more than I’d put in him, but at least he did it on the kitchen’s slate floor rather than anywhere carpeted.
After that, we both learned our lessons. I stopped doling out the cupboard love and he realised I wasn’t such a soft touch any more. Besides, he goes off during the day to the house over the road and I have a suspicion that he doesn’t just go there to look cute. I caught him in their driveway while I was taking the rubbish out and he looked at me and froze, as if to say, “I am not going to the neighbours like a guilty cat. Now please stop looking at me while I, er, don’t go into this house. At all.” It hurt a bit, I have to admit. Not as much as when one discovers the infidelity of a partner, but to think that the night before he had been sitting on my lap in front of the fire and purring like a Rolls-Royce.
But once again, I find myself asking: why do I love the countryside so much? I wasn’t bored for a second, once I’d opened the first bottle of wine. And even before then A— has an excellent library so there’s no excuse. I even found a copy of my 2012 book The Nolympics, which puts her in, shall we say, a highly select group of individuals. I think more people have walked on the moon than bought it, perhaps because of the staggeringly useless publicity firm hired by my publisher, but I had a look at it again and it really wasn’t that bad.
One or two of its predictions were a bit off. As a day-by-day account of the London Olympics, I found myself obliged to consider London’s mayor at the time, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, and when I got to the page where I declared that the good people of this country would never elect a clown to be prime minister, I winced a bit. In my defence, he had only recently been winched down from his ludicrous adventure with the zipwire in Victoria Park in east London, and Britain, or England, was a much nicer place than it is now. (Incidentally, I know why he got stuck on that zipwire: he lied about his weight when he was getting harnessed up. This is actually true, but I suppose it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone.)
But back to the countryside. It was surprisingly rich in incident. I stepped into a pond. A dog came in and scoffed all of Tybalt’s food (without being sick). I tried to rescue a bee but it managed to fly out unaided. It was all go. Soothingly, the view across the rolling land went, uninterrupted, to the horizon; the bees buzzed among the petals; red kites circled the fields for prey; and when it rained, there were logs for the fire. And of course a cat to go on my lap with it. The last time I was there I’d had the use of a bike but that has now gone; but a mile-long walk to the village shop in Stanton St John is hardly a chore. I went there to stock up on the essentials I had gone through rather quicker than expected – wine, bacon and eggs – and the lady at the counter said, very cheerily, “Hello again!”
“That’s very impressive,” I said. “I haven’t been here for four years.”
“Well,” she said, “We don’t get very many casuals here.” Casuals? I suppose it’s nicer than “grockles” or “f***ing Londoners”. And she added, “also, I sometimes read your … thing”. By “thing” I strongly suspect she means the thing you are reading now. I must say I kind of like “… thing”. It stops one from getting big-headed, and is as accurate a term as you could hope for. The three dots before the word “thing” are crucial. “Column” suggests something statuary, impressive, monumental, like something that the Emperor Trajan would put up in Rome after a good day. You know, as written by real columnists such as Adrian Chiles and Sarah Vine. I think there should be a new category at the UK Press Gazette Awards: “ … Thing Writer of the Year”, and although I know the competition will be stiff, I think I might be in with a chance.
This article appears in the 15 Jun 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Big Slow Down