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SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024

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COUNTRY BOYS
This column is dedicated to the late ASHLEY WALTON who complained that he could never work out what it was all about. We quite understand. 

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


11. The mischievous alchemy of grain and grape


Frame Hampton’s shrivelling and getting smaller by the day. It’s little Hampton now. No, don’t laugh: it could happen to anybody. Actually, it’s the census. A summary of the big count in March has revealed that the population in our darling village has fallen in the last 10 years. Well, says Ted, we’ve done our bit but, says I, is it enough? 


Anyway, demographics aside, the big news is the village fete held on Ryle’s Bottom on a magnificent summer’s day. We’d bumped into the new vicar outside the shop. You’ll recall Eduardo wasn’t too impressed with him at first sight. Now it transpires he is only temporary so Watch This Space! Anyway, he asked if we would help out at the fete he was (reluctantly) organising. We (reluctantly) agreed.  I immediately had the feeling  that we were going to regret that.


Have you noticed how the man (and it’s always a man) on the public address just can’t stop talking, hurrying people along, telling pathetic jokes? Trust Tannoy Ted to go dizzyingly over the top then. How he talked the temp vicar into giving him the job, I’ll never know. Talk about taking the mic. As for ‘Cinderollie’, I was condemned to overseeing Splat the Rat (imagine!) which involved hearty village lads trying to club a cricket ball wrapped in an old sock as it shot out of a pipe I was operating with my foot (no, don’t ask me either).


While there, though, we saw Billy the Ghillie for the first time since we last went fishing on the Nadar a couple of months back. He broke off from (literally) chiselling frozen burgers apart and throwing them into some noxious pit to tell us a rather sad tale. You’ll recall I told you he used to hold a senior editorial position on People’s Friend before leaving under something of a cloud. Something about stalled career opportunities. Well, he went back up to Dundee for some leaving ‘do’ determined to mend fences. Alas, the grape and the grain mixed their mischievous alchemy and he had a huge row, and fell out spectacularly, with the Needlework Editor. Was she crotchety? Ted asked, all faux innocence, but Billy didn’t get it (or if he did, he certainly didn’t want it).


It’s dreadfully remiss of me but I was so caught up in the ‘excitement’ of the vicar’s downfall last month that I forgot to update you on Teddy making a mess in the Mess, as it were. Actually, he doesn’t remember too much about his dinner with the lissom subalterns of the Kings Royal Hussars but, from what I can gather, it involved high jinks with a solid silver Queen Anne chamber pot and a rusty Crimea War cavalry sabre. Ouch! Nurse, screens here, please. See you in post op!


Oliver


12. The Most Rev darling little Kim Jong-un


Well, you’ll never guess who’s back, phoenix-like. None other than the Rev Petronella (Call me Lazarus) Prune, BA (Hons), University of West Bromwich, tonsil tickler extraordinaire etc. 


We thought we’d seen the last of her but God in his wisdom, eh? Apparently, since her banishment after that messy business with the archdeacon’s daughter she has been in retreat on a programme of re-education which would make North Korea look like a Montessori. Look out, says Ted, expect darling little honed and toned Kim Jong-un to be appointed Archbishop of Canterbury any day now. I’m all for giving her another chance (kindred spirit and all that) but Saint Edward is having none of it. We’ll see.


Actually, but for La Prune’s renaissance, I was going to start this dispatch (it’s called an intro, love — Ed) with something a tad more contemplative and even, on a good day, when there’s a fresh westerly and an R in the month, ruminative. Seriously, it’s hard to believe that it’s a year since we moved from Parsons Green to our bijou rural idyll. And now, as the Double Entendre on the south wall is past its best (if you get my drift), it seems the time to take stock, reflect on the past, survey the future. 


 How quickly it’s gone. It seems like just five minutes since, surrounded by cardboard boxes and plastic tubs from Wilko’s, Ted and I hugged each other and looked towards the sunlit uplands of  a new and exciting horizon (Get on with it — Ed). He took a little time to settle down, then seemed OK during lockdown but is now starting to get twitchy, to be honest. If he’s not popping up to Theatreland to see his old mates, he’s FaceTiming them at all hours.


I happen to know for a fact that he’s looking for odd freelance lighting jobs now the theatres are returning to near normal. Stupid boy! Doesn’t he know that silly spat with Judi has put the kybosh on all that? His endemic restlessness, though, is in danger of putting our wonderful Wiltshire life in jeopardy: I am filled with foreboding, if truth be told.


Anyway,  I took advantage of another of his nights ‘sleeping on a pal’s couch’ to fulfill my filial duty: see Mummy. Can’t get any fucking petrol, of course so…God, I’d forgotten how dreary that train journey to Corby could be. She was pleased to see me mind. After all, it’s over a Covid year since we last met. And she was so glad Ted was otherwise engaged: to be honest, she’s never really got him and me, if you know what I mean. 


I cranked up her old Chevette the first night and we limped over to a pub in Rockingham. So amused to see them advertising log ‘fire’s’ in winter and ‘courtyard igloo’s’. Rogue apostrophes aside, it wasn’t a great success: Mummy stoically munched her way through the Cheese and Broccoli Bake while I wished I really had had a hearty ploughman’s. 


After two nights in my old room (the Adam Ant posters are still on the wall and who the fuck were the Bay City Rollers?) I was glad to head back to Wiltshire but to an empty cottage with the leaves of the Zackondia, which made such a splash in high summer, littering the lawn. Is this a metaphor?  I realise, suddenly, that Ted, me and darling Lolita face an uncertain future. Chin up though! We can still hope. And hope that hope will be enough…


Oliver 


13. The bollocking according to Cathy Winn


Look, I’m so sorry for all that lip-trembling, pink-cheeked, damp-eyed, limp-wristed (sic) self indulgence last time. I don’t know what came over me. Anyway, suffice to say,Teddy and I are still here in diminutive Frame Hampton contemplating another autumn and winter.


His fucking nibs seems to have settled down again: he even gave me a slobbery hug and apologised. You just know he feels in the wrong when he does that. But I suspect he had really been trying to get a passport back to his old life in the theatre. Things have moved on since that messy business with Judi, though, and he’s got to realise he’s yesterday’s news (or yesterday’s lighting director, anyway). 


Let me tell you why he’s so persona non grunta. It happened at an after-show piss-up in the old Joe’s attended by La Dench. Someone re-told the story about the first night she appeared at the Eliades after her damehood had been announced. A tumultuous round of applause greeted her as she moved down stage. As it died, the front three rows could clearly hear her leading man inquire: ‘I suppose a blow job’s out of the question now then?’ At which point Edward, the big mouth, interrupted the story with: ‘I bet you showed him differently eh, Jude!’ Well, she shot him one of those looks M gave dinky little Danny Craig in Bond and exited left (not a pursuing bear in sight). 


Next time he descended the stairs in Exeter Street darling Cathy Winn gave him a free character bollocking and the lamps really started to go out for dim bulb Ted. Now it seems we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime (you sure someone hasn’t already said something like that Ollie, love? — Ed).


All that aside, I’m chuffed to fuck that we’re still here and I can continue writing my monthly columns for you. To be honest, I was dreading having to go up to the Daily Drone to return my company laptop (there’s some dreadfully rough trade in there!). Last time I went to the Walton-on-Thames office they introduced me to someone called Prodnose. ‘What do you do?’ I asked, tremulously. He just looked at me. And leered. Ooh-er. I suspect the answer’s in the job title.


It really is a wonderful time of the year in Wiltshire. The night-scented Orgillias have excelled themselves up on Buckland’s Bluff and we’ve been knocked out by the iridescence of the finely-petalled Bizzy Lizzie Wilson perennials in Walton’s Spinney.


The other day we fired up the Yaris and glided over to Upper Dismore: you know, where the pesky Wyngarde Weevil originated. We weren’t there to celebrate the dreaded curculionoidea, of course, but to attend a ploughing match: we be genuinely rural, we be, and just adore country pursuits (not half!). 


Farmer’s lad Ed is becoming quite a connoisseur of classic Massey Ferguson high cut and flange-driven reversible techniques. But me, I favour the nostalgia of horse-drawn ploughing: the steamy breath of two sweating beasts as they mount the rise working as one. Can’t beat it on a clammy autumn day can you?


Oliver


14. Bollocks to antiques!


Between you and me, I blame Tim Wonnacott (Bargain Hunt was Ted’s breakfast viewing at uni). Or it may have been the luminous Fiona Bruce, willowy doyenne of Antiques Roadshow (and everything fucking else it seems). Whatever, Himself fancies ‘going into antiques’. 


Actually, I suspect it’s the influence of the Young Master, Algy Smith-Smyth, from up at Frame Hampton Hall, aka the Big ‘Ouse. We received a sought-after invite to a Halloween party he and Olivia were throwing. It wasn’t that exclusive: most of the village was there, including the Major, who bummed a lift in the Yaris, and the Singhs even shut the shop early.  


Well, it’s either ‘Antiques Heaven’ (Ted) or ‘A Junk Shop’ (me) but the hall (1746, Grade II, limestone ashlar, slate roofs, ornate chimneys, raised gables with obelisk finials etc) is awash with them. Am I shallow? I find old things so boring (have a care — Ed)


Wiltshire, of course, is like an antiques emporium. Every small town seems to have a shop selling the over-priced shit (the editor says someone called Cocklecarrot insists I exclude Walton’s in Mere from this generalisation because it’s a real business). Anyway, we chugged over there and I must admit they’ve got some quite nice stuff gathering dust. ‘Are you looking for anything in particular?’ a chap in pink trousers asked Ted. ‘Not half, I’d really love a tallboy in the bedroom,’ he replied, quick as a flash. The bitch. I hate him when he does that. Well, I drew myself up to my full height of 5ft 8ins and stalked out. Bollocks to antiques!


One of the things we missed last year because of Covid was the village fireworks display on Hodgson’s Hump. Now most of us are triple jabbed, there was an impressive turnout this time including La Prune and her new ‘sexton’, a rather insipid waif called Lavinia, a former archivist, apparently. 


Apple-cheeked maidens and their swains from the VPA (Village Produce Association) had laid on a buffet (‘That must be why the sausage rolls are all squashed,’ quipped Ted, rarely capable of original thought). The beer tent (gazebo, actually) served some execrable French lager tasting like 2.5% APV virgin’s piss but me and Teddy majored on rough cider and some lethal elderflower wine: as far as I can recollect, a good time was had by all (well, us at any rate). 


You could tell the do was on the Frame Hampton Court Circular because even the YM and his lady put in an appearance. Now we’re looking forward to Christmas: ding dong merrily on high, eh! 


BTW, update on Farisha, delightful daughter of the Singhs at the village shop: she’s gone up to Oxford to study medicine. Her farewell party in the village hall served nice Indian snacks and fondants but no alcohol. ‘Who do I have to fuck to get some Malbec into this lemonade?’growled Ted in a raucous stage whisper. 


Manners? Absolutely none … you can just tell.


Oliver


15. Smelling a rat at the Ratcatcher’s


Oyez! You’ll never guess what: Teddy’s announced that he’s running for office. To be accurate, he’s not running and there’s no office. It’s not mid-term primaries, for fuck’s sake. It is true, though, that he’s joining Frame Hampton Parish Council as a co-opted member. 


What happened was that he saw a notice in the parish magazine appealing for people to join, rang the chairman and was taken on immediately (better a volunteer than 10 pressed men, eh?) I felt obliged to brave the chill of the village hall to see his debut. What a let-down. Apart from the chairman, a walnut-faced farmer called Ben, another councillor, a mouse-like spinster whose screwed-up face betrayed what I suspect were irritating evening chafing issues and the clerk, a harried mother of four from Carlton Weller who acts for three other councils in mid Wiltshire, we were the only people there! ‘We are not quorate,’ announced clerkie (sounding mightily relieved) and everybody pissed off. Well, said Ted, I didn’t want to sing anyway. Eh?


We repaired to the Ratcatcher’s where, at last, they’ve got our order right: a chilled Tio Pepe for Ted and a foaming beaker of Barty’s Ballbreaker XXX por moi. (Only teasing!) There was a strange atmosphere there though. Kim Somerset, the barmaid, hardly gave us the time of day and Jinks, the landlord, definitely looked shifty: it was if they had a secret they weren’t sharing with us.


Christmas loomed large in FH this year, partly because Covid ruined 2020. Practically everyone fetched up at the lights switch-on around the tree on Parry’s Piece. Subsequently, a run of seasonal party-ettes and drinkie-poos was curtailed by the new variant. 


Defiantly, the Major invited a few around: they included La Prune and the ethereal Lavinia. Ted wasn’t impressed. He says the old coot must be feeling his age and had asked the vicar as heavenly insurance. Edward and I ummed and aahed about luring the usual suspects to pizza (Aldi do quite a nice line), cocktail sausages etc (plus drinks, of course!) and eventually decided to go ahead but, to be truthful, it was a bit of a flop (two dozen unused deep crust, brandy-infused luxury mince pies anyone?).  Edward says I should mention that Billy the Ghillie was there but I’d rather not: he disgraced himself, I’ll tell you (or rather, I won’t)


A notable absentee at any Yuletide feasting has been the Young Master and Olivia. We’d all been hoping for an invite to the Big ‘Ouse for their traditional (and, reputedly, edgy) fancy dress bash but stiff white card came there none (at least not to us). 


His Tedness was agog when someone said there had been ‘activity’ up at the hall on the 22nd but no one could confirm that. Then we were told the Smith-Smyths had gone shooting in Clackmannanshire. Oh well, bollocks to ‘em, said Ted. But I hope you, dear readers, all had a good time, despite fucking omicron, and that a healthy new year awaits us all.


Oliver


16. The night you could hear a condom drop


I told you something was going on at the Ratcatcher’s: it’s been sold to a couple in their forties with ambitions to turn it into a gastro pub. Groan. Best of luck with that!  


He is a former Chief Petty Officer chef in the Royal Navy; she was a lieutenant archivist (shouldn’t that be artificer? — Ed) and looks to be bringing a bit of front-of-house class (and the money, says Ted). He’s called Trevor, a sweaty, overweight, ruddy-faced tar with too many tattoos; her name is Grace: blonde, slim, (as opposed to thin) and, on the face of it, classy. We’ll see, shall we? 


Ted says that if he were that way inclined she’s the sort of woman he’d go for. I wonder about him sometimes, you know. Anyway, the old Ratcatcher’s (how long will it be called that?) is in a makeover maelstrom. The Fecund Ferret better watch out!


You’ll recall Edward coming over all antiquey a couple of months back (‘I want a tallboy in the bedroom’ for fuck’s sake!) I thought it was another of his classic flash-in-the-pan crazes. But no. He’s serious. He insists on haunting boot fairs and dingy showrooms, over-paying for tat and expecting to sell it at a profit. Poor, deluded prat (but don’t tell him I said so!)


Shivering little Frame Hampton isn’t much fun at this time of year I can tell you.  I spend my time washing, ironing, baking and cooking, stacking the freezer and watching Fred Astaire clips on YouTube. 


Gardening? Forget it. I did think of ordering some wild heathers online from a garden centre in Essex, somewhere past Barking, but the moment passed (Thank fuck for that. That’s the last allusion you’re allowed on that subject — Ed). Even Old Man Manners, of BBC Gardeners’ World magazine, is on holiday in Tiverton, Tatton or Tonbridge (Tenerife, surely — Ed) and I bet Boris wishes he were somewhere else!


The other night I once again schlepped up to the village hall to witness ‘Councillor’ Ted gurgling in the cradle of democracy. This time the parish council had enough members present actually to hold a meeting. 


What a fucking bore, though! They spent ages discussing the council tax precept and a letter from someone living in a council house complaining (and I quote): ‘My bush out the front is overgrown and there’s fungus in my back passage.’ Surely that was a piss-take. 


There was more: a parishioner attended the meeting to warn that the car park on Taverner’s Top was being used as a dogging venue. You could hear a condom drop as Edward’s only contribution to the debate was: ‘Woof! Woof!’ Cleisthenes, he ain’t.


Oliver


17. Ahead of us, avast behind


I knew it didn’t bode well when Ted started having long chats with the wizened woman with the wispy, ginger (in the war on gingerist hatespeak shouldn’t that be ‘lustrous auburn’? — Ed) hair who sells homemade jewellery in Melksham market. She’s something to do with Haxton Huish Amateur Dramatic Society and our leading man couldn’t resist letting drop his connection with the West End.  


But I’ve noticed he refers to his previous theatrical career as a ‘director’, conveniently leaving out the ‘lighting’ bit. Next production? They flirted with an arse-aching ‘romp’ by Paul Callan called There’s An Archivist in My Soup but eventually plumped for Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, the archetypal three-act drama first performed, interestingly, in the Soviet Union, reveals Ed the historian. (WTF was that about?) Anyway, ‘director’ Ted has, in fact, spurned a request to guide HaxAct through this potboiler in favour of some acting action. He’s just dying to tread the boards, darling. A bit part? Not him. He only wants to play the Inspector! More on this will he-won’t-he cliffhanger anon.


Another drama, the new look Ratcatcher’s Arms, is also playing in Frame Hampton. But behind closed doors. The only thing we know is its new name: The Jolly Roger. Oh, God. Not a pirate-themed pub, perleeze. I’ll say ‘Hello, sailor’ to anyone but there are limits. I wonder if it will have a Public Arrr, muses Edward the coxwain (expect Roger the cabin boy and avast behind quips to wash up any tide soon).


Teddy’s refusing to give up his quest to be an antiques ‘expert’, by the way. Now he’s got a ‘deal’ with a corduroy-suited cowboy in Armstrong Magna where he pays a modest rent for an even more modest space in the dealer’s shop plus a not so modest 10 per cent of any sale. And he thinks that’s a good deal! 


Do I detect the first stirrings of spring? Embryo daffs are peeping through by the pond and the crocuses planted by the Probus Free Masons Rotary Round Table Lions last year won’t be far behind. I even took advantage of a comparatively balmy day after Eunice and Franklin had done their worst to get the Hayter out and give the back lawn its first cut (more of a high blade hoover, actually). 


So pleased to report that we’ve had a visit from our favourite lady. No, not the Rev Petronella Prune or her new ‘sexton’, Lavinia!  Ha, Ha! Farisha, the med student daughter of the Singhs at the corner shop, came home for a few days. We invited them round (the only way we’ll get a real drink, says Ted). My, how she’s matured, even telling medical jokes (we could do with a bit of light relief from fucking Putin). Example: ‘Doctor, doctor, what’s the prognosis?’ ‘I’m afraid you’ve got only 24 hours to live. But there’s more.’ ‘Oh no, doc, what could be worse than that?’ ‘I’ve been trying to contact you since yesterday.’


I had to explain it to Ted. Natch. See you on the other side…


Oliver


18. Maj falls out for the last time.


Breaking news and not of the nice kind. The Major, our stalwart neighbour through lockdown and interminable Covid curbs, has marched off the parade ground for the very last time. We thought we hadn’t seen much of him and it transpires Mrs McGrandle, his cleaning lady, found him apparently asleep by his inglenook, a glass still in his hand. Heart attack, Doc Chambers says. Great shame. Maj was a good old boy who made our transition to country life much easier. I’m recalling, misty-eyed, how Teddy and I used to breach Covid regs (and fuck jumped-up Mattie Hancock!) by inviting him round for a malt or two and nostalgic reminiscences on a sun-setting Empire. At least he missed England’s West Indies Test debacle. Typical of avaricious ‘grieving’ families these days, though: his rellies have put his cottage up for sale even before any thought of a fucking funeral.


In other news: bit by bit we’re getting to grips with the makeover at the Jolly Roger, as I must learn to call it. The pub has re-opened but CPO Trevor’s bespoke (and, according to Ted, lavish) kitchen is still being assembled. We called by for a drink after parish council. Horrid smell of paint and dingy lighting, we thought. Ted was pissed off that Barty’s Ballbreaker XXX was no longer on tap but he quickly became acquainted with a foaming beaker of something called Cocksworth’s Crippler. Moi? One chilled Tio Pepe tastes much like the other, n'est-ce pas? (or should that be verdad?)


What of Ted, The Actor, I hear you ask. Remember he was vying for a leading role in Haxton Huish Am Dram’s latest offering? Sense prevailed, I’m relieved to say. He abandoned his ambition to be a star and resisted the thesps’ clamour even to be the director: sensibly, he stuck to what he knows and fiddled about a bit with the leccie and lighting. He even asked if I’d be his Best Boy and Key Grip. Try to stop me saying ‘Yes, please’: best offer I’ve had in ages, pet.


Love March. Don’t you? Fresh, growing things popping out all over the place. Pilton’s Paddock, for example: the Coupar’s Crapwurt and the Scented Agrimony are coming on a ton, I’m pleased to note. We celebrate warmer days and, after the weekend, shorter nights. Let’s hope it heralds a rebirth for Billy the Ghillie, too. He’s had a rough time of it lately (not helped by that old taskmaster, Talisker). Ted’s not sympathetic though.  He thinks William should take himself in hand and refuse to sacrifice himself on the altar of People’s Friend paranoia. Easier said etc…


Oliver 


19. I am what I am (and Ted is what he is)


Well, it was the biggest event in Frame Hampton since we arrived. The Major’s funeral: what a turnout at St Addis by-the-Closet. Ted demurs but I think the Rev Prune put on a pretty good show. No pesky guitars and, at a stretch, the electronic keyboard almost sounded like an organ. Amazingly, Prune had dug up a rare book of Common Prayer from some vestry cranny so we had the gospel according to Cranmer not some fucking clerical committee: ‘I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord.’ Just so. 


The old boy would have loved it - especially the subtle, off-piste nods to his colourful past: the understated wreath from the Scouts (Selous, not 1st Frame Hampton), the last minute arrival of four hard-looking guys with thousand yard stares, shiny shoes and ties from different regiments. Afterwards, Teddy’s Old Harlowian (Harrovian - Ed) pal at Tidworth  garrison confirmed that, as duty officer, he authorised the landing of an incoming Lynx from the former RAF Credenhill at Hereford and the loan of a vehicle. So maybe Old Maj’s tall tales of colonial derring-do contained some truth after all. Needless to say, the subsequent piss-up, was serious and sustained! Billy the Ghillie attended, thirsty as ever, but I prefer to draw a discreet, diaphanous veil over that if you don’t mind. Suffice to say, he not only stood erect on parade but fell out spectacularly as well. Elsewhere, while there has been some interest in the Major’s cottage (vastly over-priced, cautions Ted), it remains firmly on the market. 


Thought you’d like to know we’re digging in a new direction, horticulture-wise. We’ve cancelled BBC Gardeners’ World magazine and cast Old Man Manners’s mindless meanderings on to the dung heap: I reckon I know as much as him, anyway. Darling Gervase, who has just take over the (spitefully priced) nursery at Foliat Crudwell on the Salisbury road, claims OMM was actually brought up in a high rise council flat in Rainham and gleaned all his ‘expertise’ from self-help books by someone called Percy Thrower. Imagine!


Personally, I think he’s totally over reacting but Ted’s got in a real bind about the new Virgin Atlantic telly ad which is flooding the airways just now. I’ve tried to reason with him but all I get is a grade one hissie fit over their use of the g*y anthem I Am What I Am to flog airplane seats. What’s the problem? Ollie, love, he sniffs, that’s our special tune and Richard Branson can fuck himself. I didn’t know he cared (He probably doesn’t-Ed)


Oliver


20. Now hear this! It’s Tannoy Ted, taking the mic.


Oh, delish! The Rev Prune has been presented with a juicy diplomatic dilemma. This year’s village fete, naturally a platinum tribute to Her Maj, looms and it’s traditional for the incumbent at St Addis-by-the-Closet to organise it. Last year the retired bank manager, who was our stand-in vicar when La Prune was sent ‘in retreat’ for snogging the dean’s daughter at a diocesan think tank, (do try to keep up!) pressed Tannoy Ted into service on the PA system. His witty (?) repartee was such a success that there has been a clamourette, apparently, for a repeat performance. 


Of course, he and Prune are usually like two cats in a sack (not a pretty thought) so it will be interesting to see how she handles it: will they work together? Will they even speak? Such political quicksands traditionally conspire to trap the unwary in English villages such as ours. One thing’s certain though: yours truly won’t be in charge of Splatt the Rat this year. Fuck ‘em!


Isn’t May marvellous? No, not just Eurovision: nature. Bluebells, of course, but the bird’s foot trefoil and the purple loosestrife have been wonderful. The other day Ted and I were gambolling through Walton’s Spinney (telling jokes, as we sometimes do!) when we saw a twitch (I think that’s the correct collective noun) of Wright Tits sweeping o’er the lea. And Billy the Ghillie claims he heard the first cuckoo of spring. How is Billy? Mmm. Better than he was but not as good as he could be: I’m keeping an eye on him. Over at Mannerswick Magna they’ve still not forgiven him for the names he called the Fecund Ferret’s landlady. OK, so they were witty and even rhymed: but that was never an excuse.


I’m always saying we should get out more. Not just to the parish council or whatever the village pub is calling itself this week but to somewhere more, shall we say, exotic. Damn me, a flyer comes through the door (chocks away! If only that were true, dear reader) advertising something called Too Too Taboo, ‘a strobe-lit techno club’ in Lower Keeling which opens at 10pm and shuts at 4.15 am (ooh, er). On closer inquiry, I’m told that its current dance faves are the Pollard Para Para, the Benfield Bachata and, if you want really to ingratiate yourself, the Stumpy Slickeroo. Whatever next? Apparently, it’s a milieu of sweaty, lithe young thrusters either dancing apart or coming together in a crescendo of mingled bodily fluids and panting animal lust. Bucket of water here if you please, nurse! 


Oliver


21. Flodden the bar! It’s the Mucky McAlastairs 


Well, peace reigns on the Frame Hampton front! Rev Prune and the Tedmeister declared a truce and our village’s Jubilee tribute to Her Maj went off all over Ryle’s Bottom without a hitch. I must admit Ted was a titan of the Tannoy — even better than last year. He went into that audience banter which is so popular in stand-up these days. The old ladies and the apple-cheeked village maidens lapped it up; the lads weren’t so sure. It reminded me of a stand-up set in Too Too Taboo when some butch joker yelled at Edward: ‘If you don’t stop talking I’ll come down there and sit on your face.’ That shut him up, mind.


The Young Master and Olivia put in an appearance (as they should); you couldn’t miss him, wearing a pair of luminous canary yellow chinos and a tweed jacket in, Billy the Ghillie assures, the once outlawed tartan of the Mucky McAlastairs of McIntyre Bridge (clan motto: Flodden the Bar!) They wandered around patronising the locals shamelessly until they suddenly shot off in their mud-spattered Defender. Bored shitless, I shouldn’t wonder. 


What is it about men of a certain age that makes them grow a goatee beard, affect a bowler hat and slip on a Union Flag waistcoat? Yes, it’s the mistaken belief that people attending a village fete in rural Wiltshire must have fucking trad jazz shoved down their throats? Behold, then, the Stumpy City Slickers, the official ‘entertainment’. As Billy, a bit of an aficionado, said, the Dutch Swing College lads must be spinning in their graves.


Anyway, the weather was gorgeous, only marred by a sharp shower which left us all jammed together steaming in the beer tent (quite nice, actually). Alas, while there, I saw something which I hope is not a portent for the future: the lady arboriculturist from the Big ‘Ouse (she’s packing a bit of weight these days, by the way) arm-wrestling with Billy as Chef Trev from the Jolly Roger took bets. Most unseemly, sniffed Teddie.


Of course, we watched what we could of Platty Jubes on the telly. Tramping (Trooping — Ed) the Colour was a bit samey but we loved St Paul’s especially when Wallis Simpson Mark II was sidelined. Didn’t Kate look divine? And isn’t Emilia Wickstead a star?


See you o’er the lea! 


Oliver


22. By RMT royal appointment…


Breaking news: the Major’s place has been sold at last (STC, as that chinless, corduroyed chancer from Coupar & Deane, estate agents, says). We even met the new owner when she called to measure up for curtains or something. A Professor of Philosophy at Oxford, no less. One Beatrice (‘call me Binky’) Fortescue-Pirbright. Sound family, avers Edward. She seemed nice enough: tall, silver-haired, ruddy with a twinkle in the eye and the forearms of a bargee. Apparently, she’s an expert on Nietzsche: I look forward to peering into the abyss with her any time soon, I said to Ted but he just looked blank. Some fell on stony ground, eh?


Summer! Don’t you just love it? No, not when the temp nudges 100 in old money!  But when I look out from the patio towards Walton’s Spinney as that pesky sun finally sets, I can sip a chilled rose and savour our newly planted wild flower garden against the south wall. The Burnet Saxifrage, Clustered Bellflower, Common Figwort and the Periwigged Cocklecarrot are particularly spectacular. Isn’t nature wonderful?


I suppose the highlight of the month was a ‘royal’ visit…by Mummy, her first to Frame Hampton. I banned her from trusting her old Chevette to make the trek from Corby so, despite the RMT wankers, she took the train or, more accurately, trains (and many of ‘em!). Poor love. By the time she staggered over our threshold she’d had enough, I can tell you. She only stayed a few days (she and Ted don’t really get on!) but we did the grand tour of our lovely part of Wiltshire in the Yaris (pub lunches, afternoon tea at the Fecund Ferret) and she seemed happy enough. On her last night we all went for ‘dinner’ at the Jolly Roger.


What can I say about it? Grudgingly, Edward and I must confess we quite like the new look Ratcatcher’s. Full marks to Chef Trev and the diaphanous Grace, it’s really starting to take shape, although all those coils of rope, glass floats and nets full of plastic ‘starfish’ will have to go. And that life-size picture of Blackbeard outside the Cabin Boys’ loo just gives me the willies, if you know what I mean.  


We had a nice enough meal but sophisticated it ain’t. Ted says it reminds him of the refectory grub at Harlow (Harrow — Ed). Mind you, he’s a slave to Sticky Toffee Pudding and a sucker for Spotted Dick.


Oliver


23. Billy’s still getting the needle


How’s that! You’ll never guess what the Young Master has gone and done: only revived the defunct Frame Hampton cricket team. Golly gosh (is that OK, Mr Editor?) I hear you cry, it’s the end of the season!  


Apparently, he’s only just come across an old cricket bag in what used to be the butler’s pantry up at the Big ‘Ouse. A couple of bats, some very off-white pads, a rancid ‘protector’ or two and a few odd gloves etc. Enough to get started, says the YM, revving up his sit-on mower to trim McElroy’s Meadow down to size. 


He was captain of cricket at Charterhouse, evidently; Ted surprised me by revealing he made the seconds at Harlow (Harrow — Ed). Other team members include Trev the chef, useful opener, and Billy the Ghillie, a ‘nothing gets past me’ keeper, Vic the vet, the lady arboriculturist from the Big ‘Ouse (handy in the field, they say) plus Mr Singh from the corner shop who, Teddy trumpets, is a leggie (Eh?). 


And moi? You’ve guessed it: the poor flipping scorer (although I used to do the first XI nicely at Lodge Park Secondary, Corby, I’ll have you know!). Anyway, more of this ‘breathless hush in the (Brian) Close tonight’ stuff anon.


Ahem! We’re beginning to despair of Billy the Ghillie, though. Ted’s almost given up on him. We’ve known Bill quite some time since he gave us fly fishing lessons (remember how he admired my relaxed wrist!) soon after we moved to Wiltshire. It’s true to say we’ve grown rather fond of him. He’s his own worst enemy, of course and he really must put that nastiness on People’s Friend behind him (who gives a sod what the Needlework Editor thinks anyway?)


The other night it all kicked off in the Jolly Roger. Wilhelm had been chasing a few ‘wee Bell’s’ with strong lagers (or is it the other way round? I’m usually pretty good on who’s chasing what) and started coming over all unnecessary. Apparently, Trev, the landlord, had to storm into Captain Kidd’s Cabin, as they now insist on calling the Public Bar, brandishing what Edward said was a marlinspike to restore order. Nasty looking object and, as that Corporal Jones used to say, ‘They don’t like it up ‘em’. Where will it all end?


Pleased to report that the Pendulous Knobwurt that went all droopy after the late frosts has perked up again despite the drought that’s made the village green brown. The Zackondia looks as if it will make another splash on the south wall and the Variegated Double Entendre seems up for it, if you know what I mean.


I hate August, actually. Nights drawing in; garden past its best and nothing on the telly (especially that crap Marriage) says Ted. Who would believe it’s almost two years since we moved here and your faithful scribe started penning these notes and a year since Himself and yours truly had that God Almighty Wobble. Well, we’re still going … sort of. And what of the future, I hear you (and the Editor) ask. How the fuck would I know: stick around and see!


Oliver


24. What Jack Daniels made me do


Hola! I have to admit that this column is a bit of a con. We’re not facing the first hints of autumn in darling Frame Hampton but are getting sand between our toes (and everywhere else, luv) on the Costas. Señor Eduardo doesn’t approve of our destination but Benidorm is actually quite nice: it’s just the people (mainly tattooed Brits) who are so awful. We were so sad about the Queen that we got a last minute, all inc, deal in the Hotel Costa Bomba y Fortuna on the Poniente. But, alas, we’ve found that there, the fun just never starts.


Ted bought some lairy T-shirts which he insisted we wore to get in the holiday mood. His says: I’m Only Here For The Crack (sic). Typical. Mine proclaims: Jack Daniels Made Me Do It (twice on horseback).


The second night we went to see the ‘comic’ in the hotel’s Playa Blinda ‘theatre bar’. I thought he was a horrid little man whose idea of sophisticated humour was taking the piss out of the paying guests. Example: two old ladies wandered in after he’d started his set. He stopped and hurried to help them, faux solicitously, to their seats. ‘You smell nice,’ he told them, ‘been jogging?’ Ted thought it was hilarious. Nuff said. 


We decided to avoid the hotel’s buffet breakfast bunfight and take fruit and croissants at Tubby Tel’s CaffBar on the seafront. Himself couldn’t get over a couple of lads at the next table supping pints of Madri as they tackled a (very) full English. How can they do that, drinking lager as soon as they get up, he squealed. I had to explain, gently, that they were probably having a nightcap with their supper before returning to their rancid, one-star room after a night on the tiles.


We also went to an all-night bar in the Old Town called Dubious. It was certainly that, especially the prices: cheapest cocktail (Screaming Orgasm): €12; Boogie Woogie Bender: an astonishing €15. ‘Highlight’ of the evening: an outrageous drag act featuring something called Thora Thunder Fuck aided and abetted by Sonique Booma Booma. I don’t know about you but I don’t get drag: a lot of over-trained Jessies showing off, if you ask me. How the Beeb can justify flooding BBC3 with their mindless cavorting I just don’t know. But that’s Auntie for you.


See you back in Wiltshire! Hasta la vista, baby!


Oliver


25. The night I thought my coq’s a kipper


How, Drone readers are clamouring (Eh? Ed) to ask, is the Pericles of Frame Hampton, aka Councillor Eduardo, coping in the cut and thrust of rural politics? Well, it’s nearly a year since His Nibs was co-opted on to the parish council and, to be truthful, he’s like a very pink, self-satisfied piggy in very sticky, cloying shit. 


Teddy, reasonably, thought he’d be up for election last May. He’d got his ‘campaign’ planned and had even procured a soapbox (I ask you!) from somewhere. But such is the lethargy in the very bottom tier of local government that he was returned unopposed. What an anti climax. Now he’s vice chairman and stands in for Farmer Ben when he’s on yet another of his ‘fact-finding missions’ in Shepton Mallet. Ahem (least said, eh?)


Ted’s also Housing Lead which means he’s the fall guy when there’s a dispute between the district council and the recalcitrant tenants of those ugly council houses on the road to Steemson Parva just past Walton’s Spinney. They’re no joke, those ne’er-do-wells and regularly conspire to take the piss, bombarding the housing department in Chilton Crudwell with fake pleas for help: ‘My toilet seat is broken in half and is now in three pieces: where do I stand?’  ‘Please can you do something about the farmer opposite: his cock wakes me at 6 every morning and it’s getting too much.’ Mind you, parish pump politics is a little bit calmer than Westminster: a prime minister a day. What a farce!


In other news, we decided to invite our new neighbour, Binky, around for supper. She seems to have settled in OK. She’s mostly here for long weekends from Oxford where she’s got a crash pad off the High near Magdalen Bridge. Occasionally she has company, a sister, perhaps, a tutorial group, but otherwise, no. Ted wanted to trot out his old standby, Spag Bol. Purleese! Apart from the fact that his Bol usually comes out of a tin from Lidl it’s not really adequate fare for a Professor of Philosophy. I put my dainty foot down, dug out a battered copy of Delia and served chicken coq au vin in a red wine sauce (Ollie, pet, that really is the tautological limit - Ed). Follow that with some acceptable cheese and serve a decent red and you’re home and dry, I always say.


Anyway, she’s good company is Binky, especially when she moved on to some lethal Peruvian Pisco, which she brought herself. A fund of risqué stories from the dons’ common room followed; it gave me a whole new view of viva voce, I can tell you. Ted, a mite overtrained, laughed like a drain. But if that story about the Beast of Balliol is actually true, my coq’s a kipper if you know what I mean.


See you o’er the lea (or probably not: it’s too wet)


Oliver


27. Fun, frolics and food fights


Why does no one listen to me? I told Ted we’d be mad to attend the Daily Drone’s Christmas party (not the place for the vulnerable!) but he insisted. So who was right? Even though they managed to pick the one day in December that Mad Mickey and his merry men hadn’t chosen for a strike, the journey was a nightmare. Snow, ice, freezing trains, culminating in that awful South Western Railway from Waterloo to Walton-on-Thames.  Finally, a cab (by the way, Kreshnik, the driver, says he thinks it’s wise not to go back to Tirana this year) to the Anglers where the do was held.


Strange bunch, the Drone gang. Prodnose I’d already met (I just hate the way he stares) and we were introduced to a very odd type called LP Brevmin. We hoped to meet The Editor but he ignored us and made the shortest ‘speech’ I’d ever heard but, even then, he had to read it. Teddy was confused when a girl trainee called Rosie, Rosemary, Rihanna, whatever, turned up wearing what looked to be a wide belt but was, in fact, an ultra brief leather mini skirt.


Drink was flowing by then to the accompaniment of shrieks and giggles and food fights. I had a brief chat with ‘gardening expert’ Old Man Manners but his phoney rural accent — Adge Cutler (subs: plse check) on speed, says Ted — totally baffled me. Then some grizzled old hack in a funny hat and a scruffy mac sidled up, shouting: What’s the goss, woofter? I ask you. So I peddled him the line that Teddy and I got together after he fell for my lederhosen. Hook, line and sinker! It all got a bit hazy after that, I’ll admit, but how we laughed as we snuggled down in the Premier Inn later.


In other festive news we’d been looking forward to Christmas like everyone, especially as we’ve been under Covid curbs for the past two years. But, in truth, it was a bit underwhelming. In a pathetic attempt to get into the ‘Festive Spirit’ we were seduced into Yarising over to Chilton Crudwell for Ye Olde Christmas Fayre. What a letdown! Stalls selling ‘artisan’ crap, a 15-minute wait for a plastic cup of tea and four old winkers* (two guitars, a squeeze box and a ukulele) grinding out obscure ‘folk’ carols. And everyone seemed to have a yapping, fracking* dog in tow. 


Binky did have us around for olives, cheese straws and some intriguing Mongolian merlot and Mine Hosts at the Jolly Roger put on carols and nibbles in The Wardroom (as they insist on calling The Snug that was). Even Prune tried to lure us to St Addis-by-the-Closet’s midnight mass but we couldn’t make it. Actually, Ted and I spent The Day apart: me with mummy (and a small crown) in Corby and Himself with his parents in Pratt’s Bottom (No, don’t!) Anyway, I hope you all had a good time despite the cold hand of winter…


Oliver


Oliver’s twist: He’s upped sticks, axed this column
and gone back to Mummy

36. Good day. Well, it’s not really. It was during a lull in lockdown that Teddy and I hugged and had a joyous snuggle in the kitchen of our bijou cottage in small, but perfectly formed Frame Hampton and watched the sun set over Walton’s Spinney. Tea chests and cardboard boxes around us, it was the start of a rural idyll in the heart of Wiltshire so far from bustling West London where we met and fell. That was three years, 36 columns for the Drone, nearly 20,000 words. Drawn like blood from a stone sometimes. 


Things have moved apace since my last bulletin and not in a good way. You must have noticed that things hadn’t been too rosy between Edward and me. Money worries; him distracted, distant. Increasingly, he was relying on casual work in the West End sleeping on people’s couches (beds more like). Then, at the speed of light, he announces he’s moved in with a young ASM from the Eliades, wants some cash for equity and could we put the cottage up for a quick sale. Sale? Giveaway, more like: it was gone before Coupar and Deane could put it on Rightmove. I told Teddy it was too cheap but he’s a fucking expert, isn’t he?


We divided our stuff — the spoils of bore, I call it — in a very clinical way. I got the Yaris (where would he park it in Pimlico, for fuck’s sake?) and, in a major coup, Lolita, our rescue cat. He wasn’t happy but I told him he could Nabokov (I’ll miss that one — Ed)


So we’ve gone — and it makes me so sad — our separate ways. He to a top floor flat in Pimlico, bought for the ASM by his ‘mummy’; moi back to my mum in Corby. Same house, same bedroom, same view of the Masonic hall. At least I’ve cleared out the Tears for Fears posters and pictures of the Bay City Rollers (whatever did I see in Les McKeown?). And I’ve got a job! Back in teaching (English and drama) at my old school, Brooke Weston: something I vowed I’d never do but it shows I can still pull things there, if you get my drift. At least mummy is happy.


So, this is my last letter, No more rough handling from Proddy on the Drone (he can be quite spiteful, you know); no staying up late to see my jottings in print after the Editor has worked his magic. I’m a bit teary, I don’t mind admitting: a lump in my throat if you know what I mean.


The Ed actually rang me during break at school. Strange man but said some nice things. Apparently, Country Boys was the most popular Drone feature in recent times and was mainly responsible for a dramatic upsurge in readership. Even more than A.I. Dismore’s carefully-crafted columns, the preposterous prognostications of Nostradamus Frame or the crying-out-to-be-subbed ramblings of the other bloke. Some say it was almost as good as Last Train to Adlestrop, an oeuvre which was withdrawn because it was considered too profound and cerebral for the Drone audience. But that, dear readers, was before my time and is another story.


So, finally…see you o’er the lea (or not, as the case may be)


Oliver


35. What can I say about Frame Hampton’s friendly fucking fete? Well, it was a disaster, darling, as lovely Craig used to say (not that Craig — there’s nothing lovely about him). 


Everything that could go wrong, did. First, the weather was appalling: non-stop monsoon, Mineards Meadow = quagmire, gale blew down the beer tent. There wasn’t even Tannoy Teddy taking the mic to lighten the atmosphere. He let us down at the 11th hour by saying he’d been offered a shift on The Lion King and couldn’t refuse it (he was right about that: since his other work started to dry up, we’ve been on our uppers). Rev Prune, in an absolute panic, offered the job to Billy! Least said, eh? 


Well, if you’ve ever heard a public address announcer from Govan, emboldened by the best part of a bottle of Glen McGrandle, you’ll know what I mean. Actually, I’m getting fed up with the ghillie. His supposedly
life-changing trauma on People’s Friend is his excuse for everything. PTSD, my arse. He just fell out with the crotchety Needlework Editor. Fucking Jessie, if you ask me (but don’t say I said  so).


Hate August, don’t you. Everything’s starting to go over (including me, I feel). The best is behind us; what does the future hold?  Late flash (no, I’m too dispirited even to fly that from the top of the double flowering Entendre to see if anyone salutes it): Teddy says there’s a lighting staff crisis at The Lyceum and do I mind if he stays up there another week. As if, dear reader, I have a choice. Oh, woe is me (or should that be I?)


One bright spot: the Singhs’ daughter, the fragrant Farisha, home for a break from her medical studies, tells me she’s been posted to the isolation wing where patients with highly virulent diseases and infections are housed. Apparently, one chap just back from Africa who’d come all over with something nasty, was put in a private room and told he’d have to be on a diet of pizzas and pancakes. Will that help, doctor, he asked.  Not really, said the consultant, but it’s the only food we can get under the door.

Oliver

It’s time we washed up
on a holiday beach

34. Our Spanish sojourn last year was so successful I suggested we book another holiday. Himself was initially up for it (when isn’t he?) but seems to be having second thoughts already. Muttering that he’s not sure we can afford it. Remember I told you that Teddy’s work suddenly seemed to be drying up. Even he is starting to mention it and I’ll admit it’s causing friction between us (Oh, I wish!) But I’m putting my dainty foot down.


For fuck’s sake, all this cleanIng, washing, drying, ironing and cooking doesn’t do itself, you know. I concede I haven’t had a proper job for quite some time but I was pretty badly scarred at the last place, I can tell you. People can be so bitchy and judgmental, especially when they think they detect a weakness. What’s wrong with being artistic? Anyway, you’ll not catch me saying any more. Look, I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT. But if himself  thinks I’m playing housewife all year and not getting a break away from it all, well up with it I will not put. So there.


I must concede, though, our early research was not encouraging. Ted suggested taking a budget ocean cruise (hooray and up she rises, eh?) from Tilbury (where?) but I threw up three times just looking at the brochures.  I’m not a good sailor so, for the moment, we’ll heave to (Ooh, do you see what I just did there?).


Bad news: our faithful little Yaris let us down. We limped over to a TiteFit on the Mannerswick Magna industrial estate for an MOT etc. I didn’t take to the foreman, Jed, especially when he accused Ted of not greasing his nuts. The cheek of these oily-palmed artisans!


I promised to update you on the cricket team’s needle match with Compton Chamberlayne. Actually, it was quite good fun. The weather helped, of course and Trev from the Jolly Roger set up a beer tent. We found out a few things about our players, though: Ben, the blacksmith, is only capable of hitting boundaries; the one time he essayed a forward defensive block he was bowled all over the shop. Billy? As a wicket keeper, he was useless. Bow-legged, you see. He couldn’t stop a runaway pig in a bowling alley let alone a cricket ball. Why did anyone think it would be any different? The YM and Teddy, both ex-public school, got excited when our resident Scot hinted he’d been to Fettes. Well, he may have been there but he obviously didn’t stop long enough to learn cricket.


Actually, our saviour was Mr Singh from the village shop. After a creditable spell of leggies he played a decent straight bat to hold out for an honourable draw.


See you in the nets!

Oliver 


Why Teddy’s in and out of the fridge

33. Oh, hi! The village fete is looming (where did that year go?) and Rev Prune is going around like one of farmer Colin’s mad sheepdogs herding ‘volunteers’ into various jobs. Tannoy Ted is a shoo-in on the public address for the third year. Apparently, the little old ladies love his cheeky humour (you can have too much of it, I can tell them). I’m constantly amazed that Teddy and Prune, normally like cat and dog, can come together (no, stop it!) once a year to produce our celebration of village life. 


This year it has been decided to have a fortune teller as the star attraction. I was chatting to Proddie, my handler (!) at the Drone and, amazingly, they have one there. He’s a chap who likes getting into drag and poses as a gypsy mystic. Otherwise, he lurks in a back room, polishing his balls.  Well, they can’t touch you for that. Is he/she/it any good, I hear you clamour. Jury’s out: dodgy record on Home Secretaries’ tenure, I’m told, but he talks a good game.

You know, Wiltshire is at its lush, green, verdant best at this time of the year. The grass is growing like mad and the wild flowers are just awesome with Amethyst Deanecockle, Benfleet Ophrys and Bertie Beeorchid resplendent on south-facing slopes.


One cloud, though. We’re fine, honestly, Teddy and me, but his work seems to be drying up: he doesn’t spend as much time in front of his iMac and he’s taken to hovering around in the kitchen, opening and shutting the fridge and generally being a nuisance. I know he’s trying to find a bit of casual lighting work up West so I expect we’ll be all right. 


In sporting news, you’ll recall that the Young Master up at the big ‘ouse decided to form a village cricket team last year when the season was practically over. It was a bit of a farce, actually: Ill-prepared wicket, lack of kit, batters (note how inclusive I’m being) having to share one rancid ‘protector’. I can’t even remember the score now and I was the scorer. Now, though, he’s rustled up some more yellowing pads, gloves and even a bat or two and one of his tenants has been busy mowing and tending a strip of grass on Mineards Meadow. We’re ready for our first match against Compton Chamberlayne. I’ll keep you posted.

Oliver

I ham what I ham

says Ted as Ollie 

fiddles with his flies

32: Should we be worried? Teddy fancies being a leading man again. You will recall the arty woman with ginger hair (auburn tresses, surely? — Ed) who runs a jewellery stall at Melksham market trying to seduce Teddy into joining Haxton Huish Am Dram group, well she’s at it again, so to speak. Never mind that Ted knows as much about acting as Shit Grant and Shit Coogan put together, she wants him to take the lead, no less, in their autumn production. 


And Ted has started giving off vibes about his theatrical heritage (‘My Bottom was much admired at school etc.’). Could he really play the lead in Hax H’s La Cage Aux Folles? The part of Albin requires an actor with ‘a fruity baritone’. Well, says Ted, I don’t know about the baritone but I can definitely do fruity, luv. Talk about I ham what I ham. I worry that this will end in tears rather than curtain calls.


Talk about hamming it, we just loved Eurovision. All those flashing lights and people stomping about with great purpose, as Teddy says. Mummy asked if we were sad that Royaume Uni didn’t win. As I said to Ted, he didn’t deserve to with a name like that.


Onwards and sideways, as Binky says, philosophically. What a glorious time of the year! May is definitely my favourite month. The other day we drove over to Keeling St Michael and wandered through Great Ridge Wood between the rivers Wily and Nader. Marvellous! The bluebells were at their iridescent best, naturally, but the bird’s foot trefoil and the purple loosestrife are also giving a good account of themselves.


Now that the season’s started, we took up a long-standing invite from Billy the Ghillie to do some angling. Ted prefers coarse (well, he would wouldn’t he?) I’d rather fiddle with flies. So what do we do? Take our tackle to one of those pointless catch-and-release lakes over at Coupar’s Folly. Why do I let him get away with it? No, don’t bother.


Can’t leave without saying that both Teddy and I are so upset about darling Schofers. We’ve been big fans since he had the courage to stand up, walk tall and be counted. Between you and me, I never liked Holloughby or whatever her name is. It just goes to show that when the matrons’ mafia gangs up, men don’t stand a chance. See you o’er the lea!

Oliver




31. Thick legs and generous drawers

If there’s one thing you can’t fault Teddy for: his energy (no, not that, naughty!) Apart from his daily toil on the iMac, he’s pretty tied up on the parish council, does a bit of gardening and is still dabbling in ‘antiques’. Anyway, now spring’s here and we feel more like Yarising around rural Wiltshire, Himself has announced that he plans to start buying and selling in ‘a more focused (subs, is that one S or two? Plse check) way’. (It’s one — Ed)

So now we’ve started scouring the ads in the Gazette and Herald (sample: ‘For sale: antique desk suitable for lady with thick legs and generous drawers’) in the hunt for more rubbish. 


The other day we chugged over to an auction at Fitztightly on the Chippenham road and, after popping in to the Manhole pub for a large one, scoured the auction room for bijou bargains. Bric-a-brac? More like bric-a-crap. Gervase, the pink-suited auctioneer, did his best, love him, but, as Teddy growled, he  might just as well have shoved his gavel where the monkey puts its nuts.


Anyway, fuck hanging around dusty village halls sifting through the detritus of lives past! It’s spring. Time to resume communing with nature. The Hayter Harrier started up first time (thanks to Vinnie at the service engineers) and I’ve mowed the lawns a couple of times. Once we’re sure frosts have gone we’re going to plant a swathe of Crested Dogscock and Wheelers Woundwurt in the big bed along Binky’s wall and I’ve been busy with new pots in the Fernery.

Soon we’ll be sitting outside, topping up the tan and living the life of English country gentlemen (not too gentle, man!)


Farisha, the Singhs’ eldest, still toiling through med school, love her, popped around. Suitably scrubbed and gowned, she’s been allowed to witness real operations on real people. The other day there was a crisis. The surgeon turned to the theatre nurse and said: ‘Quick, he’s losing a lot of blood. He needs an infusion — what’s his blood type?  Nurse: ‘B positive.’ Doctor: ‘I’m trying to be but he’s lost a lot of blood.’ See you in post-op and God save the King!

Oliver


30. Standing firm for Ukraine

I admit I didn’t want to do it but Teddy made me (plus ca change, eh?). To be fair, though, I quite enjoyed our first quiz at the Jolly Roger, a new venture masterminded by the diaphanous landlady, (amazing) Grace because, I suspect, the dreaded COLC (cost of living crisis — do catch up) has hit trade badly. 


Anyway, there were about 10 teams competing in her first Quiz and Curry Night (tenner a head — can’t be bad). I’d hoped our team, which Ted insisted on calling The Knobheads, would wipe the floor with the opposition. After all, apart from Teddy and me we had Binky, Billy (he was big on People’s Friend, I’ll remind you) and Mr Singh, a varsity man back in Bangalore, apparently. 


Easy peasy, eh? Well, have you ever tried relying on an Oxford philosophy don for the name of the lead singer in the Pussycat Dolls or a rundown of the Saturdays’ greatest hits? Ted became increasingly pissed off, especially when the team on the next table (the Young Master and  Olivia plus the lady aboriculturalist, Ben, the tenant at Home Farm and Ronnie (Veronica) the new vet) started crowing. He nearly stomped out when one answer he insisted was correct turned out to be billhooks* (how many lakes in the Lake District? Ted: 15. Correct answer: one - Bassenthwaite, all the rest are meres or tarns). 


Then we had the Picture Round where all the images were the size of a gnat’s thumbnail and something about Tube stations. I admit that  the Elizabeth Line brings new opportunities but, to me, Chadwell Heath and Harold Wood sound just like the dodgy geezers you encounter in that part of Essex. And don’t talk to me about playing the joker! No wonder we’ve taken to skulking in pubs: the weather’s been awful. Oh, to be in England now that April’s there, if you know what I mean.


We spent a pleasant evening up at the Big ‘Ouse, aka Frame Hampton Hall. Unbeknown to us, the YM and Olivia, have been hosting a small family of Ukrainian refugees in the converted stables and he invited a few people from the village to a little social given on their behalf. Usual suspects there.  I thought Teddy was totally out of order by insensitively and, may I say, coquettishly, proclaiming: ‘I’d do anything for a White Russian.’ 


Ludmilla and her two teenage daughters, Bohuslava and Kristina, were charming but, understandably, a bit overwhelmed. They’d managed to get out without suffering too much the rigours of war. But we were conscious of their sense of impermanence and genuine concern for Anotoly, the son and brother, left behind and just enlisted in the army in Zaporizhzhia. For once, Rev Prune proved her worth by saying a little, well received, prayer and, my, how those girls can shift the vodka!

Oliver 

*Drone protocol


29. A loving cup under the bed

The shame! Teddy and I have a confession: we’ve been drinking out of a 250-year-old chamber pot. And it was with those hunky chaps in the red trews from Tidworth Garrison. No, listen! You’ll remember that Ted’s got an old school friend from Harlow (Harrow — Ed) who’s an officer in the Kings Royal Hussars. Well, Himself and a Significant Other (yours truly) were invited to a reception at the camp. Ted said he expected it to be in the mess. It will be when we get there, I replied (You sure you haven’t used that line before, Ollie pet? — Ed). 


Anyway, the tradition of passing the chamber pot dates from when the regiment seized the silverware from the Frogs at the Battle of Vitoria. Now it’s de rigueur for chaps to drink from this ‘loving cup’ called the Emperor on special nights, although, between us, I think it gives the champers a metallic taste (only joking!). Ted says we’d better impose a D Notice, whatever that is, on the rest of the evening. Not that I can remember much anyway.


The other morning we woke up to a mind-numbing whiff. Then I remembered the parish mag warning us that farmer Ben was hiring a MacKenzie Mark II ShitStirrer, a noisy, irritating piece of machinery, to ‘dress’ (such an elegant word for such a distasteful endeavour) Mineards Meadow over in the north west of the village. As Ted says, if you live in the country you must expect life to be shitty now and then.


Isn’t it great that the nights are drawing out? I loathe winter and all its pesky privations. This last week I’ve even been tempted to give the lawns their first (high) cut of the season but Ted says leave it till March. Since when did he qualify as Old Man Manners, the Prince of the Potting Shed? Still, I have risked planting some Mouserace Agrimony and Lady’s Bedstraw along the wall skirting Binky’s cottage. How is our tame Phil Prof? Blooming the last time we caught up. Apparently, winter’s a good time for gatherings, involving drinkies and pork products, at Oxford so she’s been confined to barracks in her pad near Magdalen Bridge. I expect we’ll see (and hear) more of her now spring beckons.


In other news, Ted had a run-in with a red-necked council house dweller from Brierley Scratcham in his capacity as the local councillor responsible for housing. We were enjoying a pint of Barty’s Ballbreaker and an iced Tio Pepe in the Jolly Roger when this oaf lurched over moaning about some problem with the drains. Oh, how we laughed when he complained: ‘Our toilet is blocked and we can’t bath the children until it’s cleared.’

Talk about taking the piss!

Oliver


28. Hair is the news…

Alert! Alert! Is there a trichologist in the house? Whisper it: Teddy’s losing his hair. Don’t laugh but I thought he’d started trimming his armpits again (he does that sometimes). But no. The clumps I found in the shower were definitely off Himself’s bonce. He’s not best pleased, I can tell you. He asked me if I could see a difference: I said No but I could really. 


Anyway, I’ve done some research and when he’s calmed down I’ll point him towards a cricketer called, I think, Wayne Shorn who had a result with hair replacement. And Proddie, who handles me for the Drone (oi! oi!) says he knows of a former Express hunk on Sky News, follicly challenged in the nineties, who sports lustrous locks these days. All is not lost then.


Oh, a belated happy new year to all my readers (11 I think it is at last count). Our celebrations in Frame Hampton were a bit muted even though, after Christmas apart, we were together. In bed before the Big Ben bongs had faded. Frack (as we’re supposed to say nowadays) reminiscing about the old year. Let’s get on with 2023!


Actually, any festive fun we might have had was rather spoiled when our domestic short-haired cat (aka rescue moggie) went missing. Days it was and I was desolate and, I don’t mind admitting, a bit teary. Himself played hard cop: ‘If Lolita thinks she can jerk us around like this she might as well Nabokov for good.’ (Ollie, love, I know this is your favourite running ‘gag’ but it’s a bit of a dog’s dinner now - Ed). Eventually she turned up wet and bedraggled. That’s cats for you.  


In other news, Billy has been up to his old tricks again and there were unseemly scenes over at the Fecund Ferret during the holidays, I hear. Apparently, he hosted a reunion of some of his old thrusters on People’s Friend for a festive meal. Had I known that his nemesis, the crotchety Needlework Editor, was among them I would have predicted the outcome: drunken carousing, whisky-fuelled catcalling and, ultimately, vomit-flecked shame. Sounds fun, said Ted. Uggh!

Oliver