bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog 

Countryside Dalliance

Dear Rachel

Everything in the countryside wants to bite you, and because of this I have traditionally eyed it with caution. The problem is that I’m simply too urban, and the countryside knows it. I don’t walk like someone from the countryside, I don’t talk or buy biscuits or charge my phone or sit on a sofa like someone from the countryside. I don’t know how animals work, or what most of them are for, and I’m obviously ‘not from round here’ as soon as I’m exposed to anything more rural than a roundabout sponsored by a garden centre.

In fact, I am so out of my depth in the countryside that I look like someone doing an impersonation of someone out of their depth in the countryside, falling over gates, wading waist high through nettles and asking what time the cows usually go to sleep. I’m like the last Roman in Britain – I want everything on time and where I left it, and I don’t see the point of several thousand years of municipal evolution if it’s longer than ten minutes to the chip shop. Imagine my delight, then, when I recently found myself at an agricultural show in deepest Norfolk, watching a man shooting vegetables in a field.

To bulk things out, he was inventing a range of preposterous anecdotes, such as ‘One for the ladies now – you know what it’s like when your old man comes home from the pub and you don’t fancy cooking for him. What do you do? That’s right. You send him to the garden and make him a salad’ at which point he’d throw a cabbage into the air and shoot it. Not even high into the air: about four foot. No blindfold or drum rolls or building of tension or anything. It wasn’t just me watching, by the way – there was a packed grandstand, and it was in raptures. The only danger I could ascertain was when when he said ‘You might want to put a bit of lettuce in the salad, too’, prior to, obviously, throwing a lettuce into the air and shooting it, then adding ‘Well up here you call them lettuces. I’m from Suffolk and down there we call them Brussels sprouts’, which is an ill advised agricultural joke. If you’re unfamiliar with East Anglia, Norfolk and Suffolk do not see eye to eye, and a quip about seasonal produce is tantamount to a declaration of war. Amid cries of ‘Fuck off back there then, you wanker’ he restored calm by saying ‘And the next morning you might want to make him some nice juice’ and shooting four oranges on a table.

Walking back to the marquee in which we were trading, I happened across an inflatable swimming pool into which dogs were being thrown. I assumed it was a witchcraft trial, but it turned out to be entertainment whereby a dog would stand at the top of a ramp leading into the water, a ball would be thrown in, and the hound would chase it to wild applause. Some dogs were more enthusiastic than others about this arrangement: ‘Here’s a foxhound – look at him go! It’s a breed that loves the water!’ yelled the commentator, shoving one gently down the ramp with a broom. All the dogs were happy enough once they found their sea legs, and along with horses seemed to be the only animal that weren’t routinely shot, chased or snared with any of the bewildering array of goods being sold by hearty types in tweed. ‘What the fuck is that?’ I said to one of them, pointing at a strange object and demonstrating the nimbleness of language for which I am noted. What the fuck it looked like was this: a dead pigeon, dismembered, clumsily reassembled with wire and hooked up to a battery so that it flapped its wings in a dejected manner. It was among the most grotesque and macabre things I have ever seen. This, I learned, is a type of lure. It is planted and attracts other pigeons, who flock to it and then get shot for being so easily impressed. Well, I assume they are shot; it’s possible that they set a tiger on them to add a bit of sport to proceedings. The hearty tweedy man said that country pigeons were probably larger than what I was used to. I replied that my favourite pigeons were two married ones who sit on the lamp post outside my house, and who are so fat that they trigger the night-time sensor and make the light come on. Being that we were in a Countryside Alliance tent, I said I’d probably find fox hunting enjoyable as a spectacle, but would be happier with it as a pastime if it had to go through a minefield to even things up a bit. The man and his wife – who were both very friendly, and had exactly the same voice (a trait I noticed all day among country folk over thirty) – patiently listened to me pointing out that if fox hunting went through urban areas, you’d only have to chase it onto a night bus and steal its phone, and we went our separate ways.

While commercially so-so, the event itself – the Norfolk Game and Country Fair – was enjoyable. Amid the vegetable shooting and dog throwing it was great if you weren’t selling your lavish range of kitchenware as a break from usual operations at Greenwich Market, which unfortunately I was. At Greenwich, I get questions like ‘Do the colours run?’ or ‘Do they shrink at all?’, but here the most common was ‘Does blood come out of these alright?’, being asked by people who knew how to make food and jackets from sentient beings. A well meaning bloke asked me if I was enjoying the outdoors. I said I didn’t want to describe it as ‘a whale of a time’ in case he shot it, and scored tiny victories all weekend by mentioning 4G reception. The countryside had the last laugh, however. Rounding a corner towards the end of the event, I jumped back in surprise at the sudden appearance of a horse in full saddle and tack, and pulled a hamstring in the process. I am writing this with frozen peas gaffer taped to my leg as a result, but you’ll be relieved to hear that the horse was fine, which is to be expected, as on closer inspection it turned out to be made of fibreglass.

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Photards:

Top – If you buy two they’ll chuck in a flamethrower.

Middle – Spitalfields Market, early on a Friday. This is easier to handle than markets in East Anglia, because anything you might want to buy is already dead.

Lower – Classic birthday breakfast: Colin the Caterpillar cake and a mug of coffee. I would go as far as to say that Colin the Caterpillar is a triumph of the culinary arts. It’s got the lot – Smarties, cocoa butter, an edible face, chocolate and sugar, and furthermore is an anatomically correct representation of an actual caterpillar.

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