The Forest School Kids

In which we restore a greenhouse, investigate a murder of sorts, and come across some implausible tyres.

We as a species are perhaps a generation away from finally breaking nature’s ability to resist us. Victory is that close. The final push surely starts by instilling a disdain for the outdoors in our children, and it therefore grieves me to see kids as young as five at the Forest School run by Becca. Rope bridges, tyres (mysteriously sold to us by Graham’s oldest daughter, who is twelve) hanging from trees, leaves being identified and drawn in little books, sheep being stroked – all this and more goes on among the conifer groves of Runton. Awful. I can only assume that those children are immediately taken into care when they get home – and rightly so.

For all that, the Forest School is, after the glampers, Runton Hall’s biggest source of income, and as Becca slowly chews single slices of toast while silently crying in the kitchen (which is how women who have had children prefer to eat) I am always intrigued as to what she will think of next. For example, until recently rain meant herding the Forest School kids into a large restored barn acting as everything from an actual barn to a debating chamber for the mental and getting them to draw ducks with crayons, or whatever children do when it’s raining out. This has since changed, because on the other side of the estate near German Field there is a Victorian greenhouse in need of restoration, and in keeping with the nineteenth century vibe, Becca gets the children to do it by issuing them with a Brillo pad each and a section of ironwork that last saw elbow grease in 1861. ‘Anton’ and I have had them up ladders scrubbing the roof and everything, but were told to stop during a meeting of the board of trustees. The aim is to return the greenhouse to being a bona fide growing environment, and then produce medicinal plants for the benefit of a particular pharmaceutical company who consider that forcing species of plant alien to the northern hemisphere to grow in rural East Anglia is natural and organic. This is not likely to happen for a year or two – there’s a lot of Brillo pad work needed first – and Joe and Becca will be looking after the greenhouse when it eventually starts producing stuff. Not me, though. I am also a species alien to rural East Anglia, so fuck that.

You may recall that we touched upon the disappearance of Sevastopol the peacock last time. It is the Forest School children who would be most upset if he had indeed been savaged by my dog, because although he was extremely aggressive and something of a piss-taker who on four occasions attacked my dog for no reason whatsoever, he was much loved by them once they got their head around what he actually was. I say this because on more than one occasion, I had the following conversation:

‘Look! There’s Sevastopol! He’s a peacock!’

‘A penguin?’

‘No, a peacock’

‘Like in the Arctic?’

‘No, a peacock. He normally lives in India’

‘I saw a film about penguins at my school’

‘Yes, but Sevastopol is a peacock, do you see?’

‘What’s a peacock?’

…and so forth. Actually, the Forest School kids, bussed out from the grimmer parts of major cities to see the countryside, are endearing, and it is difficult not to take a shine to them. Also, they are far less noisy than their glamping counterparts, don’t have the food intolerances of middle class children, and bring packed lunches consisting of chocolate mini rolls and bags of Haribo Tangfastics. When you’ve had outraged glamper offspring demanding olives and halloumi it’s nice to see kids who just want to eat sweets all day. No child should prefer hummus to baked beans. We live in troubled times.

Anyway. I assumed my dog was a lurcher when Graham gave him to me. In case you are unfamiliar, a lurcher is a cross between a sight hound and a herding dog, with the most common being a greyhound/collie mix, although many variations abound. Lurchers are poacher’s dogs, and while Graham is a pest controller rather than a poacher, he has four others of this kind. I had originally wanted to name him Help Help Call The Police, to add interest when calling him back off the lead, but after consideration I changed this to Mr Fantastic. However, he had already been dubbed Archie by Graham’s kids, so his name became Mr Archibald Fantastic, only to encounter further complication when it transpired that he was a saluki, or Persian hunting dog, and therefore a Muslim rather than the Roman Catholic I had originally assumed. I changed his name again to Archibald al Fantastique to honour his Persian roots, and by way of thanking me, he repeatedly stole butter and hid it in the laundry basket. He also destroyed several pairs of sunglasses and drank a quantity of contact lens solution, although I suppose this is to be expected with a sight hound. This behaviour does not make a peacock killer though. Salukis are exceptionally sweet natured dogs, (unless you are running very fast away from them, like a desert hare or antelope, in which case they will chase you until your respiratory system collapses) and a peacock simply doesn’t move quick enough to trigger this sort of response. That said, if it’s adorable for some hippy’s cat to dismember every duckling Runton Hall has ever seen, it’s adorable for a frightened dog to defend itself against a violent peacock, regardless of his iridescent plumage and shiny blue face. While the case remains open, it is most likely that Sevastopol met his end due to the attentions of a fox. In case you are unfamiliar, a fox is the product of a dog breeding with a cat, and they are troublesome in the countryside.

Graham managed to rustle up a replacement Sevastopol before anyone noticed. How he did this I do not know, in the same way that I do not know how his children, two girls aged twelve and ten and a boy of four, seem to have established a successful tyre re-treading service on the outskirts of a Georgian country estate. Maybe they resprayed a goose. With regards to the tyres, I can only assume they’re buying them from relatives prior to selling them on to Joe, Becca, ‘Anton’ and sundry other people around Runton, and this is the sort of gap-in-the-market spotting enterprise of which I warmly approve. In any case, it’s not worth questioning them about it. One of the trustees did this recently, and discovered that they immediately shout ‘If you’re calling me a thief just come out and say it like a man’ and mob around you punching your legs if you do that sort of thing, at which point it is prudent to end your enquiries, accept that complimentary set of  Bridgestones you’ve been given by Graham to smooth things over, and leave it at that.

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