There’s something weird about nine year olds eating, and really enjoying, salad, and we get a lot of it among the glamper children at Runton Hall. They know all about kale and cous cous and everything, and could only get more uptight and serious if they paused mid-lettuce to hand you a leaflet about prostate cancer. This is not to say that I don’t understand the importance of good eating habits among children, of course. In the countryside this is especially important, as the fat are at a disadvantage, presenting a larger target for insects and unable to climb over stuff without getting puffed out and splitting their trousers and what not. I’m afraid the one-child-per-classroom carefree chubster of decades past is no longer a beloved staple of the British educational experience. No, the modern obese child is likely to be angry, sullen, full of antidepressants and with little desire for being unable to climb ropes in the gym for the merriment of all, or finishing fourteen seconds after everyone else in the sports day hundred metres, weeping. The world has turned, and we are poorer for it.
Joe and I discussed the declining jolliness of fat children, and the building of pizza ovens for this weekend’s wedding party, as we prepared the Fallow Field for the two hundred guests who will be camping in it. The Fallow Field is a lambing enclosure for much of the year – the process by which animals are born is appalling beyond description and I shall not trouble you with it. Suffice to say, it’s easy to understand why city dwellers, cleverer and more physically attractive than rural folk, built walls around themselves as soon as the option became available, and distanced themselves from this and the other routine horrors of country life. Our brain storming was not assisted by my having to persuade Saturday Night Feverishness, an East Anglian seventies tribute band, to play at the reception for the bride by yelling into a Galaxy 8* while herding an uncooperative Sevastopol into his Summer Palace as Archie and one of Graham’s dogs, a black whippet called Lucy, chased each other around the field at forty miles an hour. The booking of Saturday Night Feverishness stretches the Bollywood theme of the weekend yet further, but I am assured by the groom it will be greatly appreciated as long as they black up**.
Along with sleeping and washing, eating is one of the main things it is much harder to do outdoors than in. Getting the pizza ovens built was proving to be a pain – it’s not difficult, basically just piling stuff on top of other stuff and adding a door, but it takes ages – although they had enabled us to avoid the horror of holding a gigantic barbeque, the groom’s first suggestion. I detest every single thing about barbeques. At least with a picnic, the other outdoor dining option, it’s mainly booze and cake, and is over quite quickly. My grandfather courted my grandmother with a picnic in Victoria Park E3, and while doing so acquired a dog, Mickey, from a passing fella he knew in return for some paraffin. That’s the old days for you. When Mickey died many years later, his replacement, and every dog my grandparents subsequently owned, was also called Mickey, although to my knowledge none were acquired in return for flammable liquids on a first date. Victoria Park will be lovely at the moment because Glastonbury’s on and the current locals will be at that instead of talking about Jeremy Corbyn, artisan bacon and cats in Hackney, although such is the overall niceness of the place it’s pretty pleasant even when they are. ‘Anton’ was unable to assist with oven building on account of being away in Leeds rewiring a basement (‘Who rewires a basement unless they’re planning to prison someone up? It’s well Austrian, I swear bruv’***), but has done a fantastic job threading hundreds of small lanterns among the fencing and trees around the edge of the Fallow Field, and presumably connecting them to a car battery or something. Regardless, it looks fantastic.
Fortunately, the solution to the oven issue was provided by Becka, who wandered into view as I all but shoulder charged Sevastopol from the Fallow Field, looking refreshed after twenty minutes in the Screaming Car. I am writing this on Wednesday 21st June, the summer solstice. In case you are unfamiliar, the summer solstice is a special little holiday for insufferable people, which involves staying up late and listening to Elbow, and could well have been invented by the parents of people who are usually in Victoria Park. As it turns out, it can also be an excuse to get Becka’s Forest School kids to build the pizza ovens under her guidance, in order to celebrate the midsummer union of nature’s bounty and all that and, as an encore, stock the freezers in the outbuilding next to the clearing where the school groups eat with wholesome organic things to cheer up the finished pizzas when they arrive. I am pleased to report that curious glamping children joined in to great effect, first in ones and twos and then in convoy, bringing onions and such from the German Field allotments in little wheelbarrows, while Archie and Lucy rocketed hither and yon to the delight of all.
It was, in truth, a lovely scene to behold. It’s not that the glamping children and Forest School kids are kept apart on purpose, but rather that the Board of Trustees consider them two different sets of customers best kept separate. This makes the Board sound harsh and stern, when they are in fact neither – just a bit, I don’t know, disconnected. We have pointed out that unless things change and Runton starts earning its keep the place will crumble away, but they take this to mean we’re threatening to build a commercial airport in the estate grounds, or a Norfolk World theme park, the main attraction of which would doubtless consist of driving slowly in circles behind a tractor for seventeen miles. Anyway. Keeping the pre-adolescent tribes apart seems contrary to the atmosphere of Runton, one of the few places where fat kids from places like Blackburn – the Forest Schoolers – can meet their loud and opinionated counterparts from gentrified areas of London and the Home Counties, and in the spirit of new found kinship, undertake strenuous physical activity for free on behalf of Joe, ‘Anton’, Becka and I.
*I insist upon cutting edge phoneware, even though there is next to no wifi around most of the estate. It is one of my few remaining links with the developed world.
**NB this is untrue.
***I assume this is a reference to the Josef Fritzl case.
Not entirely for free, as it turns out. There was no way we were going to fire up the ovens and cook stuff, so we called Pizza Hut in Norwich and arranged for £150’s worth of stuff to be sent to the phone box on the B1110 marking the furthest point they were prepared to deliver, and where ‘Anton’ was waiting to drive it to the hungry workers. I had gone home by the time they finished eating, but I should imagine that the onslaught of artificial colours and flavouring chilled the Forest School Kids out no end, while the glamping children yelling deliriously for several hours. Adapt or die, middle class people! Anyway, what is the countryside if not a vast green salad, and I’m sure they were glad of the change.
Photards: top – Be warned – if someone from the country says they’ll ‘Meet you at the White Horse’, they don’t necessarily mean a pub.
Top inset – transporting eating paraphernalia from one field to another.
Lower inset – Joe burning incriminating evidence of some kind.