With the sun dawdling across the huge East Anglian sky, the Restored Barn is a busy place in high summer. The mornings find Becka’s Forest School kids measuring stuff and noting things amid the waft of creosote and mown grass, referred to by the names they are encouraged to adopt for the duration of their stay on the Runton Estate. Glamper children, who occasionally wander in, having mistaken the dock leaves there for kale, call themselves things like Sparkle Swan or Blue Fairy Horse. The Forest School kids tend towards Terror Attack and Kim Il Jung. My favourite, however, was a lad from Sheffield who insisted upon being called Alan because it was his granddad’s name and he thought it was cool. The glampers and Forest School kids are not the only groups at Runton, of course. There are the conspiracy theorists to consider.
I organise more buffet lunches for conspiracy theorists than most people. In fact, if you want to hear about how the Queen is a lizard, or how the ice caps are the borders of a flat earth, or how false memories are generated by wandering in and out of alternative timelines because silly old physics is falling apart, Runton’s your destination and I’m in charge of your quiche. This level of catering merely entails hefting a trestle table into Restored Barn and putting trays of stuff on it. I don’t make the sandwiches but I do introduce them by saying ‘These sandwiches are cheese and pickle – or are they?’ and all that, to get a conspiracy feel going. The Forest School kids, marshalled by Becka, spend the afternoons restoring the Victorian greenhouse or playing Manhunt in the substantial woodland to the south of the estate, on the other side of the fucking petting zoo. The conspiracy theorists pretty much take care of themselves, and if they ever got tired of talking about conspiracy theories, we could organise them into five a side football teams and place bets on them instead. This is all well and good, but it does raise the question of what the adult glampers, the most prominent Runton group, actually do all day.
Runton is an isolated place, and there is only so much time middle class people can spend trying to conceive gay children. Accordingly, most glampers do nothing, except popping into the village six miles away to stock up on wine, avocados and books by Richard Dawkins, who became a multi-millionaire at the turn of the century when he found a way to turn Guardian readers into cash. Since ‘Anton’ and I took over the Runton glamping operation, they are no longer a bunch of beta males and unhappy modern white girls who expect everyone to listen to their shouty nonsense like we’re all in a Star Wars film or something. Even if they were, though, we would still need a middle class. Having a middle class is proof that your society has evolved, and it would be the worst kind of medieval nightmare without one. At heart, middle class people are the just like everyone else, and in many cases, much prettier. I prevented Graham’s children selling retreaded tyres to an Emily/Laura the other day, and once she’d cleared up the Glastonbury-esque litter around her tent she told me all about her shop in, probably, Sussex. I should imagine it had something to do with baking. Anyway, she was spending afternoons at Runton drawing a side line of greetings cards for sale in whatever her shop was about. Yes, they featured Rey from the Force Awakens rather too heavily and there were a lot of cats, but they were otherwise perfectly nice. It’s important to look beyond appearances; I accept that middle class people are physically weak, easily led, ruin everything and go on about things all the time, but they are paying an awful lot of tax – and I, for one, am glad that somebody is.
While watching Archie and a ratter of Graham’s called Lucy put each other through their paces in the Fallow Field last Monday, ‘Anton’ and I discussed how the glampers might be given useful things to do for the advancement of the estate in general. As we did so, I remembered something at Spitalfields years ago, whereby some bloke – the ex-drummer from Transvision Vamp, as it turned out – charged people to go berserk with a sledgehammer at a load of old desk top computers he’d bought from bankrupt businesses nearby. People loved it, for much the same reason that Becka loves the Screaming Car. It occurred to me that the glampers could do the same sort of thing in the dilapidated out-buildings around the Runton estate, as these are too small to be turned into accommodation and too expensive to restore. With Archie and Lucy tearing around after each other at impressive speed – Lucy is nippier in the turn, but Archie makes up ground on the straight – we calculated that if you fired up a couple of Bens or Joshes by telling them that clean eating is anorexia for wankers, or that bacon makes tattoos fall off, handed them a sledgehammer and aimed them at a derelict nineteenth century store house, it would be a pile of sand in eight minutes. If this energy of this kind could be stored, perhaps by way of a battery attached to pedals in a craft microbrewery where a conversation about the European Union is taking place, it could provide endless sustainable fuel. The world may die from many things, but if we can harness impotent middle class anger we will have taken the first step in making the ice caps safe, and if you believe in a flat earth, this will enable them to continue preventing the oceans from sloshing off into outer space. Phew.
Main: the Drive at Runton, leading from the Big House (ie the Hall itself) to, eventually, the rest of the world.
Inset top: large outbuilding of some kind converted for use as accomodation for the Forest School kids.
Inset middle: partially collapsed barn which now houses the Screaming Car.
Inset lower: glampers. Not Runton glampers, but you get the idea.
*Archie is a saluki, bred to run long distances in a straight line across sand. When operating in a European environment, it is wise to exercise the abdominal oblique and latissimi dorsi muscle groups of a saluki, as they can become strained in close pursuit of smaller game, such as the forty million rabbits that live on the Runton Estate. Belting around like a hairy whirlwind after Lucy strengthens his chassis nicely, and is hilarious.
Even though I keep him in tip top physical condition as if he were a working dog, it is unlikely that Archie will ever go rabbiting. This is because in a traditional setting saluki chase Thompson’s gazelle until the luckless ruminant collapses with exhaustion, then wait for a Persian on a horse to pop along and break its neck. I’m not sure what he would make of an ailing rabbit. That said, I’d never rule anything out – this is the countryside, it’s a bloodbath, and sooner or later we’re bound to have to kill something.