I watched the Great British Bake Off for the first time this week, in an uninsurable building at Runton Hall with Joe. If you are unfamiliar, Bake Off is a weekly romp through Great British Middle Class-ness: the men are gay, the black people are white, and worrying about pastry is acceptable on a starving planet. That said, it’s possible to be too harsh, and once I established that Paul Hollywood wasn’t the Scouse fraud from Most Haunted, I rather enjoyed it. The uninsurable building was Keeper’s Cottage, notable for blue flames shooting from plug sockets, but otherwise safe, warm and dry, and used as a stop-over by ‘Anton’ and/or myself on the frequent occasions when we are unable to get home. Over the winter, ‘Anton’ will put everyone’s mind at rest by having ‘a bash at’ the wiring, so it can become the centrepiece of my 2018 ‘Get Married At Runton Hall Or Your Love Is A Sham’ campaign, which may need to be re-worded. It would be a lovely place to celebrate a matrimonial union, and if the bride and groom could do so without dying in an electrical fire, then so much the better as far as I’m concerned.
Anyway. Jollied up on snakebite*, we watched as the various contestants drizzled this, dusted that and caramalised the other and, taking care not to elbow naked flames into flammable upholstery (it is too dangerous to turn the lights on in Keeper’s Cottage), discussed how a Great Runton Bake Off might work. Quite easily, actually, and it would give the glampers something to do. Glampers are among the most middle class people in the world and it is, I argued, hard to see how a Great Runton Bake Off could be anything other than a success. Joe, who would need to get the idea past the Board of Trustees, raised certain questions of practicality. My response – that acquiring several ovens, finding somewhere to keep them (assuming they could be powered in the first place), then providing ingredients, refrigeration, preparation areas and so forth were ‘the sort of problems that solve themselves’ – was impassioned but failed to convince him. By way of a sulk, I listed everything wrong with the countryside, including Wuthering Heights (both the novel and the song), the poetry of Wordsworth, trees (‘which are shit’), country pubs (‘full of wankers and scampi’) and ‘every cunt on Spring Watch’, only stopping because a) I had elbowed a naked flame onto flammable upholstery and b) Joe had had an idea.
We scampered to the kitchen, guided by the burning cushion which Joe then held under a tap in the sink until the tiny blaze was extinguished. As I wept into a postcard of Waterloo Bridge*, he explained that what the countryside did have was wildlife. By combining the Great British Bake Off with Spring Watch (another staple of middle class television whereby children called Milo and Elspeth make charts about mammals), he pointed out that Runton offered a rare opportunity to hunt your own dinner. Yes, it would consist of rabbit and the hunting would consist of standing in a field while Graham’s dogs did the tricky bit, but he could show participants how to gut and skin the main course, with squeamish guests picking vegetables from German Field. The ensemble could be turned into a hearty stew, prepared over camping stoves and called Small Game Hunting or something. In order to add a dramatic edge to my contemplation, I opened a window and stared out into the flat blackness of a rural East Anglian night, the smell of wet earth balancing the more insistent aroma of freshly scorched cushion. The moment was lost when Joe, as is his habit when drunk, suddenly capered off into the gloom, shouting and singing about how much he loves his numerous children before throwing a quantity of garden furniture into the petting zoo in an exuberant celebration of fatherhood and retiring to bed with a doubtless thoroughly charmed Becka. It was too cold to contemplate things dramatically by an open window if no one was there to see, so I closed it again and fell asleep in front of the football.
Like socialism, Small Game Hunting is an idea that works best on paper or, as in the case of Joe and I at Keeper’s Cottage, when drunk. Also like socialism, I am not sure a demographic that once voted for a polar research vessel to be called Boaty McBoatface is prepared for the realities of what it would actually entail, and if nothing else I can’t believe we’ll get our Lottery grant with traumatised Guardian readers all over the place. The next morning, as I helped a sheepish Joe retrieve a deckchair from the vicinity of a Shetland pony, we decided to shelve the idea. Most of the culled rabbits would just end up being sold to a local butcher or fed to Graham’s dogs because too many of the glampers are vegan, and this is what happens now anyway. Joe stumped off to make Becka a large breakfast, informing me that there are now four vegan Members of Parliament. As I cycled to the train station, I found myself thinking that it probably seems like quite a lot more than that because they won’t be able to stop going on about it, but still.
*My cocktail of choice – Fosters and Strongbow blended in a pint glass. The Latin name is Poor Man’s Black Velvet, but this is considered insensitive. Serve with crisps in a bowl for that extra flourish, or to impress during a first date or job interview.
*This did not happen.
Main: New trees waiting to be dressed and planted.
Top inset: Some kind of overgrown building at Runton, considerably newer than most. Basically a spider factory at this time of year, and best avoided if you don’t like that sort of thing.
Middle inset: The Great British Bake Off team.
Lower inset: My saluki, Archibald al-Fantastique. He can sprint at 40 mph, then forget why he’s doing it.