It is early on a November morning, and the Runton Estate lies sullen under silver mist. In the East Field, Archibald al-Fantastique is thrashing through the soaking grass in pursuit of mice. They turn too sharply and accelerate too quickly to be in danger of anything other than inconvenience but, elsewhere, other wildlife is less fortunate. I first heard gunfire as a schoolboy outside the Bedford Park Hotel in Streatham, where it made sense. Here, it drifts from German Field where Graham is shooting at something that, given the poor visibility, is either very large, or that he is very close to. For a moment, it occurs to me that he might be shooting himself, and I mention this to ‘Anton’, who emerges from the wet air pushing a surveyor’s wheel with which he has been measuring the East Field, now sporting a smart perimeter fence installed by Joe. By this time, Graham has fired twenty or thirty shots, and if this is indeed a suicide attempt he will be in quite a state. ‘Anton’ points out that Graham is a professional marksman and ‘would be able to Cobain himself straight off’. He is right. Archie’s head appears above the grass. Seconds later he cannonballs after us with what I estimate to be seventeen feet of tongue flapping delightedly behind him, and we leave the field. In violation of the Countryside Code, which states that you should always leave gates open to let the air circulate, I shut this one behind us and we wander off to Joe and Becka’s yurt for tea and toast with their numerous children. It is not yet dawn. I don’t know why we are up so early. God I hate the countryside.
We needed to measure the East Field to see how many Bellwether glamping tents we can fit into it next spring. About thirty, as it goes, raising our overall capacity to eighty, potentially housing four hundred glampers at a time. That amount of middle class people could have as many as three thousand food intolerences and gender issues between them, as well as having to deal with the Hampstead Holocaust – Brexit – so they need a lot of managing. That said, since ‘Anton’ and I commandeered the Runton glamping operation, I have become fond of them, and miss their silly white nonsense tremendously. Feeding them is tricky though, and this is main reason I want to promote self-sufficient glamping. Truthfully, it’s the only option that can be made to work, practically speaking, as I have stated in the Smith Plan for Runton, due to go before the Trustees in March. As you may recall, getting glampers to hunt their own rabbits with Graham’s dogs was briefly considered but rejected as insane; however, their gender-neutral children could pick veg from German Field, under Becka’s supervision. There is nowhere near enough veg for everyone, obviously, but we can always nip in in the middle of the night and plant more from Morrissons. Splendid.
Another feeding alternative is letting them do summer roasts in the pizza ovens, even though summer roasts are a bit suspect. For a start, they are based upon cous cous, which I refuse to eat, along with pesto, kale, quinoa or anything else from Morrisson’s ‘Food for Wankers’ aisle. This may well be its own form of food intolerance, but I’m just not eating it and there it is. Until recently, avocado was on this list, but after trying it inadvertently I have grown rather partial, and after all there is guacamole to consider. My cousin Helen and I were reminiscing recently about a far-off family gathering where avocado was served as a starter for the adults, probably with chips and Carling Black Label. I think the rest of us had Chewits. This was followed by a forgotten main course and a real coconut smashed open with a hatchet in the back garden by Uncle Roy for pudding, and with which I was disappointed. How and why this was considered fun is entirely beyond me, but we both swear that it was all to celebrate that evening’s screening of the Incredible Hulk, starring Lou Ferrigno. Yes, it seems bizarre to me too, but we both independently recalled it, so it I can’t just be some story from the Blitz that we’ve mis-remembered as happening to ourselves. Whatever the occasion, it was clearly a fancy evening, and I shall ask Helen, who took to weightlifting and is now officially the strongest woman in Colchester*, for further info the next time I see her.
Anyway. The issue of feeding the glampers was discussed among a veritable tea-and-toast-athon prepared with various degrees of expertise by Joe and Becka’s numerous children in their cosy Iron Age house. At least three had Marmite, presumably as a punishment for poor behaviour. After a while Graham and his eldest daughter, who recently celebrated her seventh birthday, joined the cheery rural scene. When questioned, he announced that he had been ‘generally shooting things’ earlier, as his daughter cast aside an endearing pair of child’s binoculars made in the traditional playgroup manner by Sellotaping two old toilet rolls together, describing them as ‘fucking useless’. I alone refusing tea and toast, and instead had Nescafe Gold Blend from my flask and a bowl of double cream with peanut butter in it, because I am on a low carb diet and toast might make me fat. Thus fortified, we awaited the onset of winter.
*this is a genuine fact. She’s holding up the sky above Essex.
Main: Archibald al-Fantastique on a midsummer beach at dawn, north Norfolk coast.
Inset top: The bike I cycled through the Confederacy on. It’s a 2001 Specialised Hardrock A1 Comp, a widely-available mid-range mountain bike, and it did a fine job. Note Alabama sticker, purchased from a petrol station in Childersburg, after riding for two horrifying days through Talladega National Park. A tradition was born with this – all my subsequent bikes have incorporated a reference to one or other of the states I unwisely traversed.
Inset middle: Leadenhall Market, London EC1. I always enjoyed trading here on a Friday afternoon. It was a short, easy day – arrive around ten and be away by three – and made a nice change of pace from Camden or Greenwich.
Inset lower: tiny Stonehenge build by prehistoric midgets, Runton Hall estate.