I HAVE an American friend who had been contemplating coming
to Europe this Summer and has been made anxious by the publicity to do with hoof
and mouth disease and I thought it might be helpful for anyone else in this situation
to see the email I have sent her.
It goes on about familiar
things, like how's the star-kissed daughter in Los Angeles and the price of a
cup of Starbucks in Massachusetts, and then I said:
is all still here, you know. I know because I live here. Apart from the signs
there are no signs anything is lurking in the undergrowth, or wherever the disease
sleeps at night. There are signs saying "Footpath Open" where I didn't
know there was a footpath.
There's no danger to human life.
That means you and I cannot catch anything. Perhaps, if you are a New Labour supporter
(though surely it cannot be "New" four years later) you are obliged
to say this because there is an election on.
whole country is rotting under piles of diseased animals being burned in pyres
like something out of a Biblical nightmare and maybe the water's not fit to drink
because the toxins in the animals that were not burned but simply buried could
be affecting the something-or-other table.
Well, I sat
in a little café yesterday with the sun playing outside and had a brace
of lamb chops with a great big pile of fat chips fried in dripping (none of your
nancy-boy olive oil here) and a dribbling pot of tea, and afterwards I strolled
with my elderly mother across the old market square in the village of Hartington
in Derbyshire where they've been making Stilton cheese for a hundred years with
milk from the cows all around the place and they were still doing it and there
was not an American tourist in sight because they've been frightened away.
are lots of rose-rimmed cottages and beamed bedrooms in 16th century stone houses
and they're all to rent. The Post Office, with Victorian pillar box, has closed
because there's no-one wishing to send "Wish You Were Here" cards and
Ye Olde Cheese Shoppe isn't doing much trade in Stilton and Double Gloucester
and Wensleydale with Apricots. The English are also missing, preferring the Sanctuary
We drove a further twenty miles from Buxton
through the High Peak National Park, with manicured farms and caravan sites (they
were busy, parked two feet from one another) past pubs with names like "T'
Bull I' T'owd Shed" offering "Good Home Cooked Food" - as though
they'd advertise bad, factory-made slop - and came to a small, cobbled town called
Ashbourne where a band from Ecuador was playing in the little space outside the
ECUADOR? One of them was blowing into some hollow
wooden pipes and producing a melody that has haunted me ever since. Apparently
they were there because one of them lives in an old stone house nearby and her
friends were visiting before a local folk festival soon.
men with washed-out tattoos jammed onto a bench clutching pints of warm beer and
it never even struck me that I could have had a drink, too.
bought gingerbread biscuits from the sixth generation of one family in the village
baker's and two "savoury ducks" - a concoction of minced pig's heart
and liver effused with sage - from the white-smocked butcher with a jolly, red
face looking the way all butchers should look.
you not wish to be in an England that welcomed a folk troupe from Ecuador and
offered gingerbread and savoury ducks to take home?
you want to support the British National Party, ask yourself where you think the
ginger came from all those generations ago
on double yellow lines by the open-air market (Mum doesn't walk so well nowadays
and they don't sell leg pills at the apothecary any more) because I didn't believe
there would be traffic wardens in Ashbourne and I was right.
Mum reminisced how she had last been here decades ago when my sister was going
through a bit of a crisis and they had found solace in a little bit of England
where nothing much changed except the price of gingerbread.
are still gardens cascading with pretty flowers and amiable cows at the side of
the road munching contentedly in fields with buttercups and daisies spread like
People were happy to show us where the gingerbread
shop still stood (it's a smart café now, too) after all the years my Mum
remembered and no doubt they were the same people she remembered from decades
And that's nothing. No doubt in their hearts they were
the same people from hundreds of years ago.
for not being funny this week, but I feel a bit like John Major, a former Conservative
Prime Minister of ours, who was laughed at years ago for saying there would always
be an England where vestal virgins pedalled on their bicycles past the village
duck pond in the dawn mist of a Sunday morning for Communion at the village church.
is a duck pond in Hartington and I swear a woman of a certain age winked at me
as she cycled by