Sunday 20 January 2008

Very encouraging for the troops

15st 0lb; zero alcohol; 1,476; Viking.

I’m at my desk from 7.30 this morning, writing drivel. Not too long after I complete my first joke, the house starts being shaken by the crump of heavy artillery on the Otterburn ranges, more than ten miles away. This goes on all day. For some reason the most disturbing sound is the periodic rat-tat-tat of what must be an exceptionally heavy machine gun, given the distances involved, unless one of my neighbours has run spectacularly amok and started massacring his sheep.

I once had lunch on a train to London with a small, rubicund, heavy drinking Bloke who divided his time between growing a ginger moustache and making training films for the Ministry of Defence. He’d just been to Otterburn, so I asked him to satisfy my long-standing curiosity about what happened to all the sheep on the range when the military embarked on one of their periodic barrages or bombing runs.

“We ring the tenant farmers in advance and give them the opportunity to move their sheep,” he said, between glugs of claret. “But of course the idle bastards can never be bothered.”

“So you just shell the sheep?”

“Exactly. Very encouraging for the troops, it is.”

I awaited some fine military black humour, likely to affect my enjoyment of the remainder of my lunch, but it turned out that he was absolutely serious.

“You see, we can blast the hell out of a hillside covered with sheep all afternoon, but we hardly ever hit one of the bloody things. Makes the chaps much more sanguine about their own prospects under artillery fire.”

I suppose it would.

Nothing much else happened today apart from sawing down a wind-damaged tree, chopping up some logs and taking the dog for a walk. After a day like that, there is nothing I like more than settling down to watch a lovely costume drama. Unfortunately the only one on offer is Lark Rise to Candleford, a book I remember much enjoying 35 years ago. Only I don’t remember it being quite so dull. And what genius in the BBC thought it would be a good idea to cast Dawn French, a woman built like a whole brick lavatory block, as a Victorian housewife who struggles to put enough food on the table? She can’t act, she’s not funny – but she is, for reasons I find completely unfathomable, a national treasure. They might as well have cast Coco the Clown as Othello. Though thinking of Shakespeare makes me realize that there would be one role in which I would find Dawn French hilarious: Cordelia in King Lear. Though only after she had died. I’d split my sides watching some poor bastard trying to carry her onto the stage.

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