Wednesday evening and I had a phone call from Nimrod saying that the stone and saplings I had asked him to order was now on site and could I please pull my finger out and get on with the Foxton’s badger protection programme as soon as possible as the Foxtons were starting to give him a real ear bashing about the situation. He also reminded me that we would soon be at the end of January and so far nothing had been done. I explained the situation to Jackie who was very understanding about the whole thing and so 6am yesterday, Saturday morning I was trundling along in the dark on my way to the Foxton’s Estate.
After about 25 minutes I arrived at the site to find three lorry loads of walling stone that had been delivered just sitting there waiting to be turned into a wall. I got out of the Land Rover in amongst dreary, murky, drizzling rain. Mud six inches deep under foot. No wind to speak of and the sun had not yet risen. All in all, a pretty uninviting prospect. If only it had been a good frost.
I struck up the little Captain Scott’s stove, put the kettle on top of it, put a teabag in a Christmas Mickey Mouse mug and surveyed the location while waiting for that glorious, heart-warming whistle of the kettle.
As I walked to the side of the woodland I could see the bundles of Hawthorn and Blackthorn saplings which Nimrod had ordered along with the stone. I walked back from the wood over to where the proposed wall was to be built and where the footings to the wall had already been dug by Nimrod. Now I could see the size of the protected wall and planting area. Three loads of stone was going to be nowhere near enough. The kettle whistled and I made my mug of tea. Everything always seems to be a lot more enlightening and doable with a mug of tea in your hand. I finished my tea and went to the back of the Land Rover where Mitch and Shep were. They both reluctantly jumped out. They didn’t like this weather either. I got the stock axe and spade, a bundle of saplings and went over to the small section of stone wall in front of the Foxton badger sett and started to dig the holes and plant the young trees. I planted them in a zig zag fashion away from the wall out towards the opposite bank and out towards the track Nimrod had ploughed up late last year to counter a badger baiting attack. As I planted them, the thought of this new plantation in five or six years’ time created a vision of impregnability. For those of you who know about hawthorn and blackthorn barrier planting, if planted thick enough, a great habitat for all wildlife but almost impossible to get through by human endeavour.
I had missed the coming up of the sun due to the industriousness of the work and looking up into a very dreary, drizzly sky I could see that it was approaching 12 noon. The dogs ears pricked up and they both looked up the track in the direction of the Foxton’s house.
“Someone is coming,” I thought and within a couple of minutes Nimrod’s Land Rover appeared. On stopping the Land Rover I saw he had a passenger, as it turned out, he had two passengers. It was my old friends, Conrad and Teddy. They all sprang out of the Land Rover and I couldn’t help but notice how surprisingly dapper they all looked. “Hardly tree planting attire.” I shouted over.
“That’s because we are not tree planting,” they all sniggered pushing Mitch and Shep away from their moleskin shins. As Conrad and Teddy fussed the dogs at arms-length, trying to keep their pristine look, Nimrod wandered over, “Where’s the rest of the work force?”
“I’m on my own Nimrod.”
“Crikey, you must have planted going on two hundred trees here.”
“Yes, I have been at it since half six this morning, but it will be a bit easier now you three are here, I’ve got a spare shovel.”
“As much as I’d love to Al, we three are just going along to Boston’s Micro-brewery. They have just brought out three new ales which we have been invited along to sample.”
“Lovely,” I remarked.
“Do you want to come with us to try them?” They all had that look in their eye that was so irresistible, because through all the years I have known them, a look like that after an invitation like that was generally a good time in the offing. I downed the tools quicker than I had picked them up. Conrad and Teddy were already sat in the Land Rover.
“You’d better get in the back with the dogs Al, dressed in that state,” and soon we were all off bouncing along in Nimrod’s Land Rover to visit Boston’s Micro-brewery.
On arriving on the gravel drive of the brewery, Nimrod wasted no time in letting me out the back. We were greeted by Anne and Ben Boston the proprietors of the brewery. We followed them round to the barn which was about 50 meters from their house. The barn housed two big silver vats, a lot of stainless steel pipe and stacked up at the far end of the barn looked like a couple of hundred casks of ale. Also in the barn was a large, very old oak table. On the table were the three flagons of ale we were here to sample. Whether it was the smell of the ale or the planting of all those saplings, but I was absolutely starving. I went and sat down at the table where there were two chairs only and I was determined to have one. Ben handed us all a glass each and Anne followed him round with the flagon releasing some of the new brew into each glass. Nimrod, Conrad and Teddy all took a considerable slurp from their glasses. I looked at their faces, to me they didn’t seem to overly enjoy that one, so I sipped mine and the taste was rather disappointing.
“What do you think Allan?” asked Anne.
“Poor.” Nimrod, Conrad and Teddy glared round at me. Ben then asked the other three what they thought.
“Not too bad,” was their reply rather tactfully.
“What this needs Anne, is a loaf of bread and a lump of cheese.” The dogs sat there. On the mention of cheese they both licked their chops, for there were no dogs in the Cotswolds that were more partial to cheese than Mitch and Shep. Ben and Anne then went off to get the requested victuals. No sooner had they left the barn, Nimrod, Conrad and Teddy all pitched in.
“What do you think you are doing sat there like Wurzle Gummage? That was just plain rude. Cor, wish we’d never brought you now.” I looked at the three of them standing over me.
“The first ale was rubbish and I am starving and the best you three could do was say, ‘ooh not too bad,’ they want honest opinions, that’s what we’re here for.”
“Yeah, but they didn’t invite you,” snapped Teddy. Anne and Ben duly appeared with a French stick a yard long and with 2lb of cheese wrapped in brown paper. They placed the appetizing food on the table. I immediately started to free the cheese from the brown paper. A beautiful lump of cheese. You could see it had just been cut from a large round. I broke off a foot of the French stick, took a large bite and immediately started to feel satisfied.
“Shall we try the second ale?” I asked cutting myself another lump of cheese.
“What was the first ale called?” asked Nimrod.
Ben replied, “We won’t say now, we will wait until the end so you are not influenced by the naming. Anne duly poured the second ale from the second flagon. This time I was as keen to try it as the other three, mainly because the bread was starting to dry me out a bit.
“Oh dear,” I said after taking a large gulp. Ben and Anne looked me straight in the eye.
“What did you think of that one?” asked Ben looking quite worried.
“That one was as bad as the first.” I replied, wiping my mouth with the napkin they had supplied. Their deflated faces made me feel quite bad and the looks I was getting from Nimrod, Conrad and Teddy made me feel even worse, but true opinion is something of value. Slanted opinion is worthless. Ben and Anne didn’t even bother asking the others what they thought.
“Right,” said Ben, “Try the third one and tell us what you think.” Anne brought over the third flagon and filled only my glass. Nimrod, Conrad and Teddy stood there, their glasses empty, staring at me in bewilderment. Ben and Anne watched me with bated breath as I tried their third and final ale. I picked up the glass. The bread and cheese had made me dry. The finest mouthful of ale was that of years ago after a long hard working day on the summer hay making or harvesting and I was as equally dry now as I had been then. In need of nature’s tonic of barley and hops. The taste was instantly refreshing, it passed straight down, over my taste buds with a mellowness of divine quenchment and now the glass was empty. They all looked down at me and the two dogs looked up at me. I looked at the flagon that Anne was holding.
“To get a real true judgement of this one, the flagon you hold doesn’t hold enough to do it justice. Let’s tap a barrel.” A cheer went up in the barn, Mitch and Shep stood up with their tails wagging. Nimrod went over with Ben to get a casket. Up on the table they put it. Ben stuck a tap into it and all glasses were filled. As we drank the delicious brew, Ben and Anne asked us all to guess the strength of this concoction. Nimrod, Conrad and Teddy all seemed to think it was 4.5 to 5 per cent. The drink that I had just experienced had immediately taken me back to my youth, when ales reigned supreme before all the new stronger lagers had flooded the markets. Most ales in those days were no stronger than 3 per cent and that is why, in my humble opinion, there was never the disturbances around drinking in those days compared with what you see today.
“I reckon, it is about 3 per cent.” Anne and Ben immediately started to pat me on the back.
“You’re right,” said Anne. Nimrod took it upon himself to re-charge all the glasses.
We sat around the table congratulating Ben and Anne on how good their ale was, reminiscing about old times, stories of bygone years, the arm wrestling champion is the same now as it was thirty years ago, Teddy, and the joy of trying to beat him was as much fun for us all now as it was all those years ago. We discussed the rights and wrongs of the badger cull and the politics of the countryside. In amongst all this camaraderie I hadn’t noticed that the dogs had been lapping up the ale that had been leaking from round the tapping of the cask. I don’t know how much they had drank, but I know we had drank a lot. The time now was 4pm and Nimrod, Conrad and Teddy were looking decidedly the worse for wear. I said that we all needed to make a move. I looked over to the dogs and whistled them. They lay there flat out on their sides, underneath the stainless steel piping connecting the vats. I whistled again and again, their heads lifted, they pulled themselves to their feet rather hesitantly, and then Anne said.
“Your dogs are wobbling Allan.” We all averted our gaze over to the dogs, they were very heavy eyed and they were wobbling. To be honest, we were all wobbling. We were in that embarrassing position of not any of us being able to drive. “How are we going to get home?” asked Teddy, “It’s pouring with rain outside.”
“You’ll have to ring Foxton,” said Conrad.
“I can’t do that, he’ll go mad, it’s more that my job’s worth,” retorted Nimrod in a slur.
“Antonio will be alright,” I said, “tell her we’ve been working on her badger sett.” Nimrod made the call and we waited for our lift.
“By the way, what was that third ale called?” I asked.
“Badgers Chin,” was the reply, and we all nodded in approval.
Mitch and Shep, the most loyalist of company and better friends a man has never had.