When to kick up a stink

Country Life Every Week - - My Week - Kit Hes­keth-har­vey

THERE has never been a bet­ter time to be a coun­try­man. I’ve been banged up un­der house ar­rest for 10 days in Nor­folk— I can’t elab­o­rate, but it’s a char­ity TV re­al­ity show—for­bid­den to leave even the gar­den in case a chop­per pitches up. As a re­sult, I’ve watched far too much telly, re­sent­ing the fact that the ad breaks for all my favourite pro­grammes (ah, Water­colour Challenge!) nag me about funeral plan­ning and self-eject­ing chairs for the geri­atric.

No mat­ter. I’ve been en­joy­ing the bliss­ful scents of the English sum­mer. The air is heady and sour with dope. I’d as­sumed it orig­i­nated from a vil­lage pot-head, but no. It emerges that the sugar fac­tory a cou­ple of miles away has di­ver­si­fied into cannabis. The ef­fects are be­ing felt as far away as Down­ham Mar­ket and the early-warn­ing nu­clear-de­tec­tion sys­tem at Neatishead, which does make one ap­pre­hen­sive about the hand on the red but­ton.

Our MP, Liz Truss, in dud­geon I imag­ine more than usu­ally high, is kick­ing up a stink right back. (She hasn’t tried liv­ing hug­ger-mug­ger with 2Agri­cul­ture’s chicken-feed mill—on these tor­rid days, there is a nau­se­at­ing stench.) How­ever, it turns out that the peo­ple in these glass houses are not stoned. They are grow­ing weed, they protest, for medic­i­nal pur­poses only. Hav­ing watched close friends suf­fer­ing and dy­ing of MS, I ap­plaud their en­deav­ours.

There has also never been a bet­ter time not to be a Lon­doner. The cap­i­tal feels bat­tered by the whirl­winds it has been reap­ing. On trips to sing in the draw­ing rooms and cabaret clubs of Chelsea, I drive past that un­miss­able black fin­ger of re­proach, that buries, along with ev­ery­thing else, Thatcher’s old lie that there is no such thing as so­ci­ety. The na­tional hand-wring­ing, the waves of emo­tion, like those af­ter Diana’s death, are be­cause we know in our col­lec­tive psy­che that we are all guilty.

Singing in the Royal Bor­ough feels blas­phe­mous and, rather than a minute’s si­lence, we are be­gin­ning con­certs with Noël Coward’s great an­them London Pride, which hon­ours the ghosts be­side the star­lit Thames, who lived and loved and died. He wrote it in a bombed rail­way sta­tion in 1941, as scores of tow­ers burned across London: ‘Ev­ery blitz your re­sis­tance tough­en­ing.’

Coward’s great ge­nius was to con­nect with his pub­lic at ev­ery level, from The Ritz to the An­chor and Crown. Lately, self-in­ter­est, greed and ghetto-mak­ing have sev­ered those con­nec­tions: The Ritz has ig­nored the An­chor and Crown.

Per­haps this is less so in the coun­try­side. We—in many ways an ig­nored un­der­class, too—are more co-de­pen­dent and take more care of each other. There’s less cru­elty, less con­tempt, be­cause we have to con­nect. In the burst­ing nat­u­ral glo­ries of Nor­folk in July, our at­ten­tion is di­rected to a hope­ful future.

Per­haps some of the Gren­fell fam­i­lies, for now un­der­stand­ably des­per­ate to re­main in their lo­cal­i­ties, might con­sider re­build­ing their wrecked lives here, away from the dark tower’s shadow.

No, there’s never been a bet­ter time to be a coun­try­man. My long se­ques­tra­tion ended with the party given by The Prince of Wales to cel­e­brate this mag­a­zine’s 120th birth­day. High­grove, in belt­ing heat, looked sim­ply beau­ti­ful. Once, the house stood soli­tary and aloof: now, it, too, feels con­nected to the Glouces­ter­shire farm­land in which it mod­estly stands.

It feels con­nected to its av­enues of new trees and bound by the care­ful philoso­phies that cre­ated it. The gar­den rooms, each one bear­ing the stamp of its cre­ator—rose­mary Verey, Lady Sal­is­bury, Miriam Roth­schild, the Ban­ner­mans—are in­ter­linked.

High­grove’s owner has in­fused it with his own char­ac­ter just as iden­ti­fi­ably: con­sid­er­ate of other peo­ples and of other re­li­gions, play­ful in the kooky stat­u­ary, gen­tle in the re­spect­ful pro­duc­tion of food. A sense of in­clu­sion binds this lit­tle Utopia, an aware­ness of oth­ers, from the lowli­est gardener to the heir to the throne.

And—i don’t care that I’m risk­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of be­ing oleagi­nous—we re­ally do have to be grate­ful that The Prince, un­like some other res­i­dents of Kens­ing­ton, sees the whole pic­ture, from The Ritz to the An­chor and Crown. That’s his job. He con­nects.

Nev­er­the­less, re­call­ing those Inuit throat-singers grunt­ing with sug­ges­tive earnest­ness on his re­cent trip to Canada, we gig­gled so help­lessly that I could not help won­der­ing whether per­haps High­grove, too, lies in the lee of a cannabis fac­tory.

‘There’s less cru­elty, less con­tempt in the coun­try­side, be­cause we have to con­nect

Kit Hes­keth-har­vey is a So­ci­ety cabaret en­ter­tainer, lyri­cist, opera trans­la­tor and reg­u­lar broad­caster for the BBC. He lives in Nor­folk

Next week Ja­son Good­win

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