Last Sunday evening, weary from digging, I staggered in to wash and eat, and then, cup of tea in hand, slumped down in my kitchen chair by the Rayburn to listen to the radio. The clocks had gone forward and it was just after nine.
I enjoy digging. Since early childhood I have been fascinated by trenches, tunnels, gutters, dams and watercourses. My place on a Derbyshire hillside is a dream for anyone so inclined. Named ‘The Spout’ after the constant spring that supplies the water, the property is crisscrossed by underground streams. Wherever I dig, I seem to come upon another old land drain, and, just at present, new springs keep appearing in unexpected places. Whether this has been caused by the wet winter or (as is rumoured around here) by the collapse far below the ground of a sough draining an old lead mine on the other side of the hill, the result is that to prevent my land becoming a marsh has recently required a minor feat of civil engineering. At local builders’ merchants I have become a familiar sight, with my latest order for perforated land drains, limestone chippings and new pickaxe handles. I awake of a morning, see the sun streaming through the window, and my heart lifts as I remember the new trench I plan to dig today and the flag irises I shall plant. I have always been like that.
But this Sunday there was something added. In the face of the uncertainties of life, David Hume thought one had best play billiards. Voltaire suggested we should cultivate our garden. I am with Voltaire. Every news bulletin was shouting at me about war. Bombs, I knew, were raining down on Baghdad. One military correspondent had sent a tape-recording of people screaming in terror. Politicians kept getting up on their hind legs and ranting about liberation (‘They bark of freedom,/Oh I hate the sound