Have the Surrey busybodies followed us to Cork

‘We’re waiting for the llamas to turn up,’ said the lady selling lottery tickets from her car in the supermarket car park. She had accosted the builder boyfriend as he walked by, shouting: ‘I want a word with you! We’re all very worried about what you’re going to be doing to that old house up there…’ The BB assured her we don’t have the money to do anything. Aside from tidying it up, we have no fancy plans, and we like old houses. As for llamas, yes, she had that right in terms of what most English people would be putting on the land. But we had brought our horses.

The nuance of Kenya

On Remembrance Sunday in Nairobi nearly a decade ago, an ancient Kenyan veteran told Sam Mattock, a British ex-cavalry officer, that he had lost his second world war service medals. Could Sam help replace them? In a culmination of Sam’s personal efforts, King Charles III, on his visit to Kenya with Queen Camilla next week, will present medals to four veterans who fought for the empire in North Africa, Madagascar and Burma. The youngest of them, Kefa Chagira and Ezekiel Anyange, are 99. John Kavai is 101 and the eldest, Samweli Mburia, is 117 and served as a corporal in Burma. One hundred thousand African troops fought the Japanese in

The BB and I are escaping the Soviet States of Surrey at last

‘You’re only allowed one roll of packing tape per customer,’ said the lady in the local hardware store. The builder boyfriend was holding five rolls, at £2 each, thinking it was reasonable to buy a tenner’s worth, or even that she might be pleased, in line with the normal rules of commerce. But this lady and her husband are notorious for not allowing you to buy the precious things of their shop. I had to beg them to sell me six laundry bags a few weeks ago. Now we had gone through all the tape we had bought from the self-storage firm where we got our packing boxes and we

Will I have to forcibly flood my house to sell it?

‘Come on, let’s get a move on with filling in all the forms and we could have this done and dusted in three weeks!’ the estate agent bellowed at me down the phone. ‘Are you perhaps confusing the sale of my house with your Tesco delivery?’ I said. But in spite of myself, I took on board what the agent was saying, and I believed it was possible that in three weeks’ time I would be moving house. Nine weeks later, I wonder why I did that. Perhaps it was because a terrible disorientation seems to descend when one is going through the moving business. The impending upheaval and ever

I am escaping Surrey in the nick of time

As I slapped a rude note on a car parked outside my house, I realised that nature was taking its course. My transformation into a Surreyite was in danger of becoming complete. ‘If you have enjoyed using this private access track, then perhaps you might consider making a donation for its maintenance,’ I had snidely scrawled on a scrap of paper which I tucked under the wipers of the same Nissan crossover that always seems to be plonked there by some dog walker or other who can’t be bothered to drive further along the village green to park in the public car park. Ugh, I thought. I have become something

The problem with posh dog food

Having loaded the last sack of working dog food in Surrey into my car, I slammed the trolley back into the trolley park and shouted an expletive at no one in particular. ‘What have you done to your lovely country store?’ I thought about asking one of the sales assistants inside the newly revamped posh dog food shop that used to be a warehouse for horse feed and pet supplies. But the likelihood was they didn’t care. I am making my exit from a county that has become one big dog park with a cycling track around it Shiny displays with video presentations about the latest craze in frozen ‘fresh’

I just can’t face one more argument with anyone, ever again

The cyclist was on the wrong side of the road coming towards me head-on. It was a winding country lane with blind bends and as I came round one, there was the cyclist, pedalling furiously along the lane on his hard right hand side. I slammed on my brakes, but instead of beeping my horn, I thought: ‘Let it go, I can’t be bothered. I just can’t face one more argument, ever again, with anyone.’ I never seem to get disputes one at a time. Troubles always come to me in multitudes. I fight at least two major battles on behalf of someone else or myself at any given time.

The £15m Surrey mansion where Rudolf Hess was held prisoner

The restoration of any run-down English country mansion is likely to involve extensive re-roofing, re-plumbing and re-wiring. Only one, however, is likely to uncover microphone wires hidden deep within walls by MI6, or involve the polishing of a grand, three-storey oak staircase over which Hitler’s top henchman, dressed in full Nazi regalia, tried to throw himself (failing when he got his leg stuck in the balustrade). Mytchett Place, between Ash Vale and Frimley Green in Surrey, is a sprawling 23,000 sq ft Victorian house that has just hit the sales market for £15 million. In recent years used as commercial premises, it’s in need of complete renovation, but comes with

Don’t bring me sunshine: a week in the Surrey hills

I’m staying for a week in an 1850s house in the Surrey hills that looks-wise might have been built for the suburban 1920s. I came last night. ‘Sorry about the rain,’ said the UK Border Force lady. ‘Rain is exactly what I was hoping for,’ I said. This morning the owner went to work, leaving me alone in the atmospheric old house. Before he left he warned me about the dictatorial cleaner. ‘She’s called Maria and she comes from Madeira and she’s particular about you not being in the same room while she cleans,’ he said. When she came in I was sitting at the kitchen table looking out of

Everything’s burned to a crisp – and the horses are suffering

Everything is well and truly burned to a crisp, and we are piling through hundreds of pounds of hay a week. When the sun shines relentlessly and it never rains, keeping horses gets awfully expensive. The poor gee-gees themselves are bored stiff. We heave mountains of hay into the fields but they miss the ability to mooch about foraging and munching the greenery. There is no greenery. Everything is brown and white. I don’t think I can recall ever seeing the fields white before. When the grass first burned off, the paddocks went a taupe colour. But after weeks and weeks of relentless sun and no more than the odd

The Lycra louts are back

‘That will be £7.50 please,’ said the girl in the bakery to the cyclist in black Lycra after he put a sandwich and a drink on the counter. By way of reply, he slapped down a fiver. He still had his aerodynamic hat on, and the straps and flaps on his booty feet. Click clack. Click clack. He moved with a waddle, like they do when they’re in their special outfit. They look like aliens to me in their pointy hats and clacky shoes and their behaviour is as alien as anything I have ever come across. He pulled this £5 note out of a little pouch in his pants

The builder and I are done with Surrey

As he grouted the last tile, five years after the bathroom was finished, I knew the game was up. ‘I guess this is it,’ I said, as the builder boyfriend used a filler gun to bring about closure. This single ungrouted tile where the bath meets the wall has been something of a symbolic fight between the two of us. It baffled and infuriated me until I simply gave up wondering and made my peace with it. I plastered it with Hippo tape, thinking that would shame him, but it didn’t. Why he stopped short of an otherwise perfect job two seconds short of completion, he never did explain. I

The house names of Surrey tell a sad story

If you want to understand Surrey, look at the house names. Keepers’ Copse, Meadow View, Weavers, Highfields… What do all these names have in common? They describe something rural that used to be there before it was destroyed to make way for the house named after it. Surrey is where London will one day join Guildford and Woking, making the outer banlieues of our capital city very nice indeed, but obviously destroying the countryside that makes Surrey nice in the process. So not all that nice, in fact. For now, it amuses me to drive along the lanes of chintzy villages in prime commuter belt, grimacing at the names of

Every village needs a kebab shop

‘A diary?’ said the lady in the chintzy gift shop, pronouncing the word very much as Edith Evans said ‘handbag’ in the 1952 film of The Importance of Being Earnest. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘a diary. Do you have one?’ I was standing in the middle of a shop so like one that would sell a diary that I could not express quite adequately how obvious I thought it was that they might. This gift shop and café is on the high street of the village where I live and is easily one of the prettiest gift shop/cafés you have ever seen. It has every kind of pretty thing inside, from

I’m stuck in Surrey, get me outta here!

After most of Islington moved to Wales, it was foolish of me to think about following. But the need to escape from Surrey becomes ever more pressing by the day, with housing developments, racing cyclists and incompetent dog walkers bearing down on us so hard we cannot bear it much longer. The builder boyfriend has almost finished the renovations, with the top floor insulated and made into a storage area. We can’t afford to do the loft conversion for which we have planning permission, so we have lined and presented the space at the top of the house in all its empty glory so that buyers can see the potential

Our local councillors who’ve lost their seats must be sighing with relief

An angry text exchange between me and a former Tory councillor after she lost her seat has got me thinking. During the campaign, I asked this lady if she would like to put a poster in my front garden as it adjoins the village green. Even more to the point, next door to me is her main rival, who has a placard fixed to his front wall. Her reply came back no thanks. She did not want me to put up a poster or placard as it would only make matters worse by reminding the opposition to vote. In terms of the effect on her main opponent, she said it

How do we stop the Lycra dads using our stable yard as a toilet?

The cyclist pulled into our gateway, got off his bike and grabbed hold of the electric fencing. Installing game cameras, along with signs making clear to passers-by that they are on film, has not always deterred trespassers, but it has provided us with interesting viewing. And so it was on this occasion, as the cyclist pulled in for what cyclists pull in for. By this I don’t mean they necessarily relieve themselves swiftly against a bush. I mean sometimes they duck under the tape to go inside the field or stable yard where they make themselves at home, in a semi-seated position. Look, it’s not nice to have to describe

My confusing life on the border of Tiers 1 and 2

As I scoffed down a fabulous supper in a candlelit room full of ecstatic diners, it struck me that this was what the Jazz Age must have felt like. This was a night out at what can only be described as a speakeasy, complete with live music from a crooner serenading us from a safe distance, beyond the spatter range. The mood among the merrymakers was very much one of living for today, for tomorrow we may be either dead of Covid (unlikely) or fined for breaking draconian bans on everything, everywhere (highly likely). Are the police to raid the homes of people in Tier 1 to make sure no

This was not your usual entitled Surrey trespasser

The Volkswagen Passat was parked next to my field gate, sticking out into the lane, blocking larger vehicles from getting round. The farrier was due in an hour. I looked around and saw a lady picking blackberries a little way down the lane. ‘Excuse me? Hello!’ I called, walking up to her thinking: here we go again; more lockdown torment. I geared myself up for conflict with another bad-mannered Surrey rambler. This one was slumped against a bush, reaching upwards, almost swallowed by branches, apparently not hearing me but no doubt pretending, as they do, that I didn’t exist. ‘Excuse me?’ I insisted. As she pulled herself out of the

The abominable selfishness of the Surrey middle classes

‘Have you met the man who keeps his horses in this field?’ said one silver-haired lady to the other, as the pair stood by the gate of the builder boyfriend’s smallholding. ‘No, but I hear he’s not very nice.’ ‘He’s an oaf. He won’t even let us walk our dogs through his field.’ This vignette was captured on one of the game cameras we have dotted around the fields where we keep our horses. We’ve captured thieves in the act of loading up feed, fly-tippers in the process of dumping rubbish and we’ve now found out what the locals think of us. The BB was flicking through footage when he