When you’ve got a moment, visit Google Street View, and take a little virtual tour.
Let the clever computer wizardry take you from Brockwood Bottom to Hinton Ampner. Enjoy the cyber-snapshot of rural Hampshire on what looks like a June afternoon in 2009.
You can see the freshly resurfaced lane, the fallow fields that have just been limed, the scruffy hedges, the barley just beginning to turn. And, best of all, a complete lack of road signs.
Alas, all that has changed. For every little junction on that little Hampshire lane has now sprouted a revolting dog-dirt coloured sign atop an 8ft grey pole. It has a picture of a bicycle on it, and the word “loop”.
Now, let’s make it clear: some of my best friends are cyclists.
The captain of the White Hunter Cricket Club, my brother-in-law, my next door neighbour Murph – all have joined the ranks of MAMILs (middle aged men in Lycra).
Take Simon, who is ‘Something in the City’, and a bit of a legend for five-hour lunches. He was once so large that, when I lent him one of my XXXL coats on a wet shoot day, he couldn’t fit into it. He is now a shadow of his former bulk. He adjourns to the Jolly Flowerpots only under protest, where he downs a couple of tomato juices and sneaks away for an early night, claiming: “I’m doing 50 miles on Hayling Island at 6am tomorrow.”
But no-one knows where these ghastly signs have come from. The Parish Council doesn’t know, nor does the local city councillor; the National Trust hates them – even the MAMILs themselves know nothing.
It’s bizarre that we spend all our time checking with the local authorities before doing anything that might change the view or upset the fabulous Hampshire vistas and then, suddenly, without anyone knowing, these horrid signs appear.
Never a day passes without us hearing that local authorities are strapped for cash; interesting that sign-makers and road painters seem immune to the cutbacks.
What’s more worrying is the behaviour of cyclists since the signs went up. They no longer pootle down the lanes, generously stopping and hauling their bikes well out of my way with a cheery wave as I approach. They have become more like their urban cousins – aggressive and road hogging, glaring fiercely from behind their Rayzor gunmetal grey goggles as I have the cheek to drive my tractor along a country lane – now officially their country lane; haven’t I seen the signs?
The real fun will come at harvest. It won’t be just me trundling along the lanes in August. There will be several tractors, all of them at full speed, and (God willing and drought permitting) towing big green trailers chock full of golden ‘arvest. Then there’ll be the Hampshire Grain artics – 44 tonnes of corn and metal.
The old Something-in-the-City Simon would have presented a reasonable challenge to a fully-loaded Scania had they met on the corner at SO24 0LF – in fact, the clever money might have been on Simon to just come out on top. But not the new head-down slimline Lycra version.
It’s no joking matter, of course. Perhaps I should invest in some ‘Beware: harvest in operation’ signs.
How long, I wonder, before the authorities would make me take them down for spoiling the view?
Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, in Hampshire.