It takes a lot to upset neighbour Robert’s enjoyment of his pickled eggs in the Jolly Flowerpots.
Each egg is lovingly chosen from a huge jar bearing the legend “By Appointment to the King” and then lowered carefully into a bag of cheese and onion crisps. It is then devoured with an almost messianic fervour.
So when Robert suddenly, mid-chomp, exclaimed “Mmmph mmmph mmmph mmmphener’s mmmph?” I had to sit up and take notice.
We hosed the bar down, swept up the unsavoury mix of crisps and egg, and asked him what on earth he was on about.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you for ages, and suddenly remembered: did you see Gardeners’ World?” he asked. I pointed out that gardening shows are low on my must-see list of programmes, well below Tattoo Fixers and Made in Chelsea.
“Go online and watch the hedgecutting special” insisted Robert, with a mischievous look. “You’ll love it!” And then he closed his eyes and set about another unfortunate egg.
The next morning, I fired up the Hinton Ampner broadband, found the BBC iPlayer and settled down for some relaxing topiary-themed entertainment. Within moments, there was another food-based mess – this time, my Crunchy Nut Cornflakes were all over the desk.
How can such a gentle horticultural programme inspire such explosive reactions from farmers? Well, the written intro to the show gives a clue: ‘It’s August. So it’s time to give your hedges a good haircut’.
The show then starts with the lovely paternal figure of Monty Don, who says to camera (and it’s worth quoting word for word):
“It’s hedgecutting time.
“The birds have left their nests, the hedges have got all shaggy, and now is the time to give them what is effectively a summer prune, which will hold them crisp and trim, not just for the rest of this growing season, but also into winter. You won’t have to cut them again till next year.”
Now, we countryfolk are well used to animals from what we could call Medialand (the vision of the countryside promulgated by the BBC/Guardian/Monbiot/National Trust) being quite different from what we see every day from the tractor cab.
In Medialand, buzzards only eat worms. I’ve seen them harvesting pheasant chicks while the hen pathetically tried to defend her brood.
In Medialand, badgers, hedgehogs and bumblebees live happily side by side. No comment.
In Medialand, hares are vanishing. Here, they’re there and everywhere.
In Medialand, loose springers crashing their way through the undergrowth have no effect on ground-nesting birds. Out here… you get the picture. But I never thought it would apply to nesting birds in a hedge.
In Medialand, the best time to trim is August, because the birds have gone. Monty Don has said so. Out here, God help us if we get the hedge trimmer out before 1 September.
The full rage of Defra (advised by the terrifyingly influential “green” NGOs) would descend upon us.
So the hunt is on for the hedge that has a field on one side and a garden on the other. On one side sits a farmer, waiting for the RSPB-approved start date.
One the other, a gardener trims away happily, confident that the birds have all flown. It’s bonkers. It’s modern farming.
Medialand is no doubt also free of senior farmers munching heroically through pickled eggs doused in crushed crisps. I’d love to say it’s their loss, but I’d be lying.