22 November 1996

An enemy of all cant

ALTHOUGH the title of his new collection* of writings implies otherwise, Robin Page is far from a yokel. Well known as a newspaper columnist (Daily Telegraph) and TV presenter (One Man and His Dog) Mr Page is a deep and humorous commentator on the modern rural scene, combining common-sense farming views with a passion for conserving wildlife and flora (he is founder of the Countryside Restoration Trust).

His latest offering is an assembly of nearly 50 short musings, ranging from his eternal battle of the bulge ("I am beginning to make the diabolical Mr Blobby look distinctly anorexic") to his ridiculing of political cant ("John Seldom Gummer").

Mr Pages resentment of former farm minister Gummers regime is particularly strong with regard to the closure of small abattoirs. Like all good stock farmers he loves his animals and is appalled that forced and needless closures mean that his sheep now suffer a miserable meander of several hours on a huge transporter to the slaughterhouse.

He is a master of the small insight. In a tirade against the urbanisation of Britain, he laments the townie BBC weatherpeoples warning of "terrible winter weather" and their glee at the thaw. "Some of us actually like a true winter and hate the thaw". Hear, hear.

His love of birds comes over strongest of all his animal passions. But as a fellow dog-lover I found the escapades of his small, long-haired lurcher, Bramble, one of the most entertaining enthusiasms. As ever, he puts his finger on the true culprit in his plea for sensible dog ownership. Much of the blame in cases where dogs bite children can be thrown back at parents who stupidly allow their own small children to crawl all over the animal, pulling at its hair, poking its eyes and threatening its food.

For all his obvious humanity, Mr Page is a master of the pungent putdown. At a time when the office of minister of agriculture is afforded the status of glorified Brussels tea-boy, his "Yokels Whos Who" entry for the current incumbent is a gem indeed. "Mr Douglas Hogg: Secretary of State for Agriculture. Often seen wearing a long coat and a silly hat. The most remarkable thing about him is that his father, Quintin Hogg, seemed unusually bright, articulate and able."

A moveable feast to dip into again and again. Robin Page sounds like the sort of chap with whom you could have a splendid saloon bar conversation, leaning on the counter, enjoying a pint JE

*Vocal Yokel by Robin Page. Excellent Press. Available from FARMERS WEEKLY Offer, POBox 261, Slough, Berks SL2 3RU (£15.99 inc P&P).