Swiss encounter highlights siege situation

It’s always interesting to get a fresh perspective on our lives – “to see ourselves as other see us”.

I had a great example of this last week. I was deep in my computer, studying when the next two-hour window of dry weather might be, when I heard a voice outside the kitchen window. “Hallo? Anyone there?”

I shimmied to the window, and there was a rambler waving an empty water bottle. “Can I have some water to wash my dog?” she asked in a heavy European accent.

I asked her to repeat what seemed like an odd question, and, indeed, that was what she wanted: to wash her dog using an old water bottle.

I pointed out the standpipe and hose – still just about legal – in the yard, and suggested she should use that instead. I thought it would be polite to go and have a chat while aforementioned dog washing took place.

“You’re from Switzerland, then?” I asked.

She was dead impressed, not realising that I’d seen her car parked earlier, but I wasn’t going to disillusion her about my cunning linguistic abilities.

We got chatting as she washed a manic liver spaniel, and shortly my liver flatcoat arrived. These two dogs pinballed their way round the yard, playing like puppies in the rain. We discussed how Fred is a working dog, getting quite a name for himself on shoots across Hampshire. Then Maggie, the Belgian shepherd dog, emerged, and told everyone off like some Stazi officer, and growled and bullied the poor spaniel onto its back on the gravel.

“And does that dog work, too?” asked Heidi, sounding slightly concerned for the spaniel’s welfare.

“In a way,” I replied, but then struggled to put into simple English words what she does. “We often get visits from white vans, full of men who drive round the countryside stealing our scrap metal and helping themselves to our tractor diesel.”

Heidi’s face was a picture of bewilderment. Never mind me not grasping the bottle-water-dog-washing concept; this baffled her far more.

“And Maggie here scares the living daylights out of them. The one who visited us on Easter Saturday actually ran back to his van when he saw her coming. Mind you, these vans often contain dogs, too; they are used to chase hares across the fields. Or four-wheel-drives are used to follow the chase. That’s why nearly every field in the English countryside is now blocked by a huge log, a ditch or a pair of expensive metal gates – if they, too, haven’t been stolen, of course.”

The fog of confusion became thicker on Heidi’s face. “Why? What do they do with the metal and diesel? What do they want with the hares? Don’t the police do anything?”

I explained that we’re actually in a golden era of rural policing down here, with specialist officers backing us farmers to the hilt.

“But even so,” she said with a frown. “It is as if you are under siege!”

“Under siege” – what a good description I thought, as we prised killjoy Maggie off the poor whimpering spaniel, which was by now flat on its back in a puddle. I’d never thought of it that way. Gates, ditches, barriers, alarms, guard dogs yup, it is a bit siege-like. Funny it should be a Swiss rambler who points it out.

“Um, do you mind if I wash my dog – again?” asked Heidi.

Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, in Hampshire.

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