Tramping all over the internet

Tramp marks that were used to indicate whether a house was worth visiting or not
Warchalking was used in the 1990s to indicate where you could access free wireless broadband

As my dad explains in his 22nd September 1979 column, it was only around thirty years earlier that vagrants were still a regular feature of the countryside. A likely explanation is that many of these ‘gentlemen of the road’ were soldiers discharged after the war, but with no job or income to fall back upon.

Although they were often solitary characters, they were nevertheless part of a community that from the 17th century onwards developed a special ‘language’ as a way of letting each other know which houses were worth approaching and which were best avoided.

They did this through a series of symbols scratched or drawn on nearby gateposts or walls, easily missed by those not specifically looking for them.

There were two categories of mark, soft and hard. Soft marks indicated a household that looked kindly on vagrants, and there were five principal symbols. A circle around a cross revealed a charitable, possibly Christian, household; a simple tick indicated it was OK to approach; a row of three or four small circles meant money might be handed out; a horizontal line with two vertical lines coming down suggested they might be offered a meal at the table; an oval with three short lines inside symbolised a loaf of bread, meaning food might be handed out.

Hard marks were warnings. A series of crossed lines, like the bars of a prison cell, suggested that the police might be alerted, as did a small circle with a dot in the middle; a square with a dot meant that the occupants were likely to get violent if confronted by a beggar; a capital ‘T’ on its side signified ‘Nothing doing here’; a horizontal zig-zag line, like a sharp set of teeth, indicated a fierce dog on the premises.

Other marks, like a sickle shape, showed that work might be available, and a triangle told potential callers that too many tramps had already been before and now the inhabitants were fed up! A shape like half a square box suggested that those within might be persuaded to respond if they were told a heart-wrenching tale, while two interlocking boxes meant that using threats of violence towards residents usually reaped rewards!

Can you remember the days when the only way to access the internet was to have a cable plugged into a bulky computer? Today, most of us have wireless internet (Wi-Fi) in our homes, which we protect from outsiders by a network password. Well, back in 2002, Wi-Fi was still in its infancy, and businesses were just beginning to install wireless computer networks.

It was at this time that London web designer Matt Jones claimed that the old ‘tramp marks’ that I’ve described inspired him to come up with the idea of ‘warchalking’, a set of symbols which could be chalked outside establishments with wireless internet connection so that anyone with a laptop could gain (normally costly) free internet access from that spot. Although the idea became somewhat of a media sensation, it was short-lived as the corporates began to protect their Wi-Fi networks with passwords. Obviously now, practically everywhere has free Wi-Fi access.

I did do some in-depth research into whether ‘warchalking’ still existed anywhere, and that was by going upstairs and asking my very tech-savvy 23-year-old son Oliver. He had never heard of it.

When we first installed a wireless internet network in our home, I was fearful of people outside being able to hack into it. Now, most of us have Smart phones, so the internet is available almost anywhere, and the desire to hack a network just to ‘Surf the Net’ has vanished. People hack networks for much more sinister reasons these days.

According to Oliver, who works for a cyber security firm, the biggest threat to our internet personal security is people of my generation and older still using weak passwords for online accounts where important confidential information, such as addresses and payments details, is stored. In his words, “Any password that is just letters with no numbers or symbols can be hacked in seconds.”

He recommends using a ‘password manager’, a system that can generate and remember highly sophisticated passwords so that you don’t have to.

If that sounds too complicated, then I suggest you either get the most tech-savvy person you know to help you, or move to a desert island.

You have been warned!

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 20th September and the Gazette & Herald on 18th September 2019

Hovering over the Somme

It was about this time 40 years ago that we had not long returned from our very first family holiday abroad, which was a week in France, as my dad recalls in his column from 15th September 1979. We had driven down to Dover in our trusty custard-yellow Ford Cortina estate to take the hovercraft across the Channel.

Dad was one of those writers who simply could not switch off, and so every trip was potential column or book material. He also knew that if he could show that he’d used the trip as research for future writing, then he could legitimately offset a good chunk of the expense against his tax bill. He wasn’t daft!

Consequently, it meant that myself, aged 12, and my teenaged elder siblings, were dragged – sorry, I mean ‘taken’ to various churches, cathedrals, cemeteries and museums.

I could not fathom why anyone would want to spend time on their holiday looking at row after row of identical graves in a military cemetery. And what was so special about that great big monument on a hill in the middle of the French nowhere? I wanted themes parks, beaches and ice creams!

What my 12-year-old self failed to appreciate was that I was standing on ground that was the scene of the most famous and bloodiest battle of the Great War, that of the River Somme.

The big monument, which consisted of two ‘wings’ either side of a central tower with spectacular views over the French countryside, was actually the Australian National Memorial which lies 15 miles east of the northern city of Amiens, next to the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery. The monument and cemetery commemorate thousands of Commonwealth servicemen who lost their lives on or near the ground upon which they stand.

When they launched their Somme offensive on July 1st 1916, the British expected little German resistance after a sustained artillery bombardment the week before. They couldn’t have been more wrong, and within the first hour, almost 20,000 of the 120,000 allied troops lay dead, while 37,000 were wounded. The Battle of the Somme lasted 141 days and resulted in around 1.5 million casualties on both sides, yet enabled our troops to advance a mere six miles.

The awful death toll led to the military abandoning their recruitment strategy known as the ‘pals’ battalions. To encourage men to join up, army staff would canvass potential soldiers in groups, promising them that they could serve alongside their friends, neighbours and work colleagues (in other words, their ‘pals’), rather than the usual method of being assigned randomly to regiments. The drive was highly successful, with ‘pals’ battalions being established all over the country, from workplaces, towns, villages, sports clubs and practically any community with a common interest.

Sadly, as men from the same places served side by side, so it meant they were killed side by side, leaving great holes in the community to which they once belonged. Certain areas suffered far higher losses than they otherwise would have done, and one of the worst affected was the East Lancashire Regiment, better known as the Accrington Pals. Of the 700 members who all came from in and around that Lancashire town, 235 were killed and 350 were wounded in the space of 20 minutes on the first day of battle. Following the carnage at the Somme, the army reverted to more traditional methods of recruitment.

Unfortunately, as a 12-year-old visiting these battlefields, the significance of the ground beneath my feet did not sink in, and for me, the most enthralling part of the whole holiday was the journey over there on the hovercraft.

The experience of first seeing that magnificent otherworldly machine gliding onto the beach, of the immense noise of the engines as it started up then set off, and then of the incessant bouncing as we hovered all the way the France, was just thrilling.

Sadly, it is no longer possible to hover to France. Competition from ferries that could transport much greater numbers of people and vehicles, and from the Channel Tunnel, meant that it just couldn’t keep up and the service shut down in 2000.

However, if you still want to experience hover travel, then nip down to Southsea in Hampshire, where you can still take the hovercraft across to the Isle of Wight. The 12-year-old within me might just persuade me to make that trip.

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 13th September and the Gazette & Herald on 11th September 2019

A body of evidence

Oliver Cromwell, whose headless remains are said to rest at Newburgh Priory, near Coxwold

In my dad’s column from 8th September 1979 he talks about the remains of Oliver Cromwell supposedly resting at Newburgh Priory, near Coxwold.

Although now a stately home, it is called ‘Priory’ because it stands on the site of an Augustinian settlement founded in 1145 by Robert de Mowbray, who was gifted the land by William The Conqueror. Not much is known about the priory apart from the fact that it fell victim to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, passed into private hands, and has remained in the same family ever since. It was owned first by Henry VIII’s chaplain, Anthony Bellasis who, along with his brother Robert, was responsible for the dissolution of eight northern monasteries besides the priory. The property was then inherited by his nephew Sir William, who converted it into a private residence. William’s grandson, Thomas, took the title of ‘Baron of Fauconberg’ in 1625 and then ‘1st Viscount’ in 1643. His grandson, also Thomas, was appointed ‘Earl of Fauconberg’ and it was he who married Oliver Cromwell’s daughter, Mary, in 1657.

But the story of how Cromwell’s remains came to be there are the subject of much debate, for if we believe all the tales about his final resting place, then the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth must have had several heads and torsos. There are various claimed locations including London, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire as well as Yorkshire.

What is not in dispute is that he died aged 59 on 3rd September 1658 of complications of malaria and kidney problems. He was quickly buried at Westminster Abbey and succeeded by his son, Richard, who was no match as a leader, so by 1660 the monarchy was restored and Charles II took the throne.

On 30th January 1661, the 12th anniversary of Charles I’s execution, Cromwell’s body was exhumed, along with several of his republican contemporaries, and removed to Tyburn where he was posthumously hanged and beheaded. The heads were placed on spikes and the bodies supposedly buried beneath the gibbet.

However, rumours quickly spread that the body, which was heavily swaddled, was not actually Cromwell’s. There were whispers that it had been switched and the genuine remains whisked away. A theory went that it had been reburied several times in different places after his death to protect it from vengeful royalists.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that it ended up in Coxwold (minus the head, which itself had an eventful 300-year journey to its final 1960 resting place at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge). The Earl of Fauconberg was politically very astute, and had cultivated a huge network of influential friends. Once Cromwell had died he set about gaining allies among the royalists, and it was during this period that he learned about what was in store for his father-in-law’s corpse. Fauconberg’s influence, so the story goes, enabled his wife Mary to secretly travel to London with trusted escorts to collect her father’s body and bring it back to Yorkshire, while a different body was buried beneath the gibbet.

The corpse was placed in a specially-constructed tomb at Newburgh, hidden in the roof gables. It was only later, when the roof was raised, that the tomb became exposed. However, the family have resisted pressure over the years to open it. My dad tells the tale of a visit by Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Edward VII, who was desperate to open the tomb, but the family would not relent. So the story, and the contents of the tomb, have never been, nor are ever likely to be, verified.

Two thank you’s this week to relatives of twin sisters Minnie and Fanny Benson, who featured in my column in July. Their niece Ann Mansfield (nee Rowntree) wrote in with some reminiscences including a favourite phrase that Fanny used when the phone rang: “You answer it sister, in case I’m not in.”

Mervyn Thompson, who grew up in Ampleforth, also got in touch. His father Les was the twins’ cousin, and he remembers spending time up at the garage when it was owned by their father, his Uncle ‘Tal’.

He says: “Aged about four I had a camp fire. Unfortunately it was upwind of Tal’s barn on a windy day. Bad plan!”

Thankfully, the tin-roofed barn survived but, alas, the hay was not so lucky!

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug


This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 6th September and the Gazette & Herald on 4th September 2019

Lead me to church

This church sports the Smartwater security logo. To protect it from lead theft. Photo Trevor Porter
Coxwold Village Hall was packed for BBC Radio York’s Cake and a Cuppa celebration for Yorkshire Day
BBC Radio York’s Georgey Spanswick (standing) chats to people enjoying their Cake and a Cuppa on Yorkshire Day

In my dad’s column from 1st September 1979, he talks about the sadness he felt at churches being targeted by thieves. Traditionally these holy places were left open all hours for the population to observe some peaceful reflection whenever they felt the need.

In 2017, a Home Office review revealed that theft from churches had significantly deceased since 2013 following the introduction of tighter controls that deterred petty thieves and opportunists. However, since then the price of metals, particularly lead, has gone up, so theft from churches has begun to rise again. But now, rather than petty thieves, it is larger and better-organised criminal gangs getting involved. Last October, the entire roof of All Saint’s Church in Houghton Conquest, Bedfordshire, was taken. With 20 tonnes of lead to dispose of, it would have taken a very sophisticated operation to do it.

The thieves would have achieved around £25,000 for the sale of the lead, while the cost of the repairs to the church is nearer £400,000, but of course, they do not give a monkey’s about that.

Obviously there are things churches can do to protect themselves, such as installing CCTV cameras and a good alarm system that covers the roof as well as the inside of the church, but experienced and determined thieves will know how to get around anything but the most robust security.

Possibly the most effective tool is a forensic marking system, which is an invisible traceable liquid that is painted onto items, such as roof lead, furniture, or silverware. The most well known is SmartWater, and each bottle has a unique forensic code that can be traced back to the original owner. The liquid, which only shows up under UV light, can also be channelled through a sprinkler system, so intruders that trigger the alarm will be doused from above in a permanently-marking shower. It cannot be removed from clothing and takes months of washing to come off the skin, so any suspects that are caught are easily linked to the crime scene. Protected buildings display prominent signage which in itself is a powerful deterrent, and 90% of premises displaying it have reported no further problems with intruders.

I need to hold my hands up here and confess to a dark, seedy past involving theft from a church. When I was 10, myself and our neighbour’s son hatched a plan to steal from a collection box in our local church (I’ll call him Billy to preserve his anonymity). We snook in when we knew the church was empty and both took 10p each out of the unlocked collection box, which we then immediately spent on sweets. As we only got pocket money once a week, we knew our mums would wonder where we got the sweets from, so we made a pact that I would say Billy’s mum had given them to us, and he would say that my mum had done it.

We were very confident that our cunning plan would work. However, like most children, we underestimated the almost mythical ability that all mothers possess of detecting when their children are lying.

As expected, when I walked through the door happily chewing on my ill-gotten gains, the first question my mum asked was where I’d got the sweets. She gave me ‘that look’ when I replied that it was from Billy’s mum.

Within seconds of me saying that, there was a loud banging on the door. Billy’s furious mum was on the doorstep holding him by the scruff of the neck and, to my horror, she began to tell my mum exactly what we’d done. Billy had obviously cracked under the pressure of her questioning, and my penny chew suddenly felt like a rock in my mouth.

We were made to pay dearly for our crime. We were marched up to the church house to see the priest, forced to confess to him face to face, and then had to hand several weeks’ worth of pocket money over to him. We were deservedly and humiliatingly named and shamed, and the lesson was well and truly learned.

Just a quick thank you to everyone who came along to the BBC Radio York Cake and a Cuppa event held on Yorkshire Day in Coxwold Village Hall. It was a huge success with lots of visitors from villages all around. I hope you all enjoyed it and thank you for coming!

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 30th  August and the Gazette & Herald on 28th August 2019

Swept under the carpet

Although called ‘apprentices’ chimney boys were in fact little more than child slaves
A chimney boy with the master sweep

Following my last column about the advent of insurance after the Great Fire of London, I wanted this week to talk about another, unsettling consequence of that disaster.

While researching fire marks, I began reading about the practice of sending small children up chimneys to clean them. I hadn’t previously fully appreciated just how terrible it was, and what a truly shameful part it plays in our history.

Chimneys, in the form that we know them now, didn’t really exist before the 12th century. As my dad explains in his column from 25th August 1979, when buildings were single storey, fires were built at the centre of the house to heat the whole building and smoke escaped through a hole in the roof.

As building techniques developed, and more floors were added to homes, they had to find another way of getting rid of the smoke. So the fireplace was moved to the edge of the room and passages were built within the walls to direct the smoke upwards and outside. Thus the chimney was born.

Before the Great Fire in 1666, chimneys were large enough for a fully-grown man to climb in and clean away the soot. However, following the disaster, fire safety regulations were introduced imposing restrictions on the width of chimneys. Some were no more than 18 inches wide, and many had corners and twists and turns that were impossible for adult men to navigate.

So it became commonplace to send small children up into the chimney stacks. Although these children were officially called ‘apprentices’, they were in fact no more than slaves. Boys (and occasionally girls) as young as four would be taken from the streets, or bought from orphanages or impoverished parents. Once they ‘belonged’ to the master they were treated no better than dogs.

It must have been terrifying to be sent up into these dark, cramped, sooty tunnels, and masters would sometimes light fires below or stick pins in their feet to make the petrified children ascend. These ‘climbing boys’ used their elbows and knees to shimmy up the chimney, holding a brush over their heads to dislodge the soot, which was collected in sackcloth lying at the bottom, and given to the master to sell.

The youngsters worked non-stop from morning until night, were rarely paid, were fed basic rations, and were left to sleep among the coal sacks.

The consequences on their physical health were dire. As well as skin infections caused by burns and open wounds on their elbows and knees, they would suffer soreness of the eyelids and mouth, stunted growth and deformed ankles, and breathing problems due to inhalation of soot. By their teens, many had started to suffer from what was known as ‘chimney sweep’s cancer’, a painful and fatal carcinoma of the scrotal sack, which has the distinction of being the first identified ‘occupational’ cancer. Not only that, but throughout their miserable lives they would have been deliberately underfed to keep them skinny, and then tossed like rubbish into the street once they grew too big.

Although a number of acts were passed aiming to stamp the practice out, they were largely ignored, not only by master sweeps who feared losing their livelihood, but also by institutions like the police, churches, factories, hospitals and municipal buildings that knowingly employed them. In other words, for years and years, the authorities turned a blind eye to the appalling suffering of thousands of children.

It took the death of 12-year-old George Brewster in 1875 to put a stop to the outrage. George was sent up a chimney at Fulbourn Hospital in Cambridge, but became stuck. Rescuers had to dismantle a wall to get him out, but it was too late, and he died from suffocation. Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, had long been campaigning against the use of climbing boys, but it was following George’s death, which he cited in Parliament, that his Chimney Sweepers Act 1875 was passed. It introduced annual licensing for chimney sweeps and the enforcement of the law by the police.

George Brewster’s boss, William Wyer, was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six months in prison with hard labour. George certainly wasn’t the first to die this way, but he is the last known climbing boy to perish, and I hope you’ll take a moment to think of him, and the countless other children who suffered.

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 23rd  August and the Gazette & Herald on 21st August 2019

Fire up the engines

Fire crews tackle the wood yard blaze near Wass
A Yorkshire Insurance Company fire mark. 
A Phoenix Insurance Company fire mark in Pickering (Picture by Pauline Eccles, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.)

I was very sorry to read in the news this week that our local timber merchant, who is based near the village of Wass, has been hit by an awful fire that destroyed 120 tonnes of wood and one of their wagons.

Thankfully, the blaze did not spread to their nearby home and no-one was hurt. Fire crews from Easingwold and Thirsk were on the scene in just 12 minutes, which no doubt was the reason why the damage was not worse.

In times gone by, especially in rural areas, such a fire would have resulted in far more damage due to the fact that there was no organised service to tackle incidents. And in the days of no insurance, victims would likely lose everything they had.

The notion of insurance against fire came about following the Great Fire of London in 1666 which lasted four days, consumed 13,200 houses, destroyed 87 parish churches and displaced up to 80,000 residents. The death toll is officially very low, one reason being that many people fled rather than try to fight the flames themselves. But also the poor were not properly documented and techniques to identify cremated remains didn’t exist, so it’s impossible to say how many of them perished.

Of course, none of these poverty-stricken Londoners owned their own homes, yet their tenancy agreements held them liable for repairs, and they were expected to pay rent while their burned houses were being rebuilt. As well as being extremely unfair, this system was clearly unworkable so an emergency ‘Fire Court’ was set up by the authorities to settle any disputes arising from the rebuilding programme.

The disaster demonstrated that improvements in fire safety were essential. A very entrepreneurial economist and physician called Nicholas Barbon established the first ‘Fire Office’ in 1667 which, in return for prepayments, offered to rebuild homes affected by fire. Similar companies soon sprang up so that by 1690, one in 10 houses in London was insured.

By 1700 they realised that it was more cost effective to limit fire damage and repair a home, than to have to rebuild it from scratch. Therefore they trained up teams of employees, gave them uniforms, and bought their own fire-fighting equipment. This team would be dispatched as soon as they heard that a fire had broken out.

But as these were privately-owned fire brigades, they would only tackle fires at establishments covered by their own insurance and, as my dad explains in his column from 18th August 1979, the way to recognise their own clients was by fixing a lead plaque to the exterior of the premises.

These markers bore designs unique to each insurance company, so that those raising the alarm would know which company to call out, and those summoned to the fire could tell that the building was covered. The system wasn’t failsafe though, and situations arose where the wrong company’s fire brigade were called, only to stand by as the building burned to the ground. Not long afterwards, the insurance firms came to an agreement that if they extinguished a fire in a building covered by a competitor, the costs would be reimbursed by the correct insurer.

In 1825, the Royal Exchange, the Union and the Sun insurance companies united their fire fighting forces, with others following suit not long after, and by 1833, an association named the London Fire Engine Establishment comprising all the principal insurance agencies was formed. On January 1st 1866, all these brigades were brought under the control of the Metropolitan Board of Works and named the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, later to become the London Fire Brigade.

It meant that there was no longer any need for the fire marks to be fixed to buildings, although some of these markers can still be seen adorning older establishments. I have seen one on the wall of a shop in Gillygate, York, but many have disappeared over time.

Incidentally, Nicholas Barbon is not only noted for his role in establishing insurance against fire. He is also famous for his fantastic middle name. Are you ready for this?

His middle name is ‘If-Jesus-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned’. I kid you not. Apparently, it was common in the 17th century for Puritan parents to give religious ‘slogan’ names to their children.

It makes me rather thankful that when naming me, my own parents were happy to stick to simple Sarah Jane.

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 16th August and the Gazette & Herald on 14th August 2019

Brace yourself for an argument

My sister Janet in the garden of the police house in Oswaldkirk where my dad was posted as a village bobby in 1964
My brother Andrew in the garden of the police house at Oswaldkirk in 1964

Next Monday is the Glorious Twelfth, the date when the shooting season officially begins. Depending on which side of the fence you sit, you might prefer to call it the ‘Inglorious Twelfth’, and there is furious debate as to the positive and negative aspects to shooting game birds.

The argument for shooting goes that effective moor management helps sustain the red grouse population, with managed burning of heather supporting the precious peatland habitat that enables them to thrive. According to the Moorland Association, heather, which forms the main part of the grouse’s diet, is now more scarce across the world than rainforest, with the UK being home to 75% of what is left globally. In fact, the North York Moors National Park has the greatest continuous expanse of heather moorland still surviving.

Supporters also argue that the industry provides 2,500 full time jobs in rural areas, and contributes £150m to the national economy. As my dad explains in his column from 11th August 1979, red grouse are unique to this country and notoriously difficult to shoot, thanks to their propensity to fly very low at incredible speeds of up to 70mph, and then suddenly change direction at the last minute. So overseas enthusiasts will pay huge sums of money for the privilege to shoot them on the North York Moors.

Those against shooting suggest that the burning in fact damages the habitat and pollutes the environment. As well as the obvious argument of it being cruel, supporters of animal rights accuse gamekeepers and landowners of forcibly getting rid of the grouse’s natural predators such as foxes, stoats and hen harriers (which are protected, so killing them is illegal) in order to boost the population of grouse for the shooting season.

As for me, I am one of those infuriating fence-sitters. My animal-loving side can’t abide the idea of killing any creature just for fun, and I can’t understand how any pleasure is gained from loading a gun and aiming it at a defenceless creature. However, shooting estates argue that their sport is not just for fun, but is one of the most effective ways of looking after the land and its animal occupants. Land management has evolved through the experience of generations of country-dwellers, and so they must know a thing a two about it. So you see, although I wouldn’t ever participate in it, I don’t have anything against a properly organised and responsibly-managed shoot.

I am also an enthusiastic meat-eater, and love a well-cooked game bird. In fact, London restaurants pay a hefty premium to get grouse shot early on the 12th August on to their menu by evening service. Back in the day, it was quite normal to prepare the game meat from scratch yourself. My dad’s mum, Nana Walker, was a dab hand at plucking pheasants, and I have a memory of her sitting on her back step amidst a cloud of flying feathers, a bird between her knees, and her hands moving with phenomenal dexterity and speed. It’s a skill that only a few outside the butchery or restaurant trade have today.

Here in North Yorkshire, it used to be normal for newcomers to be welcomed into a village with various foodstuffs left on their doorstep, such as a bag of home-grown vegetables, a rabbit, or a brace of game birds hung on the door handle.

When my parents moved into the police house at the top of the bank in Oswaldkirk in the mid-1960s, they were welcomed in such a way, as my dad describes in his first Constable book, Constable on the Hill. As was usual, there was no note with the gifts:

“We were surprised to find a cabbage in a string bag hanging from the door knob…” and then, on the back door, “..a brace of pigeons from that door knob. Then, on the office door, was a monster of a hare…Here was I, on my very first day at Aidensfield, with presents all around me, and not a single hint as to their origins.”

Back then, the attitude towards small game was that they were a valuable source of food, and the sort of sentimentality that I feel towards the animals was, well, just plain daft. Nevertheless, whatever side you fall upon, I don’t think you’ll dislodge me from my perch on that fence.

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 9th August and the Gazette & Herald on 7th August 2019