I don’t follow these things very closely, but I read somewhere that the Queen didn’t like Thatcher very much, and there were a number of reasons for this. One was that Thatcher clearly felt herself to be majesterial material, despite not having much in the way of recent regal DNA, and came out with the infamous and yet evidently sincere “We are a grandmother”, and organised a Welcome Home Victory Parade for Her troops that she had sent off to the Falklands and back, and didn’t think it necessary to suggest that the Head of State might be involved.
Another reason is that while the Queen is apparently a conflict avoider with a sense of humour, Thatcher relished confrontation, without any laughs. Unless scoffing is counted. Laughing at, rather than laughing with.
At the risk of getting binominal – most people are probably somewhere in the grey middle area – there clearly are a lot of people who avoid conflict at all costs. My father was one of them – he would get up and leave the table at the merest hint of anything controversial and pace up and down in the lounge, hurrumphing. I think I take after him. The problem with people like us is that despite a very long fuse, when we finally blow, it tends to be a messy uncontrollable affair, like a pressure cooker valve releasing the contents all over the ceiling.
On the other hand, there are people who apparently need constant conflict in order to feel truly alive – being amenable and agreeable is boring. I know of at least one couple who need to be stuck in an endless loop of antagonism, like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (George and Martha) in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Top Ten film by the way). For people like me, on the other hand, constant conflict is rather endlessly tiresome and a symptom of too much foolish pride and not enough compassion.
And then there are whole countries where the socio-culturally imposed norm is to be conflict-avoiding or confrontational. Consider the Japanese, at one end of the continuum, and the Indians, at the other. The British, naturally, are sensibly positioned at the centre – someone has to be balanced, after all.
Typical British interaction:
“Yes, isn’t it? Turned out nice again.”
Slightly pained and confused look, head turned on one side, sharp intake of breath through clenched teeth – could mean anything from ‘Yes, I wholeheartedly agree but don’t want to seem overconfident’ to ‘Actually, I think you’re completely wrong but I don’t want to offend you’ to ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about’.
“Do you think so? Well. Let’s see. My tomatoes need a good downpour…”
“No! You’re wrong! As usual! The weather a week last Tuesday was much better! Please try to understand!”
One can’t help thinking of how the national cuisines reinforce the stereotypes: Japanese, as bland and tasteless as it’s possible to imagine – raw fish with nothing added, not even a hint of garlic, plain boiled rice with not even a pinch of salt. The aim seems to be to reduce the eating experience to the bare minimum, to get to the very subtle essence – how can you appreciate the difference between cod and haddock if you plaster it in flavouring? Indian food, in contrast, is smothered, drowned in salt, chilli and every other spice possible – conflict raging in every bite.
And British – a bit of everything. Sausages, toad-in-the-hole, steak and kidney pie, sprouts. Branston pickle, horseradish, mustard, HP sauce, if you want to spice it up a little.
Anyhow, we went shopping last week – a four day event – the nearest shops for items other than the bare necessities are a six hour drive away. It’s like living in London and going to Scotland to go shopping, or vice versa.
We came back with a jeep load of everything imaginable to keep us going until the next trip in three months’ time, plus two puppies, Oscar and Laser, of Labrador extraction, perhaps. Brothers from the same litter, rescued from the streets of Dehradun by Jodie Underhill (the Waste Warrior). Interesting to note their different characters – Oscar, more open, trusting, willing to please, simple(?), invariably follows his brother’s lead. Laser – clearly damaged at an early age (they’re still only about three months), his tail has been docked, for example, which one can’t help thinking was a painful and traumatic experience. Yet, he is the one who works things out, curious, yet guarded. Laser is also bigger and more robust.
They’ve been here a couple of days and have quickly settled in, finding every new experience enticing yet scary – meeting the cows and goats, and chickens, cats, children, adults – who’s in the in crowd, who’s a threat.
Oscar decided to investigate the fish pond, which is at least a metre deep with vertical walls and no way out. He jumped or fell in, couldn’t get out, yelping and splashing, about to drown, no one around, so Laser went and found my wife in the greenhouse in a different part of the farm.
Every morning I let them out of their (leopard proof) bedroom and we go for a little poop walk past the chickens and back up to the cowshed and back. The entrance to the cowshed is guarded by a large no-nonsense goat, on a chain. I can calculate the length and strength of the chain and skip past him and onwards. Laser and Oscar lack such confidence. I deliberately leave them to it to see what happens. Oscar sits, baffled and immobile. Laser works out that he can backtrack past the chickens and by the second day is back on the terrace before I am, docked tail wagging.
We decided to put the surviving cock with the hen – until yesterday they were in two separate runs, close by. The hen had had three chicks, which all died one by one of fowl pox. It was suggested that we should put them together – as John Seymour put it, “Always keep a cock with your hens – chickens like having it off as much as we do”.
However, we were warned by Katie Thear and Dr Alistair Fraser (The Complete Book of Raising Livestock and Poultry) that the cock’s spurs should first be trimmed. Cocks have three fingers and a thumb plus an inch or so up their leg, a spur. This is used when mounting a hen to dig in to her sides and keep her there while he does his business, and according to the above-mentioned book, can seriously damage the hen – the passing on of the DNA evidently more important than the survival of its recipient. So, for once, it was decided to follow the book and trim the cock’s spurs. The book tells you to grab the cock, wrap him in a blanket (so he can’t see), take a leg and a pair of secateurs and snip off the spur. It also mentions that it doesn’t hurt, spurs are like finger nails, and some people burn them off with a soldering iron. What it doesn’t mention is that, unlike finger nails, when you snip a cock’s spur it pumps blood out like a leaking tap. I put my finger over the leak and called for a candle, which we used to cauterise the wound. Took a while. Decided to leave it at just the one trimmed spur. He might fall off to the right but so be it.
Put the cock with the hen in the evening. She was already abed. In the morning she’s still abed. By midday she’s dead, abed, unmoved from the day before.
Don’t seem to have much luck with hens. Nor does the cock. Perhaps we should try rabbits.
For the first 24 hours after our shopping trip there was a constant cheeping from the chimney breast, behind and above the kitchen woodburner. I decided to investigate. Removed the woodburner, the chimney plate, 50 years of soot and other chimney crap, hidden behind a chimney metal flap thing, and eventually grabbed a very disoriented and dehydrated black fledgling the size of a blackbird, but not yet capable of flying. There was a nest at the top of the chimney. All the birds, including the parents, were black to start off with. What to do with the fledgling? With the benefit of hindsight, and next time it happens, the best thing would have been to get a ladder and put it back in its nest. However, we decided to put it on a shelf at the back of the greenhouse with some water and bread, safe from the highly aggressive cat. Thought it might get to the point where it could fly. Within five minutes, it took some water and bread and hopped into the water butt, and drowned.
You live and learn.
By the way, I burned the hen on the rubbish heap, thinking that I didn’t want her illness to be passed on to the dogs. It turned out, however, that rather than burning it, I merely roasted it. The dogs loved it. I like a happy ending.