The freezing weather is playing havoc with my budget - normally we never have the heating on before January except as a treat on Christmas day - now as I write I hear the massive boiler pumping hot water round the system as it is based next door to my office - this is not just to heat the house - that is a minor consideration - it is to ensure that the pipes don't freeze and that we don't have a water disaster when the thaw sets in. we have already had two burst pipes with consequent damage and I don't want a third.
I have survived and am back home from hospital. My experience of the NHS is that it is rather akin to driving up to London from Exeter on the A303. There are times when you simply zip along on an empty road and then - for no apparent reason that you can see- the whole experiance changes to a nightmare and you sit in a traffic jam or crawl for ten miles for the best part of an hour or so till -suddenly -the road clears again and once more you travel at speed. Like the A303 you know that the NHS will get you to your destination but- just as in driving up the A303 - in peculiar 'bunny hops'
So living in the country is safe - well I wish it was. Every time I end up with a graze I seem to end up in Emergency Ward Ten. Two weeks ago I slipped and fell and grazed my knee - no big deal. Then - two days ago - the wife - ever vigilant for the slightest sign of illness in anyone of her flock - spotted an inflamation of the knee - for two days I managed to bluff my way but today she 'lost it' and I was hauled up before the doctor who has duly sentaeced me to at least a night in hospital being fed antibiotics on an intraveneous drip. This is the second time in three years this has happened - the last time I was in hospital for a week. Apparently the 'air (in Devon) is not alive with the sound of music' but alive with bugs and those bugs are all lying in wait for Fulford to develop a graze when they home in on it and try to kill him. Frankly it is all very puzzling - how on earth did our ancestors ever survive to adulthood is a mystery -still for the second time in three years I put my faith and life in the hands of the NHS and - oddly - when you do that they perform rather well.
As temperatures are still sub zero we try to keep all doors and windows firmly shut. So imagine my surprise to find, as I walked through the Great Parlour on my way to my office a sodding great buzzard flapping round the room -finally coming to rest on the frame of my mother's portrait. So how has it got in? I supose it could have come down the chimney, in fact that is the only explanation which I can think of. Meanwhile I have a problem - what to do about said buzzard? As ever - with problems - I thnink I will leave it till tommorow - who knows it might find it's way back up the chimmney but I am not optimistic - alternatively of course it could the spirit of some ancestor returning to see what we have been up too recently if so I hope it will buzz off by tomorrow morning.
I have finally cracked. This morning I turned the central heating on. I can't think when the last time was that we had the heating on in Novemember -if ever normally I don't turn it on till Christmas Day when it is done as a treat for the whole family. Bye bye golbal warming and hello to the new ice age. I was inspired to this extravagant move by Kishanda pointing out to me that the minimum temperature of a workplace by law was 61 degrees centigrade and our kitchen - even with the benefit of the Aga - was this morning only 55 degrees! while the drawing room windows had ice on the inside and reminded me of breakfasts in my childhood when we used to draw pretty pictures on the ice which clad the interior of the dining room windows. Of course it is not just for my benefit that I have turned on the heating - with the temperatures inside in parts of the house below freezing the dangers of frozen pipes and the resulting damage just seemd to great to ignore anymore.
My ancestors loved planting evergreen shrubs such as laurel and to a lesser extent, thank goodness, ponticum rhododendrons, to give more interest to the woodland walks. That of course was all very well when there where lots of men, as there where when I was a boy, who every year, armed with sickles, would trim the laurel growth back down. But then one day there was no money to pay such men anymore and the laurel and ponticum left to itself went rampant till the woodland walks became literally impenetrable jungle. For more than thirty years I have been happily hacking away at these evergreen monsters using them, in effect, as a form of outdoor gymnasium, and getting not only fitter and thinner as a result but also enjoying a feeling of immense satsfaction at viewing the resultant improvement in my woodland walks. A key part of the process is -of course - the bonfire. I suppose in the current world a whole generation is going to grow up who have never made a bonfire as either they have been forbidden under some Health and Safety rule or banned as contributing to global warming. That is sad as making a bonfire and getting one going to such a pitch that it will burn anything however green and full of sap it is that you can thow on it - is a noramlly highly skilled process. Not though at the time of writing. The hot summer has meant that bonfires virtually light themsleves and burn furiously within minutes. Oh what fun it all is and Oh how better my woodlands look because of the magic of the bonfire.
It takes a lot to get me up to London in the summer -especially a summer like this one - but if a an old firend asks you to come up to celebraste their 50th birthday - well - youv've just got to go. London and the heat do not go. However fortunately the night we spent in the metropolis was one of the cooler ones so we survived. Twice during our flying visit we hired a taxi and on both occaisions I was struck that all the good effects of the congestion charge in reducing congestion in central London seems to have gone by the board. I remember when the charge was first introduced the streets empties and suddenly buses roared around like sport cars. Not anymore they don't. what I just can't understand is why anyone would want to drive their car in London anyway? It seems to me to be such an utterly pointless and expensive activity that I am.forced to the conclusion that it is all really about showing off. So come on Boris -if you are short of money for something just do the sensible thing - double the congestion charge.
I am sure automated answer machines do -in the short term - boost banks profits - but only at a long term cost of infuriated and angry customers. So the moronic bank which I use, HSBC as you ask, returned a cheque which I had tried to pay into my account giving as the reason that 'the payees name has beem omitted' even though my name was wrtitten in big letters on the supposedly blank line. So infuriated I reached for the telphone - what a mistake - a disembodied automated voice answered - asking me to choose from a range of options and then yet more options until at last the inevitable message 'that all our operators are currently busy' to be followed by some truly appalling musical drivel - after about ten minutes of this - with my blood pressure nearing boiling point - some poor girl answered. Now what on earth does the HSBC expect the customer to do next? (a) to be grovelingly grateful that at long last you have an actual human being on the end of the line or (b) to be so furious that you vent your spleen on the unfortunated HSBC employee. Well my guess is that it probably breaks down into 50/50 and no prizes for which option I chose. Not that I am particularly proud of it but seriously what do the banks expect people to do? Sure they will say that by employing such practises it makes their operation more efficient and thus enables them to reduce borrowing costs by a fraction of one per cent. Actually they would have been able to reduce borrowing costs by a lot more than that if they hadn't made, in the case of HSBC, the moroinc business decision to buy an American bank some eight years ago specialising in lending money to people who were unlikely ever to pay it back - so far that has cost HSBC some £5 billion an counting - just think how many intelligent young people they could have hired to answere your calls promptly for a fraction of that sum? As the banks sweat about what new taxes and regulations are going to be imposed on them they might care to remember that every time a customer rings up and gets that disembodied voice asking them to choose from a range of options they have increased the num,ber of people who hate banks with a vengance by one.
I have never understood this obsession people seem to have with going abroad in the summer. It is true that the English weather is variable and can be appalling but as I bask in the current heatwave I can't help thinking how stupid you would feel if you if you where sweating in some awful airport, being treated only one up from farm animals on the way to the slaughter, in order to go abroad and sit on a beach in the sun. No - the time to go abroad is in Febuary or March when the long winter seems never ending and I strongly suspect the suicide rate is at its peak, while if you want to see the Mediterranean at its best then April or May or early June is the time to go when the hills are still green, the wild flowers are spectacular, and the temperature is about that of a hot English summer day. But fortunately for the travel companies I appear to be in a very small minority. The main reason of course why people all rush off in August and July is that that is when the school holidays are. If you wonder why there is this long summer break from education I will tell you. It is because when compulsory education was mandated towards the end of the 19th century it was realised that farmers would never send their children to school during the summer as they were needed to help with the harvest so someone had the bright idea of making the whole of August and July into a school holiday in order to win the farmers support for more education.
I admired a new pair of shoes a friend was wearing today. " Oh yes" he said " Are'nt they smart - very cheap too a Daily Telegraph special offer -unlike yours" He said rudely pointing down to my immaculate black brogues - "I can't afford handmade shoes from Germain Street" But he was wrong. For a moment I was tempted to allow him to continue to think that I was the sort of person who could afford to spend two or three hundred pounds or more on a pair of shoes - but only for a moment. In my world presitge is won not by paying silly money for clothes, shoes, wine, or cars but by paying as little as possible. So I said; "You are so very wrong - my shoes may look like they cost a fortune but actually they were only £17.50 +VAT in Makkro a couple of years ago!!" Victory was mine and how sweet it tastes
What strikes me at once every time I go up to London is how clean the cars are. Everyones car is immaculate, not only clean of course but also dent free and not that old either. Contrast this to my fleet. My Toyota Land Cruiser is all of a dozen years old and like a venerrable battleship has been through the wars and shows its scars of many an argument, some lost and some won, with hedges and gate posts. The second car in my courtyard is a Renault Megane which is a mere stripling at four years old and was broughtsecond hand in immaculate condition only just over a year ago. Alas for good intentions. Already the once pristine bodywork has on the left hand side been badly dented by my son who had an argument with a gate post when parking the car for a party. In London though no one seems ever to dent their cars and I do wonder whether many of them are ever driven or, rather like those gleaming yachts in Marinas, actually never ever leave the safety of the harbour - a yacht insurance underwriter once told me that the average such yacht only goes to sea for around four hours a year! Is it the same perhaps for the Bentleys and Masera\ttis which litter the streets of Knightsbridge and Mayfair. Do the owners just, now and again, go and sit in them and entertain their friends to a cocktail? it seems the only likely explanation as moving around in a car in London must be a nightmare and taxis are so plentiful and comfortable.
I wish I could get excited by this election. I loathe Gordon Brown and his government but the trouble is I find it very difficult to summon up any enthusiasm for 'Our Dave' or, for that matter 'Our Sam.' so many adjectives spring to mind when thinking of Dave and -sadly - none of them are complimentary - smug - pleased with himself - arrogant - autocratic - and - worst of all - he comes across as a phoney - all that tie less- man of the people rubbish. Actually of course if he had ever had any real contact with 'real' people -although what people are not real? - he would know that most people don't want someone like them leading them they want some one different - a leader. So - I have to admit that if the conservatives lost and our Dave took a caning I could honestly say I told you so and voted for David Davies in the leadership elections. Having said all that the prospect of four more years of a being ruled by a Presbeteryan lowland Scot is more than I can bear so Yes - come the day -I will trot out and vote Conservative - though actually all my sympathies are with UKIP
I got back home about six in the evening three days ago to be greeted by my wife with the news that 'I've lost Timmy.' Timmy is not a person, although I am not sure he would agree on that, but is a black labrador dog. Now normally Timmy does not 'go off' but he does have a tendency to do so if I am away and that is what he had done. Normally again he comes back within a few hours. So I left the friont door opened and hoped for his reapperarance. He still wasn't back by the time we went to bed, but again this has happened before so I wasn't overly concerend. When I woke up though and looked down at the bean bag by my bed and saw no Timmy my heart sank. This was unprecedented. I had to leave for a meeting after breakfast and all day I suffered from that empty feeling in the pit of your stomach, a gut wrench of worry. I got home in the evening to the bad news - still no sign of Timmy. there is - I think -nothing worse than a missing dog. It is the 'missing' bit which is so awful and which allows your immagination to run riot. His absence was like a damp blanket over our whole household - my children adore our dogs - hell the dogs sleep on their beds and, when 'mummy' is not watching share their plates for that matter. Again we left the door open all night - again Timmy failed to show and again I had to go off to a meeting. I had now prepared myself, mentally, for the fact that we might never see Timmy again wen mid day the wife rang with great news -'we've got Timmy' hurray a hapy ending - a great friend of mine who always has Jack Russels is not so lucky and said to me once - 'You know I've never buried one of my dogs.' Awful but that is too often the cost of owning a Jack Russel -they can't resist a hole the ground. For now though we are once again a happy family - till the next time - but just at the moment Timmy is under close arrest
I took delivery of some trees today. Now is the time of the year to be planting them and I am always amazed at my stupidity in not planting more trees when I was younger. Not that I didn't plant any in my youth, I did, inspired by my mother who was something of a fanatic in the tree planting department. But there are gaps in my park and gaps in my woodland garden and these gaps must be filled in now as, of course, I am getting older.One of the odd things in life is the only thing I have ever found which actually makes you look forward to being twenty years older is the prospect of seeing a tree or shrub you have planted partly grown up. Of course reviewing my past efforts - and those of both my mother and my father - it is heart breaking how often I have had to take a chain saw out as the tree is in the wrong place or is to close to another tree. We simply all underestimated the area of land a mature tree can take up. Looking across my lake I see a superb 200 year old Cedar of Lebanon and it's branches now covers at least a third of an acre and yet people plant these trees in little gardens! Of course one day they will look up and realise they are getting no light in as the tree is blocking everything out and they will call the tree surgeon - very expensive. Trees are my passion partly because they can give you a form of immortality or at least life extension. The trees I plant today should mostly be around in 200 years time and some of them, like the long lived Oriental Plane might well live 800 years or more. There is an ancient oak in my wood which I suspect may well be that age and it makes me think as I walk past it that when it was young my ancestors wore suits of armour to go and do battle with the Scots and the French and now we are all meant to be brothers at peace with each other - personally I wouldn't bet on it lasting.
It is a sad fact of life as a landowner that you spend an inordinate amount of time and effort planning your death. This is necessary so that your heir can inherit and pay the minimum amount in taxes and Death Duties, or what is now known as Inheritance Tax. One of the tricks of the trade is to ensure that any bank borrowing you may have - too many in my case sadly - are secured against property that is not eligible for any of the numerous 'reliefs' to Inheritance tax. So with co-operation of my bank - HSBC - I am now making sure that my overdraft and loans are secured against a group of cottages. Imagine my surprise when HSBC stated that they did not just desire a £500 management fee for doing this, but thought they were entitled to £250 for 'out of pocket expenses!!! Obviously I supposed that this was the amount they were planning to spend on lunching me and my agent at Exeter's most expensive restaurant. But no, it appears this sum is one they think is their due - unbelievable behaviour. Well negotiations are, as they say, ongoing - but they ain't getting that £250 out of me.
Being by nature a pessimist I don't suspect anybody will ever bother to read what I write here but my 'up to the minute' techy friends say that this is the 'new age' and that I must 'sign up to it' by having a 'blog' - so here goes. I admit to being constantly surprised to read that not only do millions of people spend their time reading blogs and something called 'twitters' (definately not me - will leave that to ultimate morons like Stephen Fry and his ilk) but that the Great & Good spend many hours writing their blogs and twitters. I am of course not one of Great & Good but I hope I am also not one of the Bad & Beastly either, although I am sometime painted as such because of a TV programme on which I said 'fuck' a lot. The truth about that particular TV programme actually is that I don't - in normal life - say 'Fuck' that much, however during the thirty odd days filming of some eight hours a day the word did slip out occasionally - but I was unconcerned as I knew the programme was going out before 9 0'clock (the Threshold) and so all those incidents would be cut.How wrong I was. Initially the editors did cut all swearing out but they saved it in something they chose to call the 'fuck box.' One day they looked in the 'fuck box' and eureka they had a programme! Not that I minded (though my wife did a bit) as I had been well paid and have since done quite a lot more TV work - all for good money. Still it sometimes is a bore being typecast as some sort of foulmouthed dim landowner of ancient linage - a sort of upper class Brontosorus Rex.
Francis Fulford is a writer, broadcaster and television personality. He lives at Great Fulford, a beautiful country estate in Devon that has been the home of the Fulford family since around 1190. He has been married to Kishanda for nearly 20 years, and they have four children together.
The modern Fulford family have featured in numerous televsion programmes, including Channel 4’s Cutting Edge and Sky One’s Why America Sucks.
Francis is a prolific writer and has written a book about his experiences as a landowner, entitled ‘Bearing Up’. He is also a regular contributor to publications including Country Illustrated and the Daily Mail.