I think we Brits have a special affinity with mud – along with Flanders and Swann’s immortal hippopotamus, of course. Perhaps it’s why we love that song so much.
I and two long-suffering friends – and several thousand other people – spent several hours last Sunday plopping and slopping our feet in and out of deep mud in a field in South Wiltshire.
We were at the Chalk Valley History Festival, where I had been offered the opportunity to give a short talk in their pop-up series (speaking about our book, Deepest Dorset, which is being published at the end of September).
In the event, the mud was the main talking point, the friend who had planned to wear a pretty pair of patent shoes was deeply grateful I had persuaded her to go back for her boots, and the area of the pop-up talks was too muddy for an audience to gather, wisely preferring to sit at the benches munching on their (absolutely delicious) burgers, made with Red Devon beef from a farm close to the festival site. Definitely food yards not food miles!
The previous weekend some 150,000 people slipped and slid and cheered and rocked the days and nights away at the Glastonbury Festival and then took many hours to decamp to their mired vehicles and many more hours to slither and slide out to the roads and home.
A very good time was had by all, of course.
Next weekend is the Larmer Tree Festival, and the organisers are doubtless watching the weather forecasts with a degree of resignation. The only predictable thing about summer 2016 is that from one minute to the next you don’t know what it’s going to do.
Mind you, last week’s erratic storms and brief sunny spells meant a great People’s Sunday at Wimbledon for tennis lovers who managed to get tickets – all the seats went to real fans and there wasn’t that frustration of seeing some of the most expensive areas of the showcourts empty as the corporate guests gossip the time away with bubbles and strawberries in their hospitality tents. Ticket-holders were rewarded with some terrific tennis, whether they were lucky enough to get seats on Centre Court or No 1 Court, or took pot luck on the outside courts.
Perhaps one of the best things about the rain and the mud was that they represented a welcome respite from the chaos around us. Wherever you stand on the EU referendum, it is impossible not to feel disappointed and disillusioned by the political farce that followed.
With Lady Macbeth and her leaked email, Andrea “I’m a second Margaret Thatcher” Leadsam (Andrea Who?), Boris’ own ignominious exit stage right, Michael “My country needs ME” Gove as the ultimate back-stabber, possibly auditioning for the next Jacobean revenge tragedy at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, and the corporate hatchet job of the Labour MPs who never accepted Jeremy Corbyn as their leader, irrespective of his performance in the run-up to the referendum, frankly rain and mud were refreshing.
It is a strange and unsettling time when George Osborne sounds like a decent human being and my 80-something friend, who I know voted for Brexit (but believes she should not have had a vote and that 16-18 year olds should have) starts making admiring comments about Nicola Sturgeon.
Every cliche of uncertainty has been turned over in the past 10 days or so, mostly revealing something slimy that had better been left in its murky gloom – and amid the shifting sands and political melt-down, there has been a series of truly horribly racist attacks, verbal and physical, on people who were born here or have worked here for years and simply happen to be not white or perhaps not have English as their first language.
It is shameful and shocking and makes me (and everyone I know) ashamed to be associated by nationality with such craven bullies. But it also reveals the nasty reality that some who voted for Brexit did it in the belief that all the people they feared or disliked or resented would suddenly dematerialise on that fateful Friday 24th, and that the vote (which, let’s not forget, was only 52 to 48 per cent – hardly overwhelming) gave them permission to be vile and racist with impunity.
However, it is worth considering, lest anyone think the Brexit vote is uniquely to blame for this unpleasant fall-out, that a Remain vote would have had its own repurcussions, with aggrieved Leave campaigners taking out their frustrations on any suitable object, which could still have been a Polish cultural centre, British-born black journalist, or African American military veteran scientist.
Compared with the bubbling cauldron of social discord stirred up by the referendum, the slithering mud of south Wiltshire feels quite comforting. As my late friend Lizzie used to say, whenever she was caught in a rainstorm, “We dry.” The mud on my boots is already drily caked and ready to be chipped off in the garden.
It will take more than a few hours of sunshine to find our way through the deep mud of uncertainty and social ferment in which we and our European friends are now engulfed.