Last week was unusual. At the start of it, I was mooching about in the country in my customary way, doing little odd jobs and fretting over the fate of my poultry, which is once again under attack from foxes. I have yet to see a fox in Northamptonshire this year, but the farmer says there is a fox’s lair in an old barn in the park below my house. He sits there with his shotgun most evenings at dusk, but he never seems to get a shot at one. I have to admit there’s no evidence that foxes are responsible for the losses among my flock of ducks, but it’s hard to think who else might be. In the past few weeks, ducks have been disappearing one by one, and now there are only nine of them left out of the previous 14. The call ducks, Boris and Marina, are sorely missed, but otherwise I’ve become so inured to deaths among my poultry that I am now almost unmoved by them. It’s easier if you don’t give them names, so I have stopped doing so; and I even take some small comfort from the savings I’m making on duck food.
I have chickens as well as ducks, but the chickens are faring better. This, I think, is because the ducks live on a pond a hundred yards or so below my house and would be the first birds that a marauding fox from the park would encounter. Having grabbed one or two ducks, the fox may feel that this is enough and that it’s not worth the risk of then going after the chickens that live bang next door to me. Still, one of the chickens also disappeared the other day, which suggests that they remain vulnerable. I am most grateful to the readers who have been offering advice on how to save them from foxes, but little of it seems wholly satisfactory.
Alex McIntosh from Dunning in Perthshire says a foolproof way is to have a chicken coop off the ground at a height that a fox could not jump. Instead of the usual ramp from the ground to the coop’s entrance, there would just be a very narrow strip of wood that a chicken could run up and a fox couldn’t. This is ingenious, but my chickens are safely shut in at night already, whereas during the day, when foxes always get them, they wander about all over the place. A popular recommendation is to have radios dotted around the garden, blaring away constantly at maximum volume, but I would rather have no chickens than that. The most attractive proposal so far is that I keep some guinea fowl, which are said to be a great deterrent to foxes. Maybe I should give that a try.
Anyway, as I said at the beginning, last week was unusual. On Monday I was pottering about pleasantly as retired old people do. On Tuesday I was offered and accepted the editorship of the Oldie magazine in succession to Richard Ingrams, who had resigned. ‘He’s a bloody fool for taking the job,’ said Ingrams in the Daily Telegraph, imagining, perhaps, that I would find a return to drudgery and office politics unbearable after so long an absence from the real world. It is in fact 18 years since I last frequented an office of any kind, and this was when I was sacked as editor of the Sunday Telegraph Magazine. (I have been regularly sacked throughout my career in journalism, so at least if this were to happen again I would find it hardly more shocking than I now find the deaths of my ducks.)
We will see what happens; but during his 22-year tenure at the Oldie, a magazine he created as a morale-booster for people feeling marginalised by the all-pervading cult of youth, Ingrams succeeded so triumphantly in his objective that we oldies now feel we can do anything. Well, perhaps not anything. Here, however, was one job — possibly the only job in the world — for which at my age (74) I felt I could plausibly apply. I look forward to thinking once more about things other than poultry. I hope it will be fun. And if the Oldie continues to be as successful as it is now, there will be no one to thank but Ingrams, the most extraordinary editor of our time.
This is an extract from this week’s magazine, available 18 June