A sort of eerie happiness has descended on the morning coffee break here at Wyken. This ritual takes place in the cafe each morning at 10:30am, and usually consists of Will, who runs the farm; Alan and Lucy, who garden the garden; Angie, who keeps the house; Sue, who keeps the books; my husband, who administers the whole shoeshine; and me. Until the numbers grew-there are now 50 on the Wyken payroll-coffee break took place in the kitchen and the choice was Nescafé or PG Tips, Bourbon or custard creams. Now, the choice is flat white, cappuccino, mocha, Russian green tea, Lapsang Souchong, shortbread or biscotti. We may be hicks, but we are fussy hicks.
But our new happiness is not beverage based. It comes, as far as I can tell, from the radical theme that’s replaced the local gossip. We now spend these gatherings Thinking the Unthinkable. Alan, head gardener, started it off: ‘As food miles are now a big thing and Wyken specialises in homegrown, how about Peacock Pie on the menu?’
I know the anxiety that’s inspired this. In April, we had seven peacocks and six peahens, ranging in age from one year to five or six. In mid May, with the timing of a string quartet, the peahens disappeared. This vanishing act lasted about a month. Then, miraculously, they begin to reappear. Every day this week, a peahen has emerged from her accouchement followed by a clutch of miniature peachicks. We call them the peapods, and their number has now reached 20, with more to come. However, suggestions for pâté de foie gras de paon bleu are as unthinkable to me as labrador bourguignon.
My husband votes with Alan on Peacock Pie. In fact, his every proposal of Thinking the Unthinkable starts with the word ‘cull’. Cull the deer and save the woods. Cull the sheep and rejuvenate the meadows. Cull the Red Polls and improve the farm cash flow. After the caffeine kicks in, the Unthinkable Thoughts flow faster. Have a part-time Parliament like the Texas legislature. Members of Parliament should only meet three months a year. They should all have real jobs, and being an MP should be a volunteer job like being a magistrate. When Parliament is in session, MPs should receive the same duty allowance as a soldier in Afghanistan.
Funny how quickly the Unthinkable expands to the Unsayable. ‘Thou shalt limit thy offspring for multitudes of people are a burden unto the earth’ sounds more sayable than ‘Limit Child Benefit to the first two children’, which translates as ‘Get the feckless women who have seven children with seven different fathers off the taxpayers’ backs’. Similarly, saying ‘Don’t have children you can’t afford’ sounds better than ‘Only the well-off (and preferably intelligent) should breed large families’. How quickly the Unthinkable becomes a dirty little secret we call Common Sense.
This week’s prize, by unanimous vote of the Cappuccino and Free Thinkers Society, for best Unthinkable Thought went to Simon Jenkins, who’s been pestering his readers with brave thoughts all his writing life. In The Guardian (June 9) he called for a cut in defence. Not a cull or mothballing Trident.
Cutting all £45 billion of it, on the basis that we entered the 21st century safer than at any time since the Norman Conquest, but we are hellbent on concocting wars in order to justify our colossal amounts of military stuff. As for our ‘colonies’ in the Falklands, Gibraltar and the Cayman Islands, Mr Jenkins suggests we pay them a billion a year and bring the troops home.
We chewed over Mr Jenkins’ ‘once-in-a-generation’ proposal for several mornings. Truth is, all this free thinking has got us going a little wild. It feels like the graffiti of Mai 1968. Soyez réalistes: demandez l’impossible. Be realistic: ask for the impossible. We feel giddy with hope. Any day now, we’ll be spray painting Think the Unthinkable on the barn doors.