Ratty, Mole and the Gin and Jag Brigade

When our Home Secretary was not a home secretary at all; before police reorganisations and passport staff cuts and abortive announcements about extraditing terrorists in the House Of Commons; once, she got very hot under the collar on behalf of the victimised people of Maidenhead.

It seems that parliamentary briefing documents on her constituency added a little colour to the statistics. They need not necessarily have bothered:  this area has colour all its own. With a privileged population of around 5,500, one area – Cookham – was featured as Britain’s second richest village in 2010 by Daily Telegraph readers.

Still, never one to miss a bit of exposition. May launched a scathing attack on the hapless researchers of the aforementioned documents for branding her constituency “somewhat spoiled by the gin and jag brigade.”

In a huffy letter to the Secretary of State she wrote: “Not only do I feel this is offensive to members of my constituency and a wholly inappropriate way for a government department to regard an area, but it also concerns me as to the assumptions made by your department in dealing with my constituents.”

Allow me to give you a little insider knowledge.

For my sister-in-law was landlady of a great big Cookham pub, The Crown, from 1977-1989.

And my husband served faithfully as barman for intervals during her tenure.

And let me tell you: they had jags bursting out of every car park, and gin overflowing the glasses on the manicured village lawns. My sister-in-law had a jag: her clientele had jags. My husband, at the tender age of 17 having just passed his test, was handed the keys to a jag and allowed to cruise the lanes. He tells me that the hump back bridge at nearby Boulter’s Lock was a perennial problem for every Jaguar XJS driver, because you couldn’t see over the vast bonnet to the road ahead.

The poor victimised jag drivers were forced to drive it blind.

And so, Mrs May, though it pains me to gainsay your passionate campaigning, this place has been home to people with jags who drink gin for a very long time.

Cookham is an incredibly affluent area, home to various very important people.

And the evidence is that is has been, for centuries. Look in the gorgeous yard of the stunning little church and you will find that people lived a good long time there. There are vaults and tombstones with people living into their seventies way back in the seventeenth century. They lived well here long before jags were ever invented.

But it is also the most charming area imaginable.

This is where Ratty and Mole and Toad were born in the mind of Kenneth Graham. He lived in Cookham Dean as a child, and came back to write “Wind In The Willows”.

And it is the destination we chose for a picnic today, in lieu of Sunday Lunch. For England is cold and grey and rainy for an overwhelming percentage of the year; but when it is warm and sunny it is little short of paradise.

We threw a picnic in the National Trust picnic rucksack,made a flask of tea, and headed for the Thames.

After nudging the nice cars in the car park out of the way with our aged Merc, we began the most glorious amble across the common, towards the river. You know that sight when the boats appear to be sailing along the ground in a solemn traffic jam? There they were, nose to tail.

We passed houses beyond the dreams of avarice: a moneyed English Shangri-La, each mansion swathed in green trees. And as we got nearer to the river the dogs became visible: big ones, small ones, happy little corpulent ones, rangy racer-types. All on leads, all enjoying the sun and the social scene.

And so to our favourite bench by the river, shaded from the glare, opposite opulent boat houses, where we ate and watched the craft going by: canoes, rowboats, gin palaces, barges, all river-borne life was there, grinning and sun-kissed, cooled by the breezes of the Thames.

How can I describe the scene: the straw hats, the aquatint, benches for all, the affable conglomerations of picnickers with their salmon and champagne, the dappled willow-shade: a stroll to the churchyard and the stream-cool air of the 12th century church. This is England, my England; the most beneficial of clichés, a living oil painting through which one can stroll.

And so: if you find yourself in the South of England on a sunny Summer day, perhaps you might add, to your list of destinations, a trip to brave the gin and jag brigade, to picnic on the willowy river adored by Rat and Mole, at Cookham.

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33 thoughts on “Ratty, Mole and the Gin and Jag Brigade

  1. Oh so civilised and pretty! A wonderful place to visit, by the looks of things. Will I be able to hire a Jag and driver? (Gin has a bad effect…)

    1. I know: watching some of the people one feels as though one has one’s nose pressed up against the window, looking into a place we’ll never access….fascinating, though….

  2. Lovely! Did Mac want a ride on a canoe too?

    I bet, among all that richness there a a lot of relative poverty. The farm workers for example. Woodstock is a rich place, but there are also some very poor.

  3. You should have a dispensation for an ‘absolutely adore’ button to appear next the the ‘like’ one.

    Oh, there really should be a village called ‘Eatham’ alongside!

    I would fit in really well there. I love Jags, and have been known to imbibe G&T with great enjoyment. I just lack one tiny prerequisite – the necessary funding.

  4. Think I’d fancy being with Ratty and Mole in their little blue and white boat rather than have the Jag, thanks. And, as our temps here will likely progress to 90+ degrees today, I’m sure I’d enjoy cruising close to the riverbank, under the shade of the overhanging willows, with a picnic basket, a small jug of G&T and a good book. Having thought about this, now I think maybe I’d like to re-read The Wind in the Willows; it was a favorite in my (much) younger days. 🙂

    Beautifully told and photographed, Kate.

  5. What a gorgeous outing, Kate. Loved the photos too . . . especially the “through the spy hole” glimpse of cemetary beyond and the dog on the bow (wow) of the kayak. 😉

  6. Lovely to know of a place in England when I could ex-pat myself and drink rivers of gin with my neighbors. 🙂 Ha.

    When I saw your photos on FB last night, it reminded me of a very different experience. Some of the Rotarians took us to Foxton Locks when we were there 2 summers ago. We witnessed a swan killing a duck. It was horrible. The women were shrieking and crying for it to stop, English and American alike. The men were cheering like they were watching a prize fight, taking photographs and video. We were very put out with them for the rest of the day.

  7. I’ll tell you a little secret. Tom has a toy in garage. A big toy. It is red and old and is propelled on the road with a stick shift, an XKE, an old one. I saw him staring at it earlier and wonder if he might take it for a spin this afternoon. He, and I, would love a picnic at Cookham, Kate. For now, my copy of Wind in the Willows is sitting next to the television. Perhaps a few pages before I start dinner.

    1. Ah, Tom has hidden depths 😀 One day, Penny, it would be lovely to think we could picnic at Cookham together. Wind in the Willows is one of my all-time favourite books.

  8. Lovely!

    Questions: do you think that we might make it as far as Cookham if we are picking up a canal boat just above Oxford for a week in the summer, and heading down the river (but we have to return it from whence it came a week later)? Also, love the photo slideshow – is there a particular widget that you have used?

    Love, M xx

  9. Oh, happy sighs… I had a friend in prep school who drove his mother’s Jag. I loved when we went places. Nothing like swinging a leg out of a car like that… Now to do it in Cookham!

  10. What a delightful day! I call days like you’ve described “my mental refreshers” and they do me more good sometimes than a week’s vacation! The photos are lovely and it must be a very special town. I loved the nod to Wind in the Willows…also one of my favorites! I am not a “car” person. I usually don’t care at all, but you can ask my husband if it isn’t a Jag that I always point out on the road. I do adore them…from a distance, alas! So glad for your sunny excursion. You undoubtedly were quite ready for it! Debra

  11. Lovely post and photos, Kate. England in summer really does have an incredible beauty all of its own, and the country pubs, the kind of pub atmosphere I love.

  12. A picture hangs on the wall beside me; I snapped a number of years ago. It is picture of ‘your England’. In the frame: there are no cathedrals, no statues, no narrow cobble stone streets lined with shops and pubs, no hustle and bustle of tourists in front of Buckingham. Instead, within the frame is an image of a elderly couple, well into their eighties, feeding the pigeons in a park, surround by a mosaic of spring blooms. She manages the umbrella fending off the rain, he tends to doling out lunch to the increasing flock. You do, they did, show me what the real England is.

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