We are told that ignorance of the law in no excuse, but when the law in question is, to say the least, somewhat antiquated, not to say obscure, there must be some excuse in one's ignorance. And we do, still, have laws in this country that are way past their "best before" dates. Every now and then some law officer attempts to bring to the attention of the powers that be some of the laws whose usefulness has long since passed on and the relevant laws are rescinded. For example, I understand that for many years it was illegal to eat mince pies and Christmas puddings, these having been banned by the Puritanical Oliver Cromwell's government. A couple of laws of similar obscurity have just been - or are about to be - repealed. I have most certainly been guilty of breaking one of them, although my guilt in the case of the other is less cast-iron.
Under the 1872 Licensing Act, it was an offence to be intoxicated while in charge of a cow. I'm not sure that I could have been accused of this, although there was one occasion when it might have been touch and go. It happened one Easter while we were on my cousin's farm for a few days.
When we are on the farm, it has become something of a habit to open a bottle of wine as soon as the clock strikes six. That is consumed, along with a few crisps and similar nibbles, before the commencement of and during the preparation of the evening meal. Our version of an aperitif and amuse-bouches, you understand. Occasionally, a second bottle is needed as we don't usually sit down until about eight. Then another bottle is breached. By the time dessert is served, both Julian and I will have sunk too much to even consider getting behind the wheel. On one dark and rainy night, just as Liza was about to serve dessert (baked Alaska, in case you are interested - her first attempt at the dish), the phone rang. It was somebody whose garden backed onto a field of cows, one of which had broken through the fence and was busily devouring the flowers and shrubs so carefully cultivated. Julian and I had no choice but to find torches, wellies, waterproofs and fencing tools, trample through a bed of nettles and drive the cow out of the neighbour's garden before repairing the fence, all in the dark and with the rain pouring down. I was certainly close to being in charge of a cow while intoxicated on that occasion.
But there is no doubt about my guilt under the other law. It most certainly would be a fair cop - if anyone could be bothered to charge me with the offence. And this law is not so very old as it dates only from 1937. Under the Grey Squirrels (Prohibition of Importation and Keeping) Order, people were required to report the presence of grey squirrels on their land so that the animals could be destroyed. Many a time I have watched the squirrels in our garden - and failed to report their presence. But at least I now know that I won't be hauled off to the Tower of London!