...we began chatting and it was light-hearted and silly but over before I knew we'd begun...


                 I realise this has nothing to do with Greece, but if anyone had a sense of 'grecofilia', of 'interdependence',

...it was John.


January 17th 2004.

Dear John Peel,

I realise that the last thing you need is someone from St. Keverne telling you that we're having a heatwave, a tropical heatwave, or that we're all wearing our swimming costumes as we wobble round the village doing our best to keep in the shade - so I won't.

One wet and windy night last week, a group of us were huddled round the beer in the village pub exchanging entertaining fragments of our lives when someone mentioned hobbies. When it came to my turn everyone hid behind their glasses and looked away. Then someone mentioned your programme and wondered if you'd be interested. You see, I have a strange and possibly dangerous hobby.

I collect soil.

It all started when my wife, Sandy, and I were having a day out in Roscoff and were waiting for the ferry back to Penzance. To kill time I wandered round the harbour watching the smugglers whilst pretending to look at the flowers until I noticed how pungent the soil was. It smelled of beetroot. Not at all like English soil. That just smells of well, soil.
I began to wonder if all soil smelled different, depending on country of origin. I imagined people threatening to fight you over 'the soil of England' or claiming 'French soil' and replying, "Well, instead of having a battle, we'll send you some." Much more civilised I thought.
The next thing was, and to this day I don't know why I did it, but I got hold of a plastic bag and picked up a couple of handfuls like those people do who clean up after their pet dogs.
When I got home, I happened to tell a mate who lives in Arizona. One day out of the blue, a little parcel arrived and inside, yes, you've guessed it, inside was a little packet of ancient Apache soil. Since then, word's got round and I am the proud holder of soil from all over the world including Mexico, China, the Sahara Desert, Portugal, Sweden, Japan, Greece and …er…Bootle.

Best wishes and kind regards from me and Sandy,

                                                                                                    Tony Brown.


LISTEN AGAIN: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/hometruths/20040203_strange_hobbies.shtml

                   photo by James Beedon/Katz Pictures

JP: Tony Brown emailed 'Home Truths' to tell of his strange, and possibly environmentally reckless, hobby. In a way though, Tony's hobby found him - rather than vice versa. I'll let him explain.

TB: I was in the local pub on the first couple of days after I'd arrived in this village and somebody nodded, as you do, and then we bought a drink and he was telling me he was a farmer, and I said, 'Ah! That"s interesting because I've got an interest in the soil as well'. And he said, 'Oh, what's that, my 'ansome?' I said, 'I collect soil.' And he just, looked at me. He was stunned. Completely stunned. And that's what started it. It became a joke at first and I won't tell you what sorts of samples were brought to me but I'm sure you can guess.

JP: So how did it all begin? 

TB: Well, my wife and I took a trip from Plymouth to Roscoff in Brittany, and once there they allow you a couple of hours for sightseeing and to do some shopping and while  waiting for the return ferry, I happened to look down at the soil and began thinking, 'Blimey, all the battles that've been fought over soil'. And then I picked some up and it smelled of...erm...beetroot, and I thought,'That's nice', and I don't know why, I just put it in a plastic bag and put it in my pocket.

JP: Mmmm...

TB: And when I came back, I was emailing a friend in Arizona and...erm...he happens to work with the Hopi Indians, and he said, 'Oh, I'll send you some soil.' And that was just, like, the beginning of it. Since then it has just steam-rolled.

JP: H...how many...er...different soils do you have?

TB: There"s about twenty-four, I think.

JP: Mmm.

TB: From various parts of the globe. Erm...

JP: Oh, you mentioned the fact that the one from...er...France smelled beetrooty...

TB: Yes.

JP: W...I mean do they all have different smells?

TB: Yeah, yeah they do. It's weird. Erm, Morocco's lemony, believe it or not...

JP: Mmm...

TB: Portugal's sort of er, mint and cinnamon, erm, Greece is nice, ha.

JP: Don't you think that it's the case that if you'd taken a sample of soil from a couple of feet away, it would have been different?

TB: Ha. Completely. Ha.

JP: Mmm..

TB: I was amazed at the Sahara one. I thought, 'God, it smells just like mustard', until I realised it was in an old mustard jar.

JP: Ah, that could be an explanation for it.

TB: Ha. Ha.

JP: Ha. Ha.

TB: But how do you explain things like mahogany, you know, it smells woody and, er, chocolatey, and things like that.

JP: And, er, er, colour-wise, do they vary a great deal?

TB: Oh, yeah. The hotter the climate that the soil comes from, the paler. Erm...like, erm...the Sahara is very, very powdery, pale...

JP: Mmmm...

TB: ...orange...

JP: Mmmm...

TB: ...going to Greece which is really, grey, mmm..rusty...and Portugal's very terracotta.

JP: OK, and whereabouts do you keep all of the soil?

TB: Oh, just in jars. We've got a really long windowsill, and er...it, it, it faces south and that's probably why they're full of grass and things growing in them.

JP: And, and, er, you, your wife, I'm afraid I don't know her name but d, d, d,...

TB: Sandy.

JP: Sandy. Oh, course, somebody did mention she was called Sandy...How approp...

TB: Oh blimey...just seen the connection.

JP: How appropriate is that! You've only just noticed it? Tony, come on. I can scarcely...

TB: Honestly.

JP: ...believe that.

TB: Honestly. I asked her to marry me because it fitted with sandy brown.

JP: Ha. ha. ha.

TB: I thought that sounded good.

JP: She take an interest in your soil, ha, ha?

TB: She, she wouldn't even go in the room.

JP: And you have...er...two step children, I understand...

TB: Yeah, Jon and Catherine.

JP: What do they...what do Jon and Catherine think about your soil collection?

TB: Catherine, she was the one who brought me stuff back from Portugal and Grand Canarias. She's sort of...sympathetic. I think it's a bit like giving sugar to the dog.

JP: Ha.Ha. ha.

TB: Whereas, Jon says things like, 'Get a life'.

JP: Well of course, er, you'd be hoping you could now expand outside our own world and get soil from Mars and the Moon and so forth.

TB: Well, I was thinking of writing to NASA, you know, but actually...

JP: ...got any to spare...

TB: I wouldn't mind some sand from the, the Mariana Trench. Is that the one in the Pacific?

JP: Oh, the, the deepest place on Earth, or whatever, is that the one?

TB: Yeah, 6,000 feet or something.

JP: Mmmm.

TB: Or Everest maybe.

JP: Oh, so, so, you're now maybe, moving away from countries into geographical locations really?

TB: I'm just getting cocky, I think.

JP: OK. Alright. And the older ones - have they deteriorated at all?

TB: Only one from Morocco, it, it just went sort of green, ha. ha.

JP: Mmmm...OK...I wonder if it's actually legal to, to bring in...

TB: ...I don't know...

JP: You've never discovered that? One worry would be that, er, it might be mistaken by, er, eagle-eyed customs people for drugs as it ever happened?

TB: Yeah, yeah.

JP: Don't know if any of your collectors had to explain themselves to the authorities?

TB: Me. I was coming back and the Customs Officer opened my case and the, erm, the plastic bag that had some, erm, stuff in it...

JP: ...Mmm...

TB: ...just split open and this soil was all on the bottom - it was like a powder...

JP: Yeah, and he thought he'd got you banged to rights, as they say.

TB Yeah, he looked really chuffed.

JP: Mmmm.

TB: He dabbed it and put it in his mouth. He said, 'What's this friend?'

JP: He, he, he.

TB: And I said, 'I think it's Benidorm'.

Much shared laughter.

JP: See you again sometime.


John said his job as a disc jockey was no more important than that of the number on a page...

...but then he would say that, wouldn't he?



 LISTEN AGAIN: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/hometruths/20040203_strange_hobbies.shtml




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