I wandered into a favorite used bookstore one day a few years ago and bee-lined to the comedy section as usual. There I found a copy of The Young Fogey Handbook
by Suzanne Lowry. It made me laugh out loud in the store, which is the criterion for whether or not I buy a book in that section, so I took it home and studied up. A young fogey is a young man (usually British, but failing that, an Anglophile) who rues that it isn’t currently any year beteween 1920 and 1950 and that he is not in Cambridge or a newspaper office in London, and dresses the part with shabby tweeds, spats, battered leather satchels, and “sit up and beg”-style bicycles. Women are almost never young fogeys. The book continually alluded to a man who represented the epitome of Young Fogey-ism: Superfogey. Somewhere around chapter three it is revealed that Superfogey is none other than Charles Philip Arthur George, HRH The Prince of Wales.
Not long afterward the latest issue of National Geographic showed up in my mailbox, featuring an article on none other than Superfogey, titled “Prince Charles: Not Your Typical Radical”. This was how I came to be a fan of the Prince. Superfogey is deeply interested in reviving rural ways of life – a strong believer in communities, organic gardening, heirloom breeds, villages instead of massive cities, sustainable and substantial architecture . . . the list goes on. The thing that appealed to me was that the Prince was not merely talking up the old ways for the sake of rural popularity without having tried them or without thought for modern or scientific advances in agriculture and agronomy. There is little that the Prince advocates that he hasn’t at the very least dabbled in, researched, or asked around about. He personally checks in at farms where he has asked people to raise heirloom breeds, getting not just their data but also their opinions on whether this or that is an easy or productive breed. He applies science to organic gardening techniques, carefully testing varieties, methods, and variables. He has even created model communities, such as Poundbury in Dorset, and the Newquay Growth Area in Cornwall, where he tests his and his team’s theories of sustainable architecture and communities on a life-size scale.
At one of his websites, http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/, I also learned that he is a helicopter pilot, flew jets in the RAF, and is “in total . . . Patron or President of around 400 organisations.” I got overly excited to read that “The Prince went to Cambridge University in 1967 to read archaeology and anthropology at Trinity College. He changed to history for the second part of his degree, and in 1970 was awarded a 2:2 degree.” I thought that this meant that Superfogey had studied in Ireland, but no, he attended Trinity College, Cambridge (constituent college of the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England) and not Trinity College, Dublin (constituent college of the University of Dublin, in Dublin Ireland). Rats.
If I were going to hang a picture in my greenhouse (and I think I will, when I finish the damn thing) it would be a framed copy of the photo from the National Geographic article in which Prince Charles is standing in the muddy side yard of the house of a renter he’s checking up on, clad in a tailored blue suit of unfathomable price, looking concerned and thoughtful about the renter’s rare breed sheep, his feet comfortably encased in filthy black rubber wellies. That’s the mental image I carry around of my personal gardening hero.