THE youngest boy was distraught the other week after finding a library book on the shelf that he should have returned a couple of years ago.

He thought he would have to pay a fine of at least a million pounds because it was so late.

I told him he was being silly – it was two years overdue and the fine would probably be two million pounds, adding that his forgetfulness meant we would lose the house and his baby sister would be taken into care. We play hard in our house.

I did feel bad about the library book however and we were planning to return it as quickly as possible. Unfortunately the boy took it to school to hide in the school’s own library thinking this would make everything okay. Kids can be so stupid – let’s not tell them they have permission though.

There’s been talk of recovering the book, but we fear it may have been borrowed. If your child brings How to Play Rugby back from school let me know and I’ll arrange collection, its return to the library and payment of the fine – unless of course it is really as hefty as the boy fears, in which case I’ll run out of the library and hope the librarian considers chasing fine dodgers to be more than their volunteer role is worth.

In other news, we went for a walk at the weekend and it struck me just what a run-down, depressing, crappy place the Dales countryside can sometimes seem when you don’t have people, or enough people, managing it.

Fences and walls down, hedges untrimmed, trees uprooted and left to rot where they fall, ditches and streams full of vegetation, traditional field barns year by year collapsing in on themselves – if this was urban neglect there would be uproar.

I suppose it’s just a sign of the decline in Dales farming. Farmers no longer have the staff to rebuild the fences and walls, chop up fallen trees, spend a day digging out ditches. Of course they will do their best with the resources they have, but nature is relentless and we’re well past the tipping point when the countryside can be repaired to its former glory.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe things will look better in the spring when there’s a bit of greenery. Maybe I need to stay in more.