In Which I Meet the Farmer on a Blustery Day


I was about to say “You know how it is when you move house …”, but then I remembered that not everyone has packed up their worldly possessions over two dozen times, and there’s a very good chance you DON’T know how it is, so I’ll tell you.

When you move house, you are possessed by an almost fanatical determination that you are no longer going to live your life in deep litter. THIS time you will seize the opportunity of a new start to get your tragically shambolic life in order and keep it that way. Things will be placed in boxes, stacked on shelves and – in the case of clothes and bedding – laundered, ironed and folded neatly before being put away in their allotted homes.

And so it was that, having finally created some sort of order in the cottage, I decided the dogs’ hairy, smelly and generally objectionable bedding was ruining my carefully crafted ‘country idyll’ fantasy. I therefore heartlessly tempted them from their baskets with sausages, and purloined their blankets when their backs were turned. They, of course, weren’t remotely concerned. After all, that’s what your best armchairs are for.

It was perfect drying weather – sunny with a brisk breeze – promising to get everything dry and pong-free by evening. Smugly pleased with my handiwork, I left the machine churning away and set about unpacking a tea chest full of my most treasured ornaments. So immersed was I in welcoming my precious darlings  to their new home and finding just the right place for them on the whatnot that the strangled gurgling noises coming from the back of the house didn’t penetrate my brain until the water had flooded through the kitchen and was pooling around my feet in the hallway.

Screaming obscenities, I slithered and slipped over the near-lethal stone flags into the utility closely followed by two over-excited Jack Russells, who thought that I must have spotted a rabbit in the bedding plants, and were raring for the chase. The machine was haemorrhaging dirty water from the filter, which had been forced from its housing by the pressure of the accumulated hairs and gunk and was hanging down onto the floor, twitching as the machine lurched around in its death throes. Immediately, Boy Dog leapt on it, ripped it out and proceeded to worry it to death, showering the whole room with sodden fluff  and dog hairs, while the fat Old Lady Dog waddled about, bent double with excitement and barking herself into a coughing fit.

By the time I’d tripped over Boy Dog, reached the machine, tried and failed to turn it off, yanked the plug from the socket and finally wrestled the door open, I was as wet as the floor, but marginally drier than the blankets which had been part way through the rinse cycle when death came to Tricity Bendix.

I am not British for nothing however. I have the blood of Alfred the Great coursing through my veins, along with a helping of German, Irish, Scottish, French and Swedish – oh, and a teeny bit of Russian from my great-great-Aunt on my mother’s side. Nothing daunted, I wrung the blankets out by hand, dumped them in the laundry basket and took them out into the garden – where the brisk breeze of earlier in the day had cranked itself up into a Force 5. As Boy Dog ran deliriously around the shrubbery with the dead filter and Old Lady Dog wandered off to find some dirt to eat  I attached the blankets  to the line with virtually every clothes peg I possessed then went inside to clear up the mess and consider my options.

I was thumbing through the telephone book later that afternoon looking for the number of the nearest purveyor of washing machines when I glanced out of the window  just in time to see the Boy Dog’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ blanket hurtling over the hedge into the neighbouring field and straight, I had no doubt, into a cow clap.

There comes a point, during a day like this one, when a sort of calm resignation descends upon you and any subsequent domestic calamities simply have no power to touch you. I had reached that stage. My only reaction was, “Well, of course.”

A quick reconnaissance in the garden revealed that the blanket had not, in fact, landed in a cow clap at all but was snagged on a hawthorn, just out of reach – a preferable option, but one that meant I’d have to go round by the road to the gate and into the field to retrieve it.

At first glance the field was empty and I foolishly felt that perhaps – just perhaps – my luck was turning. That was before I spotted the cow. More specifically, before I spotted the cow standing by the cottage hedge with the blanket halfway down its throat.

With 20-20 hindsight, what I should probably have done is go and find the farmer and explain the problem. What I actually did, being both bloody minded and a bit thick, was go into the field, grab the remainder of the blanket and try to retrieve it from the cow’s gullet by brute force.

It’s amazing how strong a cow’s jaws are. You don’t really expect that from an animal that lives on grass. I mean, I’m an expert at forcing open a terrier’s jaws to separate it from favourite cardigans and whole chickens, but cows have teeth like tombstones and jaws of concrete and if they don’t want to open their mouths, nothing short of a car jack will make them.

I had the animal in a headlock when I noticed The Reverend Ruskin leaning on the gate, watching proceedings with mild interest.

“Good afternoon,” he greeted me with his usual amiable smile. “Should I go and fetch Maggie or Alec?”

“Who they?” I asked, trying to look as if wrestling with a Friesian was something I did every day.

“Oldhanger Farm. That’s one of their cows – and look – here come the others. Won’t be a minute – don’t go away. And don’t let go of that – whatever it is.”

I looked across the field in the direction he indicated and saw upwards of three dozen bovine silhouettes on the skyline, heading inexorably in my direction. And all the while, more and more of the blanket was disappearing into the cow’s slowly moving jaws.

By the time Maggie, a robustly-built woman in her forties clad in a tattersall check shirt and an ancient pair of dungarees, vaulted over the gate I was entirely surrounded by curious cows, and all you could see of Viggo Mortensen was his boots.

“Hello,” she said, cocking her head sideways. “I’m Maggie. I see you’ve met Betty.” She reached into a pocket and produced a handful of cattle pellets. “Look what I’ve got, Betts … your favourite … Let her come to me.”

I relinquished my hold on the animal who ambled towards Maggie in pursuit of cattle pellets, and I then watched queasily as the latter pulled Viggo and Orlando from the depths.

She handed it back to me with a barely suppressed smirk.

“I think it’ll need washing.”

Over at the gate, the Vicar snorted and went on his way.

(Picture credit: From a photograph by Peter Nijenhuis, reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.)


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