Olympic fever has finally hit our village. It all started when Mr Addington put a very small Union flag in the plant pot that he has placed on his verge to defend it from the rampant tractors that roar around our lanes. The flag really was very small, and placed at exact right angles to the plant pot, but it was Mr Addington’s equivalent of a marching brass band playing ‘Chariots of Fire’ complete with majorettes twirling the Olympic colours.
Next up was Julia, the hedge fund manager, who went to visit the Velodrome, watched Victoria Pendleton power to a gold medal and was inspired. And if you are Julia, being inspired means going shopping. So nobody was really surprised when she appeared in the village cruising along on a wafer-thin road bike, complete with lycra and a space-age cycling helmet. The problem was that her new cycling shoes were firmly clipped into her pedals and for the first few days she couldn’t stop. “I can’t stop!” she’d wail as she was borne past the onlookers outside the village Post Office. “I can’t stop!” she’d scream as she pedalled firmly past people she really wanted to stop and chat to. Presumably she must have stopped when she got home, but she wasn’t much fun to be with until she discovered how to twist her shoes out of their prisons on the pedal.
She hasn’t got it right yet. Frank and me were chatting in the lane this morning and Julia appeared on the horizon, peddling vigorously. She cruised to an elegant halt alongside us, failed to disengage her foot and toppled sideways onto one of the steep banks that line our lanes. Only her pride was hurt, but I don’t think the cycling craze will last far beyond the current Olympics. We retrieved her from the long grass and sent her on her way. “All the gear and no idea,” grumbled Frank. “She’ll be over again at the next pothole, see if she doesn’t!”
Frank is a grump at the moment because he missed the only decent weather for making hay we’ve had this year, visiting his wife’s relations. Now he’ll have to buy some in from Maurice the farmer, and Maurice will gloat.
Maurice is having his own private mini-Olympics at the moment. I was walking the dogs past his farmyard a couple of days ago, and watched him heaving a heavy trailer up onto his tractor’s towing bar. After a couple of false starts he got it in place and leaped to his feet, arms upstretched: “YES IT’S A GOLD!! HE’S DONE IT!!” he yelled. Then he saw me and got all bashful.
Long may the Olympics reign, it’s doing us all around here a power of good!
We live in an intensely rural community, and nothing brings this home more than the present spell of fine weather. As week followed week of drenching, cold rain everybody was beginning to worry about hay. You’ve got to have hay if you’ve got horses and sheep. Those with cows can give them silage, and some horses do well with haylage, but for the smallholder there is nothing to replace the comfort of having a hay barn packed with old fashioned small bales of meadow hay, as a preparation for the winter. And nobody could make hay with the weather that lasted from April through to a week ago. There was lots of lush grass, certainly, but our pastures were lakes, and there was no sunshine to make hay with.
Then the sun came out and it’s been manic ever since. The fields dried within a day, and then every tractor in the parish was revved up and took to the roads. Frank drives a very old vintage tractor, and takes things steadily. Occasionally he has to go onto the bigger roads to reach an outlying field, and then he picks up an instant tail of steaming mad commuters who find his habit of driving in the middle of the road at 10mph while wearing a tweed cap almost impossible to bear.
At the other end of the scale, Maurice has a stable of vast, gleaming tractors that roar about the place at warp speed dragging mighty implements behind them. Commuters find him much easier to be stuck behind, but it’s not so great if you are riding a sensitive horse and hear one of Maurice’s monsters approaching. All you can do is pray you’ll reach a gateway that you can dive into before it comes bellowing around the corner and frightens your horse (Slip) into spasms. Even the geese don’t chase Maurice’s tractors, and that’s saying something.
But now our hay barn is full of beautiful bales of meadow hay – baled sunshine to keep the stock happy in the depths of the winter. It’s a fab feeling, and makes arms like chewed spaghetti and legs covered in stubble rash after heaving around bales seem well worth while.
By the way, whippet puppy is now conceived. Getting more exciting all the time. And Dolly the frizzle chick has come down from the ark and is now making full use of the hen run’s amenities. I must just now find a way of stopping Wenceslas showing a more than paternal interest in her. She is a very pretty hen, but she is not for him.
Went to London yesterday to see the musical ‘Matilda’, and it was awesomely good. But I don’t go to London often, so make more of a meal of it than those who go every day and travel nonchalantly there and back without a quiver. I had to feed the animals early, and find coat/shoes etc without mud (and worse) on them. I like to get to the railway station ridiculously early and sit for hours on a cold bench looking mindlessly at ranks of parked cars in the distance. Anything rather be late, and have to run, and just miss the train pulling heartlessly away as you hurtle down endless steps (I’ve done that, and I didn’t like it).
So it was a mixed blessing when Frank appeared at my side when I was hurling hay at the sheep, with something on his mind. He’s a real countryman, is Frank, and there’s nothing he doesn’t know about ferrets in sickness and in health, but he does take a long time to get to the point. Frank’s never been to London in his life, and probably never been on a train either. So, with me beginning to hyperventilate, he started off the ‘well I saw you was along here and I thought to myself that I could toddle along and have a bit of a word’ thing that can go on for half an hour. The gist of his song, arrived at after careful shepherding from me, was that he thought my field of untouched Spring grass, which I’ve been nurturing all winter to give my lot a nice treat when the other fields are at their barest, would be just the thing for his newly lambed ewes. I let him down gently, but it took time.
I whizzed home to start changing and Mrs Addington was on the doorstep. She was collecting for a Good Cause and was expecting a cup of herb tea (not a mug, she doesn’t like mugs) and the chance to lecture me at length on exactly how Good the Cause was. Not this time, Mrs A! I stuffed a note into her box and fled indoors. Finally (and this takes the biscuit) I opened up the gates (which I keep closed in case Maurice’s dairy herd are having one of their many little excursions into uncharted territory and decide to have a grand day out in my garden) and Maurice had parked his tractor plus harrows in my gateway and disappeared. Gnawing my knuckles, I rushed about till I found him peaceably chatting to a neighbour about hedging, persuaded him to shift his mighty machine and finally got myself to the station.
Readers I made it, but only just and I didn’t calm down until I was actually in the theatre (and it was awesomely good). But that’s basically why I don’t go to London very often.
One of my friends said the other day that anybody who reads my blog would think that I lived in a hen run. This is of course partly true, certainly feels entirely true sometimes. And I get endless joy from watching the poultry goings-on, and writing about them.
But of course I also live in a village. And the inhabitants are slowly and creakily coming to life now we have intermittent bursts of sunlight and the first faint heralding of Spring. The human population still looks a bit pale and crumpled, but they are emerging determinedly from their homes after a winter of near hibernation. I saw several this morning as I fed the sheep, and made a note of them to prove that I can see beyond the hen house. There was Maurice the farmer on his truly enormous tractor, ploughing the next hill into purplish red furrows. He was surrounded by a cloud burst of seagulls. How can they know that there is ploughing going on in land-locked Wiltshire? All the way from the sea? Amazing. Then Julia came thudding past, in training for the Bath Half Marathon, her trainer springing lithely alongside her. When Julia started training she ran slower than walking. Now she is running as fast as quick walking. Knowing her determination, she will be zipping along like a hare by Half Marathon Day. And Mr Addington strode by on his daily fault-finding walk, which he has recommenced now it’s March (I can talk freely here because he doesn’t have a computer let along read a blog). He said “Have you seen the headlines in the paper? I’m appalled!” cast a critical eye around the field and continued on his way. It’s a ritual I’ve grown strangely fond of, after my initial alarm.
Finally, as I was about to fill the hay rack and depart, Frank came and leaned on the gate. Frank thinks my ewes should have lambed by now, but as my flock is the opposite of commercial I have other plans. Which is the nicest month for a lamb to be born in, and for me to spend long hours in the field shelter chatting to the ewes and waiting to be midwife? May. So that’s when the lambs will arrive. Frank is a proper shepherd and is horrified by this fluffiness, so every time I see him he says “those lambs should be here by now, so they should. They should indeed!” and continues with variations on the theme while the ewes bounce around me, very obviously nowhere near lambing. So there we are. There is human life around me. But I still love to write about the hen run!