Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Red with shame, thanks to my Kleptomaniac Toddler

The past week has been an endless succession of meetings with builders, plumbers and electricians, as we prepare to start renovating our new home, a rambling 17th Century Farm House, which has been in Jasper's family for generations.

While it's a tremendously exciting prospect, it's a daunting task. I have already skipped up the stairs to the first of the six bedrooms, brandishing a wall paper scraper and attacking the woodchip with gusto, only to tear a huge crumbling chunk of plaster from the wall, out of which spewed horse hair, dirt, sand and earth. I stared dismally at the small pile of rubble by my feet and realised that i had a opened a can of worms; being bloody minded has its uses though, and I grimly resolved to complete the task in hand.

Eight days and about a hundred gallons of water in the steamer later, I have finally finished, although if i ever see another piece of wood chip wall paper again, i shall scream. The builders were gratifyingly impressed with my handi work, and also commended me for my use of a sledge hammer, with which i single handedly demolished the fifties hearth, to expose a cavernous inglenook fireplace, perfect for curling up next to with a glass of red wine during the cold winter evenings.

They are a nice lot, the builders. I make them cakes and shortbread every day, and always ensure that they help themselves to tea. They were visibly surprised when i presented them with the first lemon sponge.

"Blimey!" Kevin exclaimed. "We didn't even get a cup of tea on our last job"

I looked appalled.

Gary agreed , shaking his head. "We were there six months and the woman who owned the house never said hello to us once."

"How rude!" I said, thrusting a plate of shortbread at them and flicking the kettle on.

As I type this, they are demolishing the three foot wall dividing the current kitchen and dining room, to make one huge kitchen and living area, complete with the dark blue, 4 oven Aga that has haunted my dreams for the past ten years. I haven't actually called in there today. Jasper went down earlier with a banana loaf and some currant biscuits because I'm still too embarrassed to face them after yesterdays episode.

Lily and I had popped into the Doctor's to collect my Mother In Law's prescription. They were running late and we had quite a long wait , during which I idly flicked through back issues of Country Life, whilst Lily busied herself stuffing my hand bag with medical leaflets about how to improve your pelvic floor muscles/reduce the risk of heart attacks and recognise the symptoms of senile dementia.

Having finally signed for the prescription, we whizzed home to see how work was progressing in the farm house. The builders were having a tea break in the kitchen when we arrived; their eyes lit up at the sight of the plate of cheese straws and they were soon chomping away, emitting grunts of appreciation. They had almost eaten the lot when a tall man strode in brandishing a new S bend. I was just wishing that i had combed the plaster filled dredlocks out of my hair, when he introduced himself as "Eddie the Plumber".

Goodness, he was heavenly! A dark haired, broad shouldered vision of loveliness with wonderful Slav cheek bones and piercing blue eyes. He flashed a smile, revealing a perfect set of even white teeth.

Even Lily had abandoned Iggle Piggle and was gazing up at him with her mouth open.

I bustled off feeling rather flustered to make him a cup of tea, and returned to find him bending down talking nonsense to Lily, who was flirting shamelessly, staring coquettishly up at him from beneath lowered eyelashes.

"She's gorgeous." he smiled, as I handed him a mug.

Lily was searching for something to give to him; in the absence of a piece of cake or a carrot baton, she began delving into my enormous hand bag, which was full to bursting with toddler related paraphernalia. With a flourish and a chortle of triumph , she produced a shiny, crinkly pink package, which she handed to Eddie with a shy smile.

"Thankyou!" he exclaimed, affecting delight.

The smile froze on his face and I noticed a flush creeping up his neck. I peered closer at the object, and saw that he was clutching a Chlamydia Testing Kit.

"That's not mine!" I blurted.


"No really." I squealed. "She must have put it in my bag when we were at the Doctor's."

Eddie looked like he's just swallowed a pigeon. The electrician walked out. I watched his shoulders shaking as he retreated. My face was blazing.

They all stared at me.

"For Goodness sake, i haven't got the bloody Clap!" I said huffily, going even redder.

Eddie handed me the offending item, which I stuffed unceremoniously in the bin

"Kids eh?" he said with a sympathetic smile.

I can hear the Dorset Gossip train building up a head of steam....

"Choo choo choo! Mrs Miller's got THE CLAP!! CHOOOO CHOOOO! "


Tuesday, 28 September 2010

A Country Affair

During a recent visit to the Hair Dresser, I was flicking through an old Tatler, when I came across an interview with Liz Hurley, in which she enthusiastically extolled the virtues of living in the Country.
She was pictured at her farm in the glorious Cotswold countryside, draped seductively over one of her Gloucester old spots wearing a Dior ball gown and a pair of diamond encrusted Manolo Blahnik stilettos. (Liz, not the Pig.)
"There's less sex in the city than there is in the country because it's just, well, sexier here..." she purred.
"When I close my eyes and think of England, I'm not in a fancy restaurant in Knightsbridge, but am lolling, scantily clad, in front of a roaring fire."

Having resided in both town and country, and witnessed first hand the behaviours and habits indigenous to both sets of dwellers, I am inclined to agree with her.
Country folk seem far more disposed to indulge in extra marital frolicks than urbanites. Or perhaps Townies have just as many affairs but don't get caught out.
The frantic pace of London life, combined with its abundance of easily accessible meeting places, afford its inhabitants a degree of obscurity, should they find themselves wishing to indulge in a spot of hanky panky.
As well as being favourable from a logistical point of view, there are a plethora of excuses and alibis with which to exonerate oneself, should suspicion be aroused by ones absence; late trains, tube strikes, meetings, traffic jams etc.
It's incredibly easy for a city philanderer to whisk his mistress off to a nearby hotel for an afternoon in the sack. For the country person however, the risks involved in conducting such impromptu trysts, are far greater.

It would be fool hardy in the extreme for Bob the Farmer to take his bit of stuff to any establishment within a 50 mile radius, for fear of recognition. The insidious web of rural life is all-entangling; the solid infrastructure of the Farming Community and it's endless social off shoots (Young Farmers, Agricultural Discussion Clubs, Hunt Skittles, Chutney Making Club) means that you "can't fart without someone knowing about it." (as my Father-in-Law is fond of saying.) Everyone knows someone who knows someone, and someone will be watching you even if you don't know it.
Should you be half-witted enough to check into a local hotel with your squeeze, you are sure to bump into your Gardener/Cleaning Lady/Post Man/Vicar, just as you emerge from a side door, flushed and dishevelled from your lustful romping. The dearth of "safe" meeting places, combined with fear of recognition, (and the subsequent scandalized chuntering of your fellow country folk) would dampen the most fervent ardour, and would explain why us Country Folk resort to meeting in hay barns, fields, ditches, down tracks, and even up trees.

Emma and Miles are great friends of ours, who live on a 2000 acre sheep farm in Rannoch, Scotland, which they recently took over from Miles' Father.
They met at our Wedding, where Emma was Bridesmaid (we met at School) , and Miles was Jasper's Best Man. Apart from being fantastic fun and highly entertaining company, Emma is beautiful, and charming with such an irrepresibly jolly nature that it's impossible not to love her.
Miles is kind, loveable, slightly shambolic and highly eccentric - a most endearing fellow. He is the epitome of genteel penury; his elbows protrude from his cashmere pull overs and his Jermyn Street cords are held up with baler twine. He scratches his head a lot, and is prone to stopping talking mid-sentence, and gazing vaguely into the distance.

Be warned though! His dreamy countenance and bumbling manner, conceal an insatiable libido and the sexual appetite of a rutting rhino. In the 12 months preceding his marriage to Emma, he appeared to be suffering from a surfeit of testosterone which manifested itself in the form of a prolonged spell of frenzied fornicating with any willing female to cross his path. He couldn't help himself.
Emma would always know when a confession was imminent, because he would shuffle in, hanging his head, and clutching a bottle of her favourite Chanel No 5 . Her merry nature and stoic optimism was tested to the limit by his repeated transgressions. So grave were her reservations, that she almost called off the Wedding, but her faith was rewarded. He walked out of the Church a new man, bursting with pride, and so besotted with his radiant bride that he didn't even ogle the bridesmaids. His lustful tendencies are strictly confined to the marital bed, and notwithstanding an unfortunate (and apparently incurable) habit of making pelvic thrusting motions when in the company of attractive females, he has been a doting and faithful Husband. Until this Spring....

Last January, Emma and Miles refurbished the annexe that adjoins their farmhouse, and took on a lodger, a thoroughly nice chap called Hugo who has just graduated from RAC and landed a plum job at Savills in Bedminster.
He has proved to be a model tenant. Quiet, courteous and obliging; he is happy to turn the horses out on a Sunday morning if Emma and Miles are hung over after a party. He is chronically shy, and prefers to keep himself to himself. Emma's attempts to find him a girlfriend have been in vain; she invited him to supper once along with the lovely girl groom from the neighbouring estate. Having met her on several occasions and found her a quiet and gentle soul , she was convinced that she had found Hugo's future wife. As it transpired, her saintly demeanour was just a foil; she tottered through the front door three quarters of an hour late on a pair of vertiginous red stilettos, tugging ineffectually at her pelmet sized mini skirt, from which protruded a pair of sparrow legs mottled blue with cold.
She downed the proffered champagne, pulled a face and requested "Voddy", which she proceeded to guzzle as though her life depended on it. During the starter, she yanked her boob tube down to display a unicorn tatooed on her left breast. Poor Hugo almost choked on his lobster; his terrified expression elicited a scornful cackle from his meretricious neighbour, who promptly declared him a "stiff" and suggested that a rigorous session of fornicating would "loosen him up a bit."

By the time the Port went round, he was deathly pale despite the proximity of the blazing log fire. A quick look under the table confirmed Emma's suspicions. Zany was clearly practised at multi tasking; groping at Hugo's crotch with one hand , whilst emptying port down her throat with the other.
"Well, it's been a lovely evening, but I think I'm ready to call it a night." Emma trilled with a gracious smile.
"It's only 10 0 clock! We 'aven't even done any Jaegerbombs!" Zany squawked in protest.
Emma took her home in the land rover. By the time she returned, Hugo had beaten a hasty retreat to the annexe and bolted the door. Next morning, she caught him just as he was leaving for work and apologised for her appalling mis-judgement.

"I'm so sorry Hugo. I've only ever seen her when she's out on the horses and she looked so nice, and quiet."
"It's always the quiet ones. " he replied with a grim smile, and drove off. He has declined all subsequent dinner invitations, and rarely socialises after work. With his Land Agent exams fast approaching he has been studying late into the night and is rarely seen during the day, so Emma was surprised and pleased when he knocked timidly on the kitchen door one Saturday morning.
"Come on in!" she beamed, pulling out a chair at the kitchen table.
."Erm, I just wondered if I could have a word." he replied, looking awkward.
"Of course. Would you like a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich?"
"No thankyou." he mumbled, perching stiffly on the edge of the chair. She noticed he was chewing his lower lip.
"Are you alright?" she asked, putting down the saucepan and looking at him with concern.
He nodded his head and stared at the floor, refusing to meet her gaze."What's the matter? Is the boiler playing up again? "
Hugo shook his head.

"Come on, whatever it is TELL ME. We can fix it in no time." she told him kindly, putting some toast and jam in front of him. He glanced up at her with an agonized expression, and flushed.

"It's nothing to do with the annexe."

"Well what is it then?"

"It's rather delicate you see. It's about you and Miles."

"What about me and Miles?" Emma frowned.

"Oh God." Hugo said, shaking his head.

"For heavens sake Hugo, tell me what's bothering you!" Emma cried in exasperation.

"It's your love-making! It's very noisy and it's keeping me awake at night!" he blurted out.

Emma stared at him for a second and started roaring with laughter.

"You great dolt! I thought it was something serious!" she hooted.

Hugo stared at her for a second, and then let out a high pitched titter of relief.

"I'm awfully sorry. I hate to mention it; it's just that all that banging makes it rather hard to concentrate you see. And if I don't get a good nights sleep, I can't function properly in the office."

"You don't need to explain. We're the ones who should be sorry." Emma chuckled, filling up the tea pot.

He grinned good naturedly and started buttering a piece of toast.

"I wouldn't mind normally. I don't mind the evenings so much because i can just turn the radio up a bit, but last Wednesday you went at it all night." he guffawed, turning bright pink at his own daring.

"Last Wednesday?" Emma repeated.

"Yes." Hugo continued gaily, smothering his toast with damson jam. "You really upped the ante. I thought the wall was going to come down at one point!"

Emma stared blankly at him before replying.

"I was in France last Wednesday."

They looked at each other. The colour drained from Hugo's face. His jaw dropped open in dismay, revealing a mouth full of claggy, half chewed toast.

At that moment, the back door opened and Miles came in amidst a flurry of snow, followed by Jade, a buxom 19 year old from the local agricultural college, whose placement was a live-in job on the farm to assist during the lambing season.

She put the kettle on the Aga, and cast a furtive look at Emma before slipping back outside and disappearing into the gloaming.

Hugo gave a strangled squawk as the penny dropped, and turned the same colour as his crushed strawberry corduroys. He pushed his chair back to make his escape, but Emma pushed him back down. "Stay where you are!" she hissed.

"Oh God." he whimpered.

Miles was humming to himself as he rummaged in the larder for the Marmite, blissfully unaware us of the mini drama unfolding behind his back. He sat down at the table, rubbing his hands and smiling cheerily, oblivious to Hugo's appalled expression and Emma's narrow eyed scrutiny.

"Hello old chap! How's the cramming going?" he boomed, pouring himself a cup of tea.

Hugo made a strangled noise and slumped lower in his chair, as though hoping to slide out of view beneath the table.

"Is breakfast ready?" he asked, spooning sugar into the tea.

"Of course darling. Right away." trilled Emma in a saccharine voice.

She put his plate down in front of him. He returned her indulgent smile and patted her on the bottom.

"You must be very hungry darling." she said silkily.

"I am." he agreed enthusiastically. "Absolutely starving."

"I'm sorry i wasn't here to cook your breakfast last week my love. I do feel very guilty about that, especially when you were so busy."

"Don't worry. I managed." Miles said generously as he chomped on a sausage.

Charlie slid a bit further down in his chair.

"You must have been hard at it."

Miles nodded. "Bloody hard work last week. I was up all night."

"I bet you were." Emma replied sweetly.

Miles speared a piece of black pudding and shoved it in whole.

"I am lucky to have such a wonderful Wifey!" he simpered at her.

"Have you been sleeping with the sheep hand?" she enquired casually as she shook some cornflakes into her bowl.

Miles dropped his knife and fork with a clatter and stared at her with an expression of hurt outrage.

"I beg your pardon! Poppet! ! How could you ask such a thing?!"

Emma regarded him steadily for a second or two.

"Have you been sleeping with the sheep hand?" she repeated.

"Of course i haven't! How could you think such a thing?!" he cried.

Emma glanced at Charlie whose eyebrows were now level with the table top.


"Yes." he squeaked, hanging his head in shame.

The sheep hand was duly sacked (no pun intended), and I am happy to report that despite Miles' crepuscular activities, he and Emma are very happy and have just celebrated their 6th Wedding anniversary. As Emma pointed out, One Bottle of Chanel No 5 in six years of marriage isn't too bad - is it?

Monday, 20 September 2010

Memoirs Of A Pony-Mad Teenager.

In 1992, I was a pony obsessed, fourteen year old Tom Boy, with an abhorrence of anything remotely girly, and an aversion to the opposite sex.
If it couldn't walk, trot and canter, i didn't want to know. I remember feeling utterly bereft as i watched my friends succumb to the insidious lures of their burgeoning adolescence; I would listen to them giggling about their latest crushes and feel as though they were talking in a different language. Why would anyone with a Pony want a Boy too? How could they possibly think about anything else besides passing their C test, going clear in the Cross Country and winning Camp Cup?
During a Road Safety rally, Jane and Tammy turned to me and asked which member of New Kids On The Block I "fancied". I stared blankly at their expectant faces and replied "None of them."
They looked at me in open mouthed disbelief.
"You must fancy one of them. What about Joey?" Tammy persisted, mock swooning in the saddle.
I looked at her in disgust. "I think they're all gross, even Joey actually." I said stiffly.
There was a silence. They gaped at me. I stared back defiantly.
"Are you frigid?" asked Jane. Tammy started giggling.
"No, I just don't fancy boys." i snapped.
"Maybe you're a lezzy! Do you fancy Helga?" she snorted, gesturing to our terrifyingly butch Instructor, who had recently been caught en flagrante with her gelatinous lady friend in a portaloo at the Hunt Ball.
"You're so funny!" i sighed witheringly at them. My attempt to turn and canter away looking elegantly dignified was scuppered by my notoriously greedy pony flattening his ears and refusing to stop stuffing his face with grass. After much hauling on the reins and ineffectual flailing of legs against his drum-like belly, we shuffled away at a ragged trot with their laughter ringing in my ears.
Despite their taunts, that Summer was one of the happiest of my life. I would make a picnic lunch in a rucksack, and slip out into the misty dawn to catch my pony. I remember the sound of his hoof beats as he cantered towards me across the dew drenched field, before wedging his head into the bucket of pony nuts. We'd wander for miles, exploring bridle paths, jumping over fallen logs, stopping to pick plump blackberries from the hedgerows, and swimming in the rivers.
It would be early evening by the time we hacked home along the narrow dusty lanes.
Our local horse show always fell on the day before Pony Club Camp. Having spent the day playing gymkhana games in the scorching heat, and gamefully attempting to persuade my reluctant mount to walk across sheets of plastic and jump over staw bales (he objected violently to both tasks and aimed a vicious kick at the Judge, prompting our elimination on safety grounds) I would proudly tie any rosettes to his browband and we would potter home through the lengthening shadows, dusty and weary, but profoundly happy.

Camp was the highlight of the Pony Club Calendar.
Seven whole days of living, breathing and dreaming horses is unadultered bliss for a Pony mad child, and I would count down the days in a state of giddy anticipation, organising and re-organising my grooming kit, polishing my tack, and sprucing up my pony. I had read the Manual Of Horsemanship three times from cover to cover by the light of a torch under my duvet, and was desperately hoping to pass my C test. My practical knowledge of rugs, bandages, tack, and feed was exemplary, and my riding teacher assured me that i should pass, "provided that bugger behaves in the ridden test."
Realising that our success depended almost entirely on my pony's conduct, I crept out to his stable the night before camp and bribed him with apples and carrots, in the hope that he would reciprocate my kindness by not bucking me off.
Before i went to sleep, i knelt beside my bed and said a Prayer.
"Dear God, please let me not fall off when i am doing my C test. If you let me pass, i will eat all my peas and give all my pocket money to charity until I'm fifteen. Amen."

By twelve noon the next day, we had arrived at Camp, settled ASBO in his stable and were pitching my 4 man tent. My Father was always conspicuous by his absence on these occasions. When asked in the morning whether he would come to help set up, he would mutter vaguely about having a tennis playing comittment and drift off, leaving my Mother to get on with it. Her beauty had a mesmeric effect on the surrounding males. She would barely have laid out the ground sheet before the Fathers would start appearing like wasps around a jam jar. Buoyed up by a few lunch time pints in the Fox And Hounds, they would abandon their own efforts, and descend upon my Mother, leaving their poe face wives standing clutching handfuls of tent pegs and propping up half erected canvases. (She always declined their offers of help graciously but firmly.)

A few hours later, I was pulling my jodpurs on in preparation for the afternoons Mounted service. This was a very formal and rather long winded affair, led by the local Vicar who addressed his mounted congregation from atop a giant hay stack. The previous year, ASBO had demonstrated his flagrant disregard for the solemnity of the occasion by emitting a loud volley of farts during the sermon, eliciting giggling fits all round and a rollicking from Mrs Tilly, the universally feared DC.
I had just buttoned up my hacking jacket when Tammy and Jane rushed into the tent, breathless with excitement. It transpired that they had spied A Boy on their way back from the pony lines, and a very Handsome Boy at that. Having said that, there were only five boys at Camp that year so it didn't really say much.
I resisted the urge to pull a face as they raved about his "floppy hair" and "gorgeous brown eyes." They had discovered that his name was Oscar and he went to Eton. I listened drily as they described him as "really fit" with a "sexy smile."
"FFWOOOAARRR!!" growled Tammy like a lecherous builder, and they both dissolved into giddy laughter.
"If we don't go, we'll miss the Service." I said in a bored voice.
"OOOhh! Sorr-eeeee! We were forgot you're frigid! " they tittered.
"Brrrrr! it must be cold being a fridge! Do you need a jumper?" scoffed Tammy.
I scowled at them and stomped off to the stables.

In the days that followed, I realised that I was the only girl at Camp who didn't have a thumping great crush on Oscar. There was, it seemed, a love sickness endemic and i was the only one with immunity. Maybe I was a lezzy, i thought to myself one day as i lazed in my hammock reading "Jill's Gymkhana" and half watching a horde of lissome teenagers following him to the pony lines.
Wherever he went, they were ten paces behind him, fawning, giggling, and fluttering their eyelashes. If he went to the loo, they would lurk outside and wait for him to emerge. They would squabble over who sat next to him at breakfast, lunch and tea. They would encircle him and eye him lasciviously as he groomed his pony. A couple of the more brazen ones offered to clean his tack and polish his boots.
I was surprised to note that whilst he was unfailingly courteous to his pursuers, he remained largely indifferent to their advances. Given that two of his admirers were outrageously pretty, I started to wonder if he wasn't a lezzy too.
By the fourth day he had a slightly hunted look about him and i started to realise how the fox feels when the hounds are closing in. The girls were becoming increasingly desperate in their attempts to attract his attention, and that evening, they ran him to ground in his caravan. He locked himself in whilst they hammered on the door and ordered him to come outside. They pressed their faces up against the windows like a bunch of starving Dickensian Waifs gazing hungrily at a suckling pig. When he drew the curtains in desperation, they set about rocking his caravan from side to side and cackling with laughter. One of them produced a tube of tooth paste and they daubed his windows with hearts and declarations of undying love. Milly was trying to prise the door open with a hoof pick, when the DC wobbled unsteadily around the corner on her bicycle, red in the face from too much port and screamed at them all to get back to bed. They squealed in horror and scampered off like bob tailed bunnies, and Oscar emerged looking shaken to survey the graffiti.
We awoke the next day to glorious sunshine. The traces of tooth paste were still visible on Oscar's bolt hole, and he didn't come into breakfast. There was a mutinous atmosphere, despite the beautiful weather. The girls knew that they were running out of time. Today was the last day. Tomorrow, Oscar would be gone and they wouldn't see him again until next year, although after this years experience, I very much doubted if he would ever attend a Pony Club Camp again.
The day passed uneventfully, until my glamorous 19 year old Sister turned up after lunch with her handsome boyfriend in tow, brandishing two bulging Threshers bags. The Ginger Beer that they had waved blithely under the District Commissioners nose, was actually 8 litres of Merry Down Cider smuggled in inside Decoy bottles; a simple but ingenious display of trickery which rendered us speechless with admiration.
Giddy with excitement, we hid our loot in our sleeping bags and planned to drink it after dark.
It was cross country schooling after lunch and I was trying in vain to saddle ASBO who had thus far thwarted my attempts by blowing himself up like a balloon so his girth wouldn't meet. The ride had already set off and I was starting to panic when a voice behind me asked "Can i help you with that?"
It was Oscar. I gawped at him. I must have looked as though i'd swallowed a pigeon.
"Um, Sorry. What? " I croaked.
"Your girth. Here, let me have a go." he said kindly. He stepped forward and grabbed the leathers. ASBO grunted, deflated like a balloon, then farted loudly. I went pink.
"Thankyou." I mumbled, shoving my hat on to hide my blushes.
"You're name's Jessica isn't it?" he smiled.
"Uh-huh." I said.
"I'm Oscar. "
"I know. Hhm hmm." I replied, inwardly squirming at my uninspiring response.
Why on earth did I care? He's only a silly boy after all....
"I must go or I'll be late. Thanks for your help." I mumbled, glancing up at him. He was quite tall, with tousled brown hair. His face was tanned and there was a sprinkling of freckles across his nose. He smiled; his teeth gleamed white in his brown face and as he pulled down the stirrup leather I noticed how his sleeves were rolled up to reveal strong brown forearms.
I scrambled into the saddle and rode off feeling strangely light headed.
Later on that evening, when the sun had gone down and the Night Watch Man had done his final round, Tammy, Jane, Milly and I, seized our bottles of Merry Down and crept across the pitch black campsite to the Straw Barn. There was a moment of panic when someone swung a flashlight in our direction but we dived under a horsebox until the light had bobbed out of sight before continuing our treacherous journey. The others were already waiting for us and we opened the bottles, giggling madly, and started to drink.
By Midnight, we were feeling decidedly fuzzy around the edges and mindful that we had to take our C test the next day, we decided to go to bed. When we got back to our tent, Jane realised that we had left an empty cider bottle behind, so I doubled back to get it.
I was almost there when a figure stepped out from the shadowy barn. I froze and held my breath as the clouds parted and the moon lit up the clearing. It was Oscar.
We sat on a straw bale, breathing in the heady scent of baked earth and sweet hay, and listened to the horses moving in their stalls. There was a distant sound of raucous laughter from the main house accompanied by a succession of loud splashes. The Instructor's End Of Camp party had moved to the swimming pool. An Owl hooted in a nearby tree. I looked at Oscar. His face was a valley of hollows and curves in the phophorous light. He leant forward and kissed me.
It's a good thing that we were sitting down because my knees went all wobbly - and it wasn't the cider....

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Parking Tickets.

I procured my first Penalty Charge Notice in 2002, for failing to pay and display in The Market Place Car Park in Kingsford.
I was only nipping into the Off-License for a bottle of Pimms and I didn't have 60p in change for the meter. Having glanced around to ensure that there were no Traffic Wardens loitering nearby, i decided to risk it. I was only going to be 5 minutes after all.
I returned less than 10 minutes later to find a Parking Fine attached to my Wind Screen - It wasn't placed discreetly in the bottom corner either; In a blatant gesture of smug triumph, the Warden had stuck it gleefully right in the middle to make sure everyone got an eyeful.
That'll be sixty pounds of your hard earned cash please! it gloated, as people walked past staring.
I ripped it off angrily and glared around the car park, but the Traffic Warden had vanished. I noticed that the ticket was issued only five minutes after i left the car, which seemed monstrously unfair. I wondered if the odious little twerp had been lurking in the undergrowth waiting to pounce. I glared at the bushes in front of the car and hissed a few insults, just in case, before driving home in a temper.
I recounted the incident to my friend Ben, whose blithe disregard for Parking Laws has resulted in numerous fines and a County Court Judgement. As a first time offender, i was fairly confident that a polite letter of explanation to the people at Dorset Parking Services, would grant me a pardon.
"I'll say that i had to go and get change for the meter." I said.
"No way Man, they won't buy it."
"Why not? It could be the truth for all they know."
Ben sighed wearily.
"You don't get it Jess - These people don't care about the truth - they just want your money. You know what i mean? They're not Beings Of Light like you and me." he countered wisely.
I stared at him while he twirled a dredlock.
"So you're telling me that there is absolutely nothing i can do or say to avoid paying this fine?" i snorted.
He shook his head. "You've got no chance of being let off it. Don't even bother writing a letter. They'll know it's bollocks."

East Dorset District Council
Parsons Road

Dear Miss Benson,
I write with reference to your letter dated 01/10/02, regarding an excess charge ticket.
I was indeed parked in The Market Place Car park in Kingsford on 15/08/02. I was collecting my very elderly Aunt from Safeways Supermarket. I was unable to use their car park due to insufficient space.
I usually park in a disabled bay on these occasions, since my dear Aunt suffers from Scoliosis (Curvature of the spine) and it facilitates her tremendously if my car is parked close to hand and she does not have to cross any roads.
I arrived at the Market Place Car Park and hobbled over to to the ticket machine as fast as my Gouty Toe would allow. There was quite a queue and I became very nervous about the time elapsing because my Aunt becomes very distressed if i am late collecting her, as i am sure you can appreciate. She likes to think she is independent, but she is really a frail old thing, and is easily frightened.
On one memorable occasion, i was five minutes late meeting her outside The Greyhound Public House, where she was waiting with her shopping bags. Her carer (who has since been sacked for repeatedly kicking the cat), had gone inside the greengrocers for some runner beans. Whilst she was making her purchase, a huge hound came along, stuck its head into my Aunt's wicker basket, and gobbled up 2lbs sausages and a kilo of tripe!
The poor old dear was in shock when i reached her and had to be revived with a few swigs of brandy from the owner of the pilfering hound. (I think he must have been a tramp - he was terribly scruffy.)
Since that fateful day, my Aunt has suffered a phobia of waiting on her own in a public place. Her carer was given her marching orders thank heavens. I never liked her. She stank of mothballs.
I only left my vehicle unattended for about three minutes without a ticket, and i know i was taking a liberty in doing so, but what other choice did i have dear girl?
Please, i implore you to understand my predicament.
Tomorrow i am going to Tarrant Millford to visit the chemist for some gout remedy and meet my friend Mavis. She is a dear friend. Her Husband fought in the War and won lots of medals. He passed on five years ago and Mavis breeds Budgerigars now. Her son lives in London.
Do you have a son? Where do you live? I like the way you can put green on your letter. I only have an old typewriter at my disposal!
This has caused me great worry. I haven't much money; just enough to afford bread and milk really. I simply haven't got £60 to give you. I could sell my Edith Piaf records but that would take too long, and then you will charge me £1000! Please help me. I know i did wrong and in the eyes of the Lord Thou Shalt Not Steal and I have already sinned against him.
I am a burden on my family so please don't ask them for the money or they will tut at me even more than they do already. Can I pay a little at a time? Maybe eight pence a week?
I work part time for the Red Cross but it's voluntary.
I am ashamed of what I have done and scared of what is going to happen to me.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Miller.

A week later, i received the following letter:

East Dorset District Council
Parsons Road

Dear Mrs Miller,
Thank you for you letter dated 04/10/2002, regarding Penalty Charge Notice DSO1807564.
I am pleased to inform you that in this instance, I am willing to waive the £60 parking fine
However, I must point out that should you incur a penalty charge in the future, you are obliged to settle the debt, in full, within the allocated time, to avoid legal action.

Yours sincerely

Jane Benson (Miss)

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Not On A School Night

I don't drink in the week, unless I happen to meet a certain friend of mine, whose anonymity I shall preserve. (Let's call her Caroline.)
We both love Red Wine. Lots of it. Our mutual appreciation for a nice, full bodied Rioja invariably results in a nasty hangover, and necessitates the consumption of an entire packet of Alka Seltzer the following day.
We start the night with good intentions. We invite Caroline and her boyfriend (let's call him Tom), for a Monday night Supper; an early supper, you understand. We don't drink on school nights!
Caroline phones from Tescos at Lunchtime to enquire whether she can bring anything for the meal.
I might ask her to pick up a garlic baguette or a bag of salad.
"Anything else? " she will say.
There is a loaded silence whilst we ponder the question, and i have a mental image of her standing in the booze aisle gazing lasciviously at the plethora of half price Wolf Blass.
"Um, I don't think so. There's a bottle of red in the cupboard if you and I fancy a glass."
I reply.
"Hmm, I might have a glass. Can't be late tonight though. We're both up early tomorrow."
I listen to a succession of noisy clinks from her end of the telephone. It sounds just like wine bottles being placed into a handbasket.
"Which aisle are you in now?" I ask slyly.
There is a pause.
"Fruit and veg." she says breezily.
"Ah, I see."
Clink, clunk, clink clink. A small but unmistakeable grunt of exertion escapes her as she lifts her basket and i listen to her puffing her way to the checkout.
We continue the charade, and I revel in the tacit mutual pretence of being grown up and responsible.
"I've got some fabulous home made Elderflower. We can make elderflower spritzers with fizzy water." I tell her enthusiastically.
"Yummy!" she replys obediently.
"See you later!" she trills. The last thing I hear before she hangs up is the thud thud thud of bottles being loaded onto the conveyor belt.

They arrive a couple of hours later.
I take the proffered bottle of Wolf Blass, and affect an expression of surprised pleasure.
"Oooh! Red wine! Do you fancy a glass....or would you prefer something soft?" I ask, gesturing to the strategically placed bottle of elderflower.
She frowns and bites her lip, as though in an agony of indecision. Wine or Elderflower? Golly, what a predicament!
"Go on then, you've twisted my arm." she says making a lunge for the wine bottle.
"Just a small glass though." she says firmly.
I return with with two Sophie Conran half pint buckets.
"We haven't got anything smaller i'm afraid." I fib.
As she uncorks the bottle, my olfactory senses are titivated by the velvety bouquet of ripe cranberries and redcurrants. My mouth starts to water.
She fills up the glasses, holds the empty bottle aloft and pretends to look shocked.
"Those glasses are enormous! " she exclaims shaking her head.
"I know - why would anyone make wine glasses that big?" i tut.
We raise our glasses.
We have perfected the art of consuming considerable quantities of wine whilst maintaining an outwardly respectable appearance of gentility; by sucking in quietly at the same time as you tilt your glass, you can ingest a surprising amount, whilst appearing as demure as a deb at her coming out ball.
When we have finished our half pint pail, I say something like "Well, we said we'd have a glass, and we've had it."
At this point Caroline frowns thoughtfully into middle distance like Miss Marple recalling a vitally important clue.
"I'm not sure, but there might be another bottle in the boot of my car." she murmurs, contriving to look doubtful.
We look at each other, pretending to weigh up the options.
"We could have one more glass. That would only be two glasses each." i say helpfully.
"Can we stay the night?" she asks.
"Of course." I reply.
"Okay. I'll go and get it from the car - if there is any in the car, that is." she continues, looking beadily at me. "There might not be any there at all. I might have imagined seeing it."
She returns five minutes later looking surprised.
"I found two bottles under the spare wheel!" she exclaims plonking them on the kitchen table and scratching her head.
"No way!" i gasp. We gawp at the bottles in amazement. Anyone would think she had just discovered a baby penguin in the glove compartment.

Five hours later, we are trying to make up the spare bed. Well, Caroline is trying to make up the spare bed. I am slumped in a chair, with one eye closed, watching her. She is shimmying around the spare room in vertiginous purple stilettos (courtesy of the fancy dress bag) tripping over the chiffon hem of my red sequin encrusted ball gown which I wore over ten years ago when i was a lissome 22 year old. A ritzy pink feather fascinator sits atop her head, and her arms are encased in white satin gloves.
I am dressed in a fluffy leopard print toga and a pink cow boy hat with a fur trim.

"PPffft! - Not working. S'not gunna fit." she titters, trying to shove the voluminous goose down duvet into the duvet cover.
" Help me please." she says.
"Gnnn." i reply, tottering over.
"That's not a duvet cover, it's a pillow case." i giggle.
"Is it?! Haha!"

In the morning, I am greeted by a note on the kitchen table.

"Dear Mrs Miller, thankyou for a splendid evening. I'm afraid I took the last two Alka Seltzer. You are a very bad influence.
Love C. X"

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Lily's First Birthday (Part Two)

Twenty minutes later, we had herded the errant cows into a field and were welcoming the first guests. Lily was sitting on the lawn, looking delectable in a white Broderie Anglaise smock dress. Jasper's parents were the first to arrive, with Maud Stanford-Caldbeck, a delightful old aristocrat, who was great friends with Jasper's late maternal Grand Mother.
As teenagers, they rode to hounds together three times a week, their passion for Hunting equalled only by their love of partying. They were an illustrious duo, renowned for their stamina, both on and off horse back. They would Hunt until dark, and hack ten miles home to be welcomed by a hot bath, drawn by a faithful servant. Having reclined in the fragrant waters for at least an hour, and revived their weary limbs with several large whiskys , they would appear at the top of the sweeping staircase, encased in fabulous dresses and shimmering with jewels like birds of Paradise, before making their elegant descent to the drawing room for cocktails at seven.
The Chauffeur would duly despatch them to their destination, where their arrival would prompt a ripple of excitement amongst the guests. No party was complete without them.
Maud was a formidable card player. At one party, she challenged the Host (the local Master Of Fox Hounds) to a game of Poker. Bewitched by her dazzling beauty he accepted. During the course of a hand, emboldened by copious quantities of Brandy, he bet his finest Hunter, and lost.
Legend has it that Maud promptly kissed him on his blanching cheeks , thanked him for a splendid party and rode the horse home in the misty dawn.
Jasper's Grand Mother has long since died, but Maud still follows the Hounds in her car twice a week without fail, gloriously unimpeded by her failing eyesight and rapidly encroaching senility.
She tottered into the Garden, resplendent in diaphanous pink chiffon and engulfed me in a cloud of Chanel No 5.
"Hello darling girl! Happy Birthday!" she trilled, patting my hectic cheeks.
"Hello Justin!" she called to Jasper, waving at him with a girlish smile.
"Whose is that child?" she asked, peering at Lily over the rims of her spectacles.
"That's Lily. She's our daughter." said Jasper
"Good Lord! Is she really? Well aren't you dark horses!" she chuckled, settling down in a wicker chair.
Soon, the garden was full of Mummies and toddlers. Lily was enchanted to be surrounded by so many little people, and sat in the middle of the festivities clapping delightedly and chortling with glee.
Squeals of joy greeted the arrival of Tilly, her Labrador sized pony. Tor led her into the garden, her mane and tail woven with pink ribbons, and the children rushed over to pat her, wide eyed with excitement.
Tilly is normally as quiet as a lamb. She had spent the previous fortnight in a virtually bald paddock in order to reduce her rapidly expanding girth, and i was dismayed to note that her enforced starvation had adversely affected her temperament. She was possessed of a ravenous hunger, and was consequently more interested in consuming as much grass as possible, than being fussed over by a group of toddlers.
Observing the manic glint in her eye, the Mummies moved instinctively closer to their offspring. "It's alright. She's completely bombproof." i assured them.
Tilly flattened her ears at the outstretched hands and tried to walk underneath the table.
"Does it Hunt?" asked Maud eagerly, leaning forward in her chair, as Tilly scuttled sideways across the garden, swishing her tail angrily.
"Nice sort. I've always liked something with a bit of spirit." she remarked, sloshing the contents of a hip flask into her elderflower cordial.
I was in the kitchen taking the clingfilm off the plates of sandwiches, when I heard a blood curdling scream, and Tor rushed in.
"I need some ice - it's just trodden on Jonny's foot. And it bit my leg - little shit!" she said, pointing at the teeth marks on her upper thigh.
I ran out with a bag of frozen peas. My frantic apologies were drowned out by Jonny's howls of pain as his Mother pressed them onto his purple toes.
I looked grimly around for the pony. Maud was sitting clutching the lead rope. The demonic animal had walked round and round her, thus binding her legs with the rope and trussing her helplessly to the chair. She looked as though she were about to be dunked in the village pond. Unperturbed by her imprisonment, she took a blithe swig from her hip flask. Tilly flattened her ears and barged forwards. The chair lurched dangerously and teetered precariously on its back legs for a second before I rushed forward and unclipped the rope just in time to prevent Maud being dragged backwards across the garden.
"Reminds me of my old Hunter. Game little bugger." she said, rummaging for her cigarettes. Little Oscar stepped boldly forward proffering a carrot baton to the pony, and was plucked out of reach of darting teeth just in time.
"Get the bloody thing out of here before it kills someone!" muttered Tor as it glowered at the assembled toddlers and rolled its eyes.
"I'm trying." I hissed, crimson with shame as I tugged hopelessly on the lead rope.
"GO AWAY! GO AWAY!" screamed little Jonny, diving under the table in terror as i dragged the fiendish creature towards the gate.
The frosty faced Mummy's watched our shameful exit with reproachful eyes, whilst their frightened infants cowered behind them. Several of the were sobbing pitifully.
"I'm frightened Mummy! I want to go home!" wailed Olive, prompting a chorus of passionate agreement from the others.
"I'm so sorry." I squeaked. "She's normally lovely."
The Mummies looked on stony faced as the wretched animal knocked a serving platter off the table and proceeded to hoover up a mound of wholemeal penises, curling its lip in disgust when it encountered the marmite.
Jasper rushed out of the house wielding a broom and rammed it briskly up the back side a few times. This did the trick and she shot out of the garden like an exocet missile. I shut her in a stable and put my head in my hands. So much for a "fun" toddlers tea party. I had imagined the pony carrying a procession of infants around the garden, their cherubic faces alight with wonder, instead of which they had been menaced, trampled and bitten.
Tor met me on the driveway.
"I've given them all a glass of wine. I think they needed it. Jonny's mum asked for something stronger so i gave her a vodka and coke. Are you okay? You look a bit pale."
"I'm fine. " i replied with a brave smile. "What else can possibly go wrong?"
"You didn't know the pony was a Psycho. " she said kindly. "Come on , let's go and have a drink."
During our absence a few more friends had turned up and were chatting to the Mummies, unaware of the drama that had preceded their arrival.
I was relieved to note that the Mummies looked far more relaxed since the pony had been removed from the proceedings. Tor went round topping up the glasses, and Trevor, my old Spaniel, was enjoying the attentions of the children, who were gathered around him stroking his tummy, which is his favourite thing in the world. Bandit, Jasper's uncouth Spaniel, was busying about in search of food, tail wagging ten to the dozen as he grinned delightedly at everyone like a village idiot.
Just then, Will and Lara turned up with their dog Lola, a very pretty golden labrador bitch, who sashayed into the garden, eliciting a lustful gaze from Bandit, who stopped scavenging and strutted over to proposition her.
"Mummy, why is he licking her bum?" asked Daisy.
"Erm, they're making friends darling." said the Mummy, turning pink.
"Faint heart never won fair lady." Maud cackled, producing another hipflask.
"Get off her!" I shouted, dragging him away by the scruff of the neck as he attempted to mount her. He continued thrusting impotently at thin air as a dozen toddlers looked on with interest.
"What's that pink thing under his tummy Mummy?" asked three year old Iris.
"It's's his lipstick darling."
"Duh! It's his willy stupid!" said five year old Frank in a scornful voice.
Iris glared at Frank. "Don't call my Mummy stupid." she said, poking him on the arm. Frank shook his head in disgust and walked off.
Iris looked up at her Mother beseechingly. "What's a willy Mummy?"
Mummy shot me a reproving look and I hurriedly shut the lecherous hound out of the garden, the second animal to be forcibly ejected on account of it's deplorable behaviour.
"Sorry!" I mumbled to the Mummys for the umpteenth time. If i ate much more humble pie i'd explode soon.
Next to arrive was Tom and Laura, with their dog Whiskey, who swaggered jauntily into the fray and made a bee line for Lola. Bandit thrust his face through the trellis and looked on furiously as Whiskey and Lola flirted audaciously with one another, right under his twitching nose. The sight of this young whippersnapper making advances on the lovely Lola, was too much for Bandit. There was a scrabbling noise as he appeared atop the garden fence, where he balanced for a second with a machiavellian grin, before launching himself on top of his rival with an enraged snarl. A dreadful fight ensued, as each male strove to assert his superiority over the other. The dogs howled and growled, teeth clashing and fur flying; toddlers screamed in terror while grown ups stumbled around idiotically screeching "STOP IT!" at the brawling pair. In the ensuing chaos, little Sam wet his pants with fright and eight new Sophie Conran glasses were knocked flying from the table and smashed to pieces on the patio.
Tor stopped the fight by smashing them over the head with a Ninky-Nonk train, temporarily dazing them and affording us valuable seconds in which to drag them away in opposite directions.
The stunned silence which followed was broken only by the whimpering sobs of the toddlers and the inane ramblings of Makka Pakka who had been propelled violently from the train and was lying face down in the grass, chanting "Makka Pakka Akka Wakka Mikka Makka Moo!"
"What's it saying?" demanded.
Trevor bustled over, grabbed Makka Pakka and trotted off round the side of the house looking pleased with himself, eliciting howls of rage from Billy, to whom the toys belonged. His sobs intensified when he discovered Iggle Piggles mutilated body in the train carriage - the force of the impact had decapitated him and snapped both legs off at the knee.
"I'm so sorry!" I said (again). I wanted to run away. Or be swallowed up by a hole in the ground.
"Thanks for a lovely party Jess. I'd better be making a move though." said Vanessa with a forced smile, as she prepared to leave. Realising that escape was imminent, the relief of the other mummys was almost palpable, as they hastily gathered up belongings, strapped traumatized infants into car seats and coaxed their terrified off-spring from the bushes.
With remarkably unfortunate timing, my friend Spike arrived as they were leaving. A highly eccentric and excitable character, he had decided to come to the evening party dressed as a Military Dictator; he marched into the garden wearing a fierce expression, and executed a series of military salutes at the assembled company who were all gawping at him with their mouths open.
"Good Evening!" he barked. "General Deviant at your service!" As he stamped his foot, the tassle on his fez quivered menacingly.
Several toddlers took one look at him and bolted back into the bushes.
Within five minutes, the garden was empty. Every guest had vanished at considerable speed down the driveway.
"I hope i didn't frighten them off. They left a bit suddenly." remarked Spike with a sinister smile.
Tor came round the corner frowning. "Tilly's broken out of the stable. "
The phone rang. "Hello?" I said wearily.
"Hello, it's Mrs Langford from next door. If you're wondering where your pony is, it's here terrorizing my caravanners."


Monday, 16 August 2010

Lily's First Birthday.

Last night, we popped out to the pub for "a" drink at 7pm, and got home at 11.oop.m. It is the Story Of our Life.
I started out with good intentions, sipping virtuously on my (small) glass of white wine, and politely declined offers of another one. Then Lucy turned up, went inside, and came out with a LARGE glass of Pinot which she plonked in front of me - "If you're going to have a glass of wine, do it properly."
Ten minutes later, Kate and Ben arrived and bought a bottle.
"No thankyou, I only popped out for one." I said as Ben topped up the glasses.
"Haha! Very funny! " he chuckled, shaking his head and filling up my half pint bucket.
I listened to the glorious glugging sound as the the golden liquid sloshed into the glass. It would be churlish to refuse it now, i told myself. I would hate to hurt Ben's feelings by not drinking it after he had poured it especially for me.......

I awoke at 7am to the sound of rain hammering on the windows. I lay in bed, waiting for the dull throbbing in my head to subside before tottering downstairs for nurofen and tea. I sat in the rocking chair and looked out grumpily at the horizontal rain. The wind was buffeting the trees along the river bank and the horses were huddled against the hedge with their backs to the downpour. I looked hopefully at a chink of blue in the clouds, and willed the sun to break through the impenetrable grey, and incredibly, it did. By 9, the sun was shining from a clear blue sky and Lily and I went into the garden. She was enchanted by the rain drops sparkling on the cob webs, and pointed at them whilst trying to articulate her sense of wonder "Ooo. Oo. Uh."

Invigorated by a pint of Alka Seltzer and a bracingly cold shower, I started to prepare the food. I was surprised by how long it took to rustle up three varieties of sandwiches for a dozen toddlers. I was still at it half an hour before the party started.
Jasper came in and watched as i frantically buttered bread, applied fillings and and used an assortment of kiddies pastry cutters to form an aesthetically pleasing array of toddler sized yummies.
"What shapes are they suppose to be?" he frowned, pointing at a plate of wholemeal peanut butter.
"Houses." I muttered, glancing at the kitchen clock.
"They look like dicks."
I took a deep breath.
"Thanks for that constructive comment Jasper. Really helpful."
"Well they do. Look." he persisted, picking one up and shoving it under my nose.
I carried on buttering bread in dignified silence.
"Look at that bulging bit on the end." he tittered.
"It's a roof." i hissed through gritted teeth.
"Looks more like a - "
"That's quite enough thankyou." i interjected primly, straightening a doilie.
I glanced furtively at the plate and grimaced. Jasper was right. My carefully arranged display of appetising titbits resembled a platter of wholemeal penises, complete with firemans helmets.
I pursed my lips, and surreptitiously tried to squeeze their bulging "ends" into line, but they stubbornly resisted my attempts to mould them into less deviant shapes. Jasper sniggered as cream cheese oozed suggestively.
He opened a can of lager and watched as I arranged the various plates of sandwiches, cakes and shortbread on the kitchen table.
"Why are there two dozen pink balloons tied to the car roof?" he asked.
"Bugger - i'd forgotten about them. Can you tie them at the end of the drive?"
"Okay. You'd better go and get ready. They'll be here in 20 minutes." he said, popping a wholemeal penis into his mouth.
I looked up to see him wearing the bright pink Afro Clowns wig I had bought for him to amuse the toddlers. I rummaged in the kitchen drawer and handed him the red plastic nose. He stuck it on and admired the effect in the mirror. I shuddered. I have always found clowns rather terrifying.
Suddenly, the ground trembled almost imperceptibly beneath our feet, like the low rumble of distant thunder. We looked out at the clear blue sky and exchanged baffled glances. The next minute, a herd of cows charged past the kitchen window sending bantams flying in all directions and almost trampling a dozing Trevor, who scrambled out of the way just in time.
There must have been thirty of them. The sight of them stampeding across the back garden into my lovingly tended vegetable plot, rendered us speechless with shock for a few seconds. We could only stare dumbly as they cavorted around, flattening courgettes, obliterating runner beans and demolishing the cucumber frames.
I have only seen Jasper lose his temper twice in almost ten years of marriage. He is so placid, with such a huge capacity for tolerance, that his anger is truly terrible to behold. There is a dreadful incongruity about his fury; rather like watching the Andrex Puppy turn into a Rottweiler.
I cowered by the sink, awed by the force of his wrath, as he stormed out of the house, incandescent with rage. The air was blue as he effed and blinded his way through an epic diatribe, aimed at the "useless f***ing tosser" who owned the errant cows, and his chronic inability to keep them fenced in.
The cows skipped and mooed around the devastated vegetable garden with Bandit, Jasper's lunatic Springer Spaniel, snapping at their heels and compounding their excitement and panic. Jasper approached them from behind with a view to herding them back towards the drive. They bellowed with terror at the sight of this pink afroed, bulbous nosed monster, and surged forward in panic against the flimsy frame of the fruit cage. There was a crunch as the whole thing gave way and was kicked to splinters beneath their pounding feet.
"That's the end of my strawberries." I thought grimly as they charged back across the garden and disappeared over the grass bank.
I pulled on Jasper's wellies and rushed after them. If they got into the farm yard all hell would be let loose! I managed to beat them to the gate by the skin of my teeth. I waved my arms at them to drive them back towards the lane.
"SHOO! SHOO! Get out of here!" I shouted.
They stared at me and stamped their feet. The biggest one, presumably the ringleader, lowered his head and began pawing the ground.
"Go away." I squeaked.
Bloody hell, were they going to charge? I looked around desperately. i had nowhere to hide if they came at me and I couldn't run very fast in Jasper's wellies which I had just noticed were on the wrong feet. I flapped my hands at them without conviction. They advanced slowly. Uh-Oh.
I considered throwing myself into the slurry lagoon and wondered which was preferable; drowning in cow poo or being trampled to death by a herd of bullocks? There wasn't much in it, I decided. I was just about to kick off the boots and make a sprint through the knee deep poo, when i heard an engine roaring and Jasper, my Knight In Shining armour, came zooming across the farmyard in our silver Audi. There were a succession of ominous crunching sounds as the car bonnet see-sawed over the deep rutted trenches like a ship on a rough sea.
At that precise moment, a pair of elderly ramblers emerged from the bridleway. They watched open mouthed, as Jasper shot past them, ritzy pink wig askew, as he roared obscenities from the open window, and blared his horn like a psychotic clown, as two dozen sparkly pink balloons bobbed and danced merrily in his wake.
"Lovely day!" I trilled as I shuffled along behind him like the village idiot.
My heart sank as a car turned into the driveway. The first guest had arrived......

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Eve Of Lily's First Birthday.

I have spent the last 72 hours in a frenzy of domestic activity, preparing for Lily's First Birthday celebrations tomorrow.
The garden is weeded, the shrubs are neatly pruned, the patio has been swept and power hosed and the hanging baskets have been spruced to perfection. The house has been rigorously cleaned from top to bottom; I have polished the windows, hoovered the carpets, buffed the taps until they sparkle, ruthlessly de-cobwebbed, and filled every available window ledge with vases of Roses, Freesias and Lilys.
This morning Idragged my weary limbs out of bed, fortified myself with three espressos and drove to Waitrose to buy the food for Lily's Bithday Picnic. My heart sank when I saw the over flowing car park. I had to circle like a hungry shark for 10 minutes waiting for a space; when i finally pushed my trolley through the doors and caught sight of the seething mass of people, i almost turned around and went home.
My nerves were jangling from too much caffeine as I edged my way through the crammed aisles. I longed to use my trolley as a battering ram to knock people out of the way. Everywhere I turned, I was obstructed by dithering shoppers, blocking my path with their stupidly angled trolleys as they gazed vacantly at the shelves. One hellish hour later, I finally arrived at the checkout. It's only a few things for a toddlers tea party, i told myself. It won't be much more than £50.
"That's £103.87 please Madam."
"What??!! Sorry, I mean, how much?"
Oh buggery bollocks. I only had £55 on me.
"Do you take cheques?" I squeaked.
"No Madam." she replied in a bored voice.
A Supervisor hovered at a discreet distance. I could feel people staring.
"I'm so sorry. I'm afraid I'll have to pop to the bank." I mumbled, prompting an orgy of eye rolling, tutting and head shaking from the long queue forming behind me.
"This is nine items and fewer! " whinnied a horse faced woman. She snorted crossly and waved a hoof at her hand basket containing two bottles of Bombay Sapphire and a packet of Quails Eggs.
"It's fritefly annoying!" she neighed, glaring at my heaving trolley.
My apologies were drowned out by the chunters of agreement from the growing line of boot faced shoppers.
I grabbed my handbag and slunk off towards the exit, crimson with embarrasment.
My ignominious departure was halted when the jobs worth supervisor stepped forward, barring my way.
"I'm afraid You'll have to leave those in store until you've paid for them!" she boomed officiously.
I glanced down to discover that i was still clutching a box of Tampax. I should have unwrapped a couple and stuffed them in my ears to block out the chorus of disapproval. Instead, I handed them over and shuffled out, clenching my bum cheeks in horror.

I arrived home two hours later to find Mark The Farrier waiting in the stable yard. I had totally forgotten that he was coming to shoe the horses at 12.30. It was now 1.15. He was, understandably seething, having spent the last 45 minutes attempting to collar Charlie and Casino, who had thus far evaded capture and were careering around the field bucking and farting with glee.
Mark glowered at me as i scrambled out of the car clutching bursting shopping bags and gabbling apologies. He sucked angrily on his cigarette and remained stony faced as I bowed and scraped like an errant gun dog returning to it's furious owner.
"SOOOOO sorry....burble burble....not enough money....had to go to bank....burble burble...they thought I was stealing Tampax....burble burble.....can I get you a cup of tea?...."
"You can catch those F***ers" he growled, stamping out his cigarette and gesturing to the horses who had stopped cavorting in order to smirk tauntingly at us from over the fence.
"Yes of course, right away." i simpered and shot off to find a bucket of pony nuts.
I spent the next 20 minutes running up and down the field behind the horses, swearing like Benny Hill with tourettes as Mark sat in his van with the engine idling, scowling at his watch.
Jasper eventually took pity on me and drove them into the barn with a pair of tractors.
Once they were safely shut in their stables, I set about making Lily's Birthday cake. I'm normally rather good at baking, and was confidently expecting to produce my usual pair of light fluffy sponges. Pride comes before a fall. The Gods were conspiring against me, and for some inexplicable reason, every single one of my increasingly frantic attempts ended in disaster. The first effort collapsed in the middle, the second was as flat as a pancake, the third was so sloppy that it ran out of the bottom and congealed in a bubbling stinking puddle on the floor of the oven. The fourth one was perfect. When i peered fretfully through the oven door after 20 minutes I was overwhelmed with relief to see that it was golden in colour and rising beautifully. This cake was going to be a resounding success. Hurrah!
I glanced outside. Mark was moodily banging nails into Charlie's appalling feet. He was still obviously very grumpy. I took him a triple bacon sandwich and a huge mug of tea, hoping to atone for my blundering ineptitude. Having devoured the lot in less than three minutes, he looked marginally less murderous. By the time he had consumed a large scotch egg, six rounds of homemade short bread, and a flapjack, he had thawed sufficiently to regale me with the hottest Hunt Gossip since my illustrious spell as a drug smuggling hooker. I was so engrossed, that I forgot about the cake until I heard the smoke alarm. I ran into the kitchen blaspheming; smoke billowed as I pulled the tin out of the oven and threw it into the sink where it sizzled and hissed in the soapy water. I scowled down at the charred crater before picking it up in a rage and hurling it out of the kitchen window. It bounced across the garden scattering ducks and bantams, before rolling to a stop outside the hen house. Dennis appeared in the doorway, and strutted cautiously down the ramp, warning his harem to saty well back until he had inspected the smouldering missile. Having ascertained that it wasn't dangerous, he called them over; I watched, seething as they gathered round and pecked idiotically at the blackened crumbs.
I was still gibbering to myself ten minutes later when there was a tentative knock at the door.
"Yes!" i barked. Lucy's head appeared.
"Hi, I just thought i'd drop in on my way to pony Club Camp." she said glancing nervously around at the detritus created by my failed cake making attempts. It looked like a bomb had gone off in the kitchen. Every surface was liberally coated with flour, the overflowing bin was spewing egg shells, and bags of shopping lay everwhere. I stood amidst the carnage, wearing a filthy apron and muttering darkly about throttling Delia Smith.
"Are you alright?" Lucy asked.
"I can't even make a bloody cake!" I hissed at her dementedly.
She stared at me. "Who were you shouting at just now?"
"Myself. What's wrong with that? I always do it." i added defensively.
Lucy bravely stepped into the kitchen and switchen the kettle on before steering me gently to the rocking chair.
"Sit down. I'll make you a cup of tea."
"I can't! I must bake! " i shouted, making a frenzied lunge for the flour.
"No more baking for you today." she said firmly.
I goggled crazily at her.
"I mean it." she went on. "You need to chill out - you look like a lunatic."
I glanced in the mirror an d recoiled in shock. My eyes stared wildly out of my flour streaked face. Oh God. I sank down into the chair. Lucy picked a large blob of margarine from my hair with a piece of kitchen roll before handing me a cup of tea.
"What am i going to do?" i moaned.
"You can buy one . No-one will be able to tell the difference. Pop into Waitrose in the morning."
I shuddered with horror, recalling the contemptuous glare of the supervisor as she relieved me of the box of Tampax.
Just then, Jasper walked in holding the blackened cake tin.
"What's this doing in the garden?" he frowned.
"I threw it out of the window." i said sulkily.
"That was a naughty thing to do Bun!" he said indulgently , rolling his eyes at Lucy.
"Let's get this mess tidied up and go to the pub." he said, as he started shredding stale bread into the dogs bowls.
"That bread's for the geese." i said.
"What geese?" he demanded.
"I meant ducks." I said quickly.
He searched my face with narrowed eyes and i tried not to blink. Thank God my face was covered in flour so he couldn't see me blushing. He strode over to the window and glared outside suspiciously.
He still doesn't know about the Geese - I've hidden them out of sight around the back of the stables......

I write this having just enjoyed a long soak in the bath. After hearing about my baking disaster, Mother in law has valiantly offered to make the Birthday cake, so all is well. Calm has been restored in the Miller house hold - for now.
I am just about to sneak out to feed the geese, before we meet friends in the pub for a Friday night drink.
Just the one, of course.....

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The New Geese.

I am looking out of the window at eight very happy hens.
They have taken on a new lease of life since the cockerel cull, and are barely recognisable from the down trodden, anxious looking creatures who lived in constant fear of sexual assault.
They used to be permanently on edge, ever watchful for the presence of subversive terror tactics.
Emboldened by the removal of their violent co-habitants, they have started to explore, wandering beyond the parameters of the garden, digging for worms in the verges, taking leisurely dust baths in the farm yard, and sidling up beside me to watch me weeding, beady eyes looking out for worms as I turn over the earth with my trowel.
Dotty, the silver Pekin, used to be terribly timid, rarely emerging from the shadows of the hen house, so I was delighted this morning to discover her wallowing brazenly in the pot of trailing Lobelia outside the kitchen door.
Lily adores them, and will sit in the garden for ages, watching in fascination as they go about their business. The only one I am concerned about is Betty, who seems to be suffering from a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She is clearly still living on her nerves. If she sees the slightest movement in the long grass, she thinks she is being ambushed, and immediately squats down and braces herself with her eyes closed. (Jasper says she's thinking of England).
We have one remaining cockerel; a white silky named Dennis. He avoided execution by bolting through Jamie's legs on the day of the Cull. He dived between the outstretched hands and made a dash for liberty, the pom pom on his head wobbling violently from side to side as he shot off down the drive squawking in dismay. I took the fatalistic view that his escape was a sign, and so he was granted a pardon.
He pottered back to the house as dusk fell over the farmyard. The hens were gathered outside looking confused but pleased, as though they could scarcely believe their luck that the reign of terror was over. They stood up to their full height and bristled as Dennis shuffled round the corner, looking absurd in his feathery knickerbockers and fluffy boots. They glared at him, and he hesitated for a few seconds looking discomfited, before bowing his head and humbly making the long walk of shame beneath their censurious gaze.
What passed in the Hen House that night remains a mystery, but I imagine that the hens took a united stand and presented Dennis with some firm ground rules, including a zero tolerance attitude to rape and violence, and priority over the the pellets and corn at EVERY meal time.
I opened the pop hole the next morning and watched in amazement as he followed the girls meekly down the ramp, traipsing along at a respectful distance behind them, like a former Noble Court Chancellor demoted to Butler. He has, thus far, treated them with the utmost deference, politely suggesting sex, rather than demanding it, and quietly standing back at meal times until the girls have eaten their fill.
I am proud of Dennis. He is a reformed character.

It is Lily's first Birthday on Saturday. We have already bought her a pony: a sweet bay miniature horse named Tilly, who is the size of a large dog.
When Jasper saw her for the first time he remarked that Lily could just have well learnt to ride on My mother-In-Law's labrador.
Tilly spends her days dozing in the Orchard, and bustling in and out of the kitchen (much to Lily's delight) to see if there's any food on offer. Carrot toppings are a favourite, although I came in from the vegetable garden the other day to find her diligently licking up the last crumbs of a batch of home made shortbread that i had left cooling on the side.
She has also cottoned on to the benefits of waiting by Lily's high chair at meal times, patiently waiting to hoover up the dropped morsels; she's particularly partial to petit filous.
Aware of the fact that Lily is going to be given lots of toys for her Birthday, and mindful of her love of animals and the great outdoors, I decided to buy her a pair of ducks. What could be nicer for her than watching them splashing about in water amidst a chorus of happy quacking?
My friend Laura from down the lane breeds all sorts of poultry and had mentioned that she has some lovely Indian Runners, so i asked Jasper what he thought about buying a couple.
"Are they normal looking?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean what do they look like?"
"They look like ducks."
"Are you sure?"
"For goodness sake , what do you think they look like? Elephants?" i tutted impatiently.
"It's all very well to be sarcastic, but the last lot of chickens you bought home looked like they were dressed for Ascot." he tittered.
I ignored the jibe. "The ducks are lovely - browny coloured and quite upright, like this..." i doodled a quick drawing on a piece of paper.
"Okay" he said grudgingly. "But no more than two. Understand?"
I nodded happily.
Ten minutes later Lily and I were driving down the lane to Laura's.
I was twitchy with excitement. The whole process of acquiring new poultry gives me a real buzz; my heart beats a little faster and i feel slightly giddy at the mere sight of a rare breed chicken! A girl friend of mine tells me she experiences the same rush of blood to the head and sense of heightened awareness when she sees a new pair of Jimmy Choos for the first time.
Laura greeted us at the gate and and led the way round to the back paddock where she keeps all the ducks. We couldn't see the Indian Runners at first; then she called them and they appeared from behind the oak tree, quacking a welcome. I stopped and caught my breath. They were adorable! The sun bounced off their light brown feathers as they waddled towards us, quacking merrily; the upturned corners of their bills gave them a humourous appearance as though they'd just heard a good joke.
I fumbled in my handbag for my wallet and shoved the money into Laura's hands before she changed her mind about selling them. We picked them up, and I let Lily stroke their sleek heads before we put them in their travel box. I couldn't wait to show them their newly painted house and their deep bed of golden straw, and the make shift swimming pool i had fashioned out of an old plastic drum.
We had almost reached the garden gate when i saw them. I turned my head at a soft honking sound coming from beyond the rhododendrons. As i watched, two enormous white geese strode majestically into view. Oh God. I tried to keep walking but i was rooted to the spot. I couldn't take my eyes off them. I WANT THEM I WANT THEM I WANT THEM.
"Nice aren't they?" said Laura.
I nodded, unable to speak. I gave myself a stern mental shake and managed to turn my back on them, but not before i had taken in their pale blue eyes, majestically curved necks, stout orange legs and the perfect snowy whiteness of their stocky bodies.
"Keep walking, keep walking" I told myself as I headed to the car. We don't need any geese. Apart from the fact that Jasper would spontaneously combust, they poo everywhere, they'll destroy the herbaceous borders, they're noisy and aggressive, and they're another mouth to feed.
"How much?" I asked in a shaky voice. My palms were clammy.
Two minutes later I was handing over next weeks housekeeping and looking proudly at my new geese. I tried not to think about Jasper's reaction. It would be difficult to hide them as they are so big. And he would hear them honking!
The boot of the car was full of horse feed, but we managed to wedge the duck carrier into a space on the back seat. Laura's husband appeared around the corner carrying a goose under each arm.
"Got a box for them?" he asked me.
"No. Have you?" I replied.
He shook his head. "It's okay, you can come back for them in the morning."
"No!" i shouted. I couldn't bear it. I wanted them now!
He stared at me, confused.
"You haven't got a box. How are you going to get them up the lane? You can't exactly put them on the front seat!" he joked.
"Why not? We haven't got far to go."

A short while later we were edging out of the driveway onto the lane. Lily was keeping the ducks company in the back, and the geese jostled for space on the passenger seat. They rocked unsteadily backwards and forwards as I changed gear. I hummed along to the soothing strains of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata as we set off towards home. The geese shuffled around on their precarious perch and stuck their heads out of the window to take in the scenery. "Honk! Honk!" It was all going swimmingly until a fox ran out in front of us. I slammed the brakes on and the geese shot off the seat and clunked their beaks on the glove compartment. "Honk Honk!" they cried angrily. "Honk! Honk!" The Moonlight Sonata had given way to Mahler; the honking reached a crescendo as the speakers boomed forth a particularly strident passage of The Fifth Symphony.
It was all too much for them. There was a loud squelching sound followed by a vile smell as the geese forcibly ejected the contents of their bowels. I watched grimly as the slimy green guano dripped off the handbrake and pooled in the folds of the gearbox. The engine was sputtering into life , when Bob appeared, swaying slightly and clutching a pint glass of his deadly home brewed cider.
"Afternoon!" he said with a toothy grin as we chugged past.
"Good afternoon Bob." I waved with a dignified smile.
I could see him staring after us in the rear view mirror, as we revved, honked and quacked our way up the lane.

It was an enormous relief to get home. I did a quick recce to make sure Jasper wasn't about . I was terrified at the prospect of being apprehended as I attempted to smuggle the geese in. The coast was clear. I shut them in the stable for the night, before taking a bucket of hot soapy water to the car and mopping up the evidence.

An hour later i was reclining in a Floris scented bath with a face mask on and cucumber slices over my eyes. Jasper appeared in the doorway.
"I've just seen Bob down the lane when i went to shut the bottom gate. He seems to think he saw you driving past with two geese in the passenger seat."
I chuckled indulgently. " Geese in the front seat! Ho Ho! Dear old Bob. He must have been at the cider again!"
"That's what I thought." said Jasper.

Safe. For now....

Monday, 2 August 2010

The Gossip Train

My friend Polly is going through a divorce at the moment. She's feeling understandably fragile; broken hearted at the break down of the marriage, uncertain about her future, and desperately worried about the effect the break-up is having on her seven year old twin girls. She works from 9-5 every day and cares for her elderly mother three evenings a week. Due to the fact that her Husband frequently changes his mind about looking after the twins at the last minute, she hasn't had any time to herself for ages.
When she came over for lunch the other day, I was shocked by how listless and defeated she looked. It transpired that she is the latest victim of TDGT (The Dorset Gossip Train.)
She wearily explained that someone has started a rumour that she has got four men on the go. Her Husband is consumed with jealous rage, and is too busy cracking his knuckles and issuing threats of violence, to recognize the absurdity of the allegation.
"I haven't got the time or energy for one boyfriend, let alone four!" she snorted crossly through a mouthful of chocolate cake.
"I'm so bloody knackered at night, it's as much as i can do to stay awake until Corrie's finished. I have been accused of snogging Fat Dave in the Pool Room of the Saracens Head last Saturday night. I never even go in to the bloody place, and i was at my Mother's overnight. And FAT DAVE - for Gods Sake!" she spluttered into her Rioja.
She gazed dismally at me. "That's not the worst of it. People think i'm a swinger too. Bex told me that she'd heard i've been having it away with Digger Pete."
I gawped at her. "As in the old guy with the string vest and the glass eye?"
She nodded grimly.

She has my utmost sympathy. When Jasper and I met out Hunting one January day in 2000, i knew that our subsequent courtship would be the source of Hunt Gossip for a while. After all, the arrival of a new comer into a close knit community is guaranteed to stir the jungle drums and pique the interest of the locals; particularly when the newcomer secures the affections of an erstwhile confirmed bachelor, and an eligible one to boot.
We fell madly in love, were blissfully happy, and everything was marvellous....until i realised that i had fallen foul of two delightful individuals who shall remain nameless. (They know who they are.) Suffice to say, they took it upon themselves to make my life as unpleasant as possible, and wasted no time in stoking the fires of TDGT with a succession of slanderous allegations, presumably in the hope that they would make me so unhappy that i would slink away, never to be seen again.
Exactly what i did to incur their wrath remains a mystery, although one theory is that they were put out by the fact that i had the audacity to take Jasper off the Market. (Who does she think she is? She wasn't even BORN here!")
This theory is substantiated by their reaction to our Engagement. Our happy news sent them into overdrive and their subsequent endeavours to blacken my character was almost comical. It is a miracle they didn't choke on their own venom.
I was, apparently, a voracious nymphomaniac with the sexual capacity of a rutting rhino. I boasted a mind bogglingly diverse repertoire of sexual acts, which i performed upon long distance truckers and squaddies, in the car park of a popular beauty spots. (I loved to be watched.) I had been spotted, several times, straddling a randy trucker in a bid to quench my insatiable appetite. It was common knowledge that i was so fond of administering blow jobs that i gave them for free! I had been reported to the Police for soliciting and performing sexual acts in a public place. When an Officer came to arrest me, i bribed him with fellatio.
I had also been in prison. Details of my crimes were many and varied, including drug smuggling, identity theft and prostitution (obviously). I was living under a false name. I had come to Dorset to escape my past. I was ON THE RUN!
I had a recurring nightmare in which my tormentors would hunt me down with a pack of hounds and drive me from the village. They hastened my ignominious departure by thrashing my bare buttocks with their whips, and deafening me with their hunting horns, forcing me onwards over the rutted plough, whilst they cackled triumphantly from atop their steeds, their snaggle toothed faces radiant with spite.

My cries of protest were in vain. The Dorset Gossip train was full speed ahead. Denying the charges seemed to fan the flames. I turned to a Young farmer "friend" one night, expecting her to be comfortingly outraged by the pernicious allegations.
She was unsympathetic. "Do you really expect people not to be suspicious that you're living in Dorset when you were born in Wales?" My spirits plummeted even further as i realised that she was deadly serious.
"Is there a law against moving to a different part of the country?" i asked gently.
She looked uncomfortable. "No one knows you. No one knows anything about you."
"No, they bloody well don't! " i shouted. "But who am i to spoil their fun? I just love being a nymphomaniac, drug smuggling hooker who shags truckers and blows off policemen on a hilltop."
I cursed my tormentors. I was eclipsed by the monstrous alter ego that they had created. My reluctant entrance into social gatherings was accompanied by palpitations and sweaty plams. I dared not smile at a man in case he thought i wanted to give him a blow job.
Their spite reached a crescendo during the month we married. (Poor Jasper throwing himself away on a gold digging hooker.)
They didn't even pull the gloves off when my Mother died suddenly and unexpectedly, two months after our Wedding day. They ploughed mercilessly on as i slid into an all consuming hell of grief and depression. One of them was overheard happily saying (and i quote) - "She's going down the swanny!" By that stage i was too heart broken to care any more.
Losing my Mother at such an early age, stripped me of my emotional armour and brought my feelings permanently to the fore. I cry at the drop of a hat now, but I've also toughened up. For example, I still cry watching Lassie, but I no longer shed tears over the laughable chunterings of a pair of morons.

I have just had a phone call from my friend Angie. "The new people in the Village are porn stars!" she hissed in a scandalized voice.
I sighed. "How do you know?"
"Well, when i dropped the Parish magazine off yesterday HE answered the door wearing nothing but a hand towel over his you know what and he was all glistening and shiny. "
"What do you mean 'glistening and shiny' " ? i snorted.
"He was covered in slippery stuff."
"And that makes him a porn star?"
"No, there's more! Steve saw HER in the Co-op and she was buying a cucumber and baby oil....."

Can anyone hear a train coming?

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Charlie and Casino

I think i might go riding later. I went last week with Tor and Hollie. The horses hadn't been off the farm for weeks; they have been mooching around the field for days on end in a heat induced soporific stupour, so they looked rather cock-a-hoop when they realised they were off on a jaunt.
My horse, Casino, is a little gem. He's come to spend his twilight years with us, kindly loaned by our friend Emma, who used to hunt him twice a week.
He's an old timer on the Hunting field, and i took him on in his 17th season, in the erroneous belief that i would have the time and energy to get him fit enough to Hunt, whilst coping with a new baby (albeit, an angelic one.)
He's 22, but doesn't look a day over 10. He loves being busy, is low maintenance, a good doer, and he adores Hunting. When we hack out he bustles along the lanes at 100 mph, and has a turn of speed which belies his elderly years. He's a creature of habit: he likes to eat his nuts before his chaff, he won't go in the Lorry if he doesn't think Charlie's getting in too, he will only deign to be caught if he feels like it, and he likes his sugar beet not too sloppy thankyou very much. He won't tolerate too much fussing, isn't averse to administering the odd irritable nip, and has an inexplicable aversion to Skewbalds. Jasper says he is racist.
The last time Emma took him Hunting, he was only half fit, so she thought she would take him to the meet and potter about at the back for an hour or two, then come home.
Casino had other ideas. The first enormous buck he put in as hounds drew the first covert, left Emma in no doubt that there wasn't going to be much pottering about at the back.
The field galloped off, and Casino proceeded to outpace them all, bowling merrily along, skipping over the rails, and blithely popping a five barred gate as though it were a cavaletti.
He was still pulling like a train as the field turned towards Whitmore Coppice, and the biggest hedge in the Vale, the legendary Whitmore Flyer, a vast, dense expanse of blackthorn hedge set down hill and with a stomach churningly enormous drop.
Casino irritably swatted aside Emma's attempts to make a beeline for the gateway. He pricked his ears keenly, as the monstrous obstacle loomed into view over the brow of the hill. He calmly picked his way through the melee of refusers and loose horses and flew it like a steeplechaser, before scooting joyfully down the hill, turbo charged by a loud volley of farts , eliciting a round of applause and howls of mirth from the footies.
Charlie, is a 12 year old broken down pointer who i paid meat money for. It was the best money i ever spent. Jasper's had three terrific seasons on him. The pair of them are terrible thrusters, and both utterly fearless, which has resulted in some epic days.
He's flatfooted and dishes for England, but he's as nimble as a mountain goat and he'll take you over anything you point him at. His only character flaw is that he's not 100% in traffic. In fact, he's a total pillock, particularly with tractors. He doesn't bat an eyelid at the farm tractors that drive up and down all day, within feet of him:but if he encounters the same tractor down the lane, then look out! He plants himself in the road, snorting in horror, before trying the obligatory Lets-turn-round-and-run-home manouvre. When that fails, he scrambles up the bank or into the hedge and sidles past it trembling like a leaf before sticking his head down and clattering off up the lane. It's very irritating, particularly since an Amateur Jockey friend of mine came to try him and having been tanked past three tractors and a flat bed trailer, announced that "he's not scared, he's just taking the piss."
Riding him does not promote feelings of well being and relaxation. Having to humour him through the rigmarole of "OH NO! A TRACTOR! I AM GOING TO DIE OF FRIGHT!" at least ten times on every ride is very irritating. I get grumpy with him, which compounds his stupidity, which makes me even grumpier. By the time we get home i am red faced with anger, muttering curses and vowing never to ride him again. He's so inured to my death threats that he doesn't even have the courtesy to look worried anymore when i tell him I'm sending him to Potters.
Casino and Charlie are inseperable. They weren't sure of each other when i introduced them, and kept a wary distance, but they studied each other curiously when they thought the other wasn't looking. Within a couple of days they had formally acknowledged each other with polite small talk and by the end of the week they were thick as theives, united by their passion for Hunting. They will stand, heads together and a faraway look in their eyes and i imagine that they are regaling each other with tales of glory - Charlie describing his dazzling performances on the race track, and Casino sharing cherished memories of his hey day as a Top Class Hunter.
When i watch them together, whether they're dozing contentedly under a tree, or thundering round the field in the misty dawn, i am always reminded of the retired race horses in Philip Larkin's beautiful and poignant poem "At Grass", the closing lines of which always bring a tear to my eye.

"...they have slipped their names, and stand at ease,
Or gallop for what must be joy,
And not a field glass sees them home,
Or curious stop watch prophesies:
Only the groom, and the groom's boy,
With bridles in the evening come."

Friday, 30 July 2010

Jasper and i popped into town yesterday morning to drop off some plans with the Architect. We parked in the Market Square. Jasper waited in the car while i went across the road to the Cash point.
I was just about to get back in the car when i saw Jeremy's Mother walking towards us. I hadn't seen her for ages so i windmilled excitedly at her and went over to say hello. She is normally very friendly and chatty, so i was rather disconcerted when she didn't reciprocate my bear hug, or immediately ask after Lily as she usually does.
Nonetheless, i beamed at her and told her how lovely it was to see her.
She coughed nervously.
"So, how are you?" i persisted.
"Fine thankyou." she replied with a forced smile.
"Enjoying the sunshine?"
There was an awkward silence whilst i wondered what on earth i could have done to annoy her.
I noticed that she was carrying a bag from the Deli.
"Oooh, bought something nice for lunch?" I ploughed on.
She pursed her lips and didn't answer.
She stoutly rebuffed my increasingly inane attempts to engage her in conversation, responding to my bewildered burbling with monosyllabic answers. It was excruciating; i realised that i was clenching my buttocks in mortification.
I cringed as she glared stonily at me over the rims of her spectacles.
"Well, nice to see you again." i said pathetically.
She said a terse "Goodbye." before she stalked off into the Green Grocers.
I got back into the car shaking my head in bewilderment.
"Who was that?" Jasper asked.
"Jeremy's Mum."
"No it wasn't."
"Yes it was."
"Jess, it wasn't Jeremy's Mum. You must need glasses."
At that moment, the Woman emerged from the Green Grocers, glanced nervously at me and hurried off.
"She is definitely NOT Jeremy's Mother." said Jasper cosily.
"Well who is she then?" i said weakly, gawping at the woman's retreating back.
"You tell me." He sniggered. "You're the one whose been talking at her for the past 5 minutes."

My face was still burning when we reached Jasper's parents house.
We walked into the kitchen to find his Mother sitting at the table looking dazed, whilst Tor pressed an ice pack on the back of her head. It transpired that she had been feeding her young horses, when a scuffle had broken out between the two mares. In the ensuing melee, poor Jill was knocked flat on her back and banged her head, which prompthly started pouring with blood.
By the time we arrived, it had stopped bleeding, but there was a sizeable lump, and we were worried about concussion. She swept aside our entreaties to take her to the Hospital.
"For Goodness sake, stop fussing. I'm absolutely fine!" she insisted.
After a cup of tea, we got up to leave and i asked her if she was sure she felt alright. She replied with one of her famous malapropisms...
"Really dear, you needn't worry. It was just frightfully bad luck, although i must admit, my head took a terrific wank."

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The Cull

It took me two hours to summon the courage to phone The Executioner. As an animal lover, I found it very hard to deal with the fact that I was about to condone the murder of 8 cockerels. I gazed out into the garden and pondered upon my moral dilemma. If there really was a hell i'd be sure to go there for snuffing out the lives of God's creatures!
I watched a defeated looking bantam hen scratching about in the long grass. Suddenly, the mob of cockerels strutted out from behind the hen house and caught sight of her. It was all i could do not to shout out "BEHIND YOU!" as they stealthily crept up on her, heads lowered, in a silent ambush. I watched in disgust as they took turns violating her, before buggering off. Their timely display of insufferable brutality banished my lingering doubts. Never mind if i went to hell. The poor bantams were already there. I picked up the phone and signed their death warrant.
Our dear friend Jamie, who lives in a cottage down the lane with his girlfriend Amber, had offered to do away with the cockerels. He used the word "despatch", which i found comfortingly ambiguous. If i didn't actually witness the blood shed, i could pretend that he had packed them all into a box and sent them on their holidays...
He arrived just after lunch the next day. He emerged from his Land Rover bearing an axe, a tree stump and a hammer. There was an uneasy murmur of muffled clucks from the henhouse, as though the doomed inmates could sense that the end was nigh. Jamie placed the wood on the grass and propped up the axe against it. The razor sharp edge glinted blindingly in the sun. I felt giddy. All he needed now was a black hood i thought to myself. I started to titter - not because i found the situation even remotely funny, but because for as long as i can remember, tension has manifested itself in the form of mild hysteria, prompting uncontrollable giggling fits at inappropriate moments. (I will never forget the time the car broke down on the M6 during torrential rain in the middle of the night. I must have looked like a maniac, sitting in the drivers seat whooping with laughter as the car shook from the force of the articulated lorries that thundered past, blaring their horns.)
I realised how odd it would seem if i were to stand there chuckling whilst Jamie sharpened his axe, so i locked myself in the downstairs loo until i had stopped laughing.
After making Jamie a cup of tea I went into the front garden with Lily to get out of the way. Within minutes i heard the terrified squawking followed by the dull thud of axe on wood. I turned the radio up to drown out the noise.
Ten minutes later, Jasper appeared and announced that the deed was done and that Jamie was ready to show me how to "prepare the birds for the pot."
"Great!" i said, trying not to look aghast. As i walked round into the back garden I told myself that it wouldn't really be any different to preparing the chickens i bought from Waitrose every week. And we were only taking the breasts out which must be pretty easy.
Who was i deluding? It was not at all like dealing with a Waitrose chicken, as you have probably guessed. For a start, the back garden was bloodier than the battle of Culloden, and Waitrose Chickens do not have feathers on them, or a ragged bloody stump where their heads once were. Waitrose chickens are not still twitching either.
Jamies voice interrupted my train of thought.
", it's really easy. You pull the feathers out like this." he grabbed a handful of plumage from the breast area exposing the greyish skin of the breast beneath.
The headless cock jerked violently and flapped it's wings. "AARRGGGH!" i shouted, jumping as though i'd been electrocuted.
"Just nerves. It's quite dead." Jamie smiled reassuringly before continuing.
"And then you get the knife and make an inscision in the top of the breast bone, and just slice all the way down like this. And there it is. Easy " he said, holding the flesh up for me to see.
I put my hand to my forehead which was clammy with sweat.
"Your turn." he said, handing me the knife. A terrified giggle escaped.
He handed me a cockerel. I knelt down in the grass and pulled out some feathers.
Oh God.
I pressed the tip of the knife into the breast bone.
"Jess, are you alright?" asked Jamie.
"Hell yeah! " I smiled cheerfully.
"You've gone green." he said.
"Have I?"
"Look, would you like me to do them for you?"
I almost dropped to his feet and wept with gratitude.
My legs were shaking slightly as i went inside to get him a lager.

A couple of hours later, 16 breasts were simmering gently in a fragrant stew of Burgundy, shallots, mushrooms, garlic and herbs. They were quite tough so we cooked it very slowly overnight. That evening, Jamie and Amber came over for supper.
We raised a glass in honour of the Cockerels before we started.
Do you know what? We all agreed that i t was, by far, the best Coq Au Vin we had ever tasted.