Christmas 2012 was a truly special one. Having turned three last August, Lily was old enough to appreciate the unique magic of the occasion, and her excitement was infectious.
The icing on the cake was my sister and her Husband joining the festivities with Francesca, their three month old daughter, whom Lily has idolized ever since she saw a photo of her as a new born baby.
For three months, she insisted on carrying the snap shot everywhere with her, and showed it off to the butcher, the green grocer, the postman and the AGA repair man, with the proud words "That's my little Cousin."
Francesca was stoically produced at every single nursery Show and Tell Session for 16 weeks. After the third week, I asked if she'd like to take a favourite book or much loved toy for a change. The suggestion was meant with an expression of such scandalized outrage that I didn't try again.
We went to Wincanton Races on Boxing day. I lost all my money and Jasper won over £200. He’s inherited his Mother’s admirable knack for choosing winners. Socially, it was an unprecedentedly busy run up to New Year, and we spent little time at home. By the time New Years Eve arrived, we were all feeling rather done in, including Lily who astonished us both by putting herself to bed at 6pm.
Having relaxed in a hot scented bath, I put on my beautiful dove grey silk nightie (my Christmas present from Jasper), and dished up two mugs of turkey soup which we ate in the snug watching Downton Abbey, lulled by the cosy sound of crackling logs and soporific heat from the wood burner.
We were fast asleep when the phone rang.
“Hello! Is that Mrs Miller?” barked a man’s voice.
“Yes.” I yawned, groping for the light switch.
“Your ruddy cows have escaped. They’re in our rose garden!”
I rubbed my eyes and looked at the clock. It was 11.59pm.
“Who is this?” I asked, suspecting a practical joke.
“It’s Colonel Farqhuar from The Manor. You’d better get here sharpish or I’ll blow them all to smithereens!”
I went cold. The Colonel was a lovely gentleman, but encroaching senility had triggered a worrying preoccupation with guns and fire. He was no longer safe on the shooting field. Only the week before, Lady Farqhuar had been summoned to take him home after he started taking pot shots at a hapless beater.
“ I’m so sorry, we’ll be there in 5 minutes. Please don’t shoot them.” I gabbled, as I pulled on a pair of damp wellies onto my bare legs.
His reply was drowned out by the opening bars of Old Langs Eyne. A volley of deafening bangs went off in the background. In a state of panic and confusion, I couldn’t tell whether they were fireworks or a shot gun. I pictured the head lines in The Western Gazette. “Twenty Heifers shot dead as Senile War Hero runs amok with gun in New Year Massacre.”
I shook Jasper awake and made an SOS call to his Mother next door. She hurried over in her dressing gown to wait until our return.
“There’s no time to waste. Let’s go.” Jasper said grimly.
We jumped in the Land Rover and shot off down the lane to The Manor.
As we screeched to a halt at the end of the drive, the Colonel appeared from behind a gate post, swigging enthusiastically from a hip flask.
“We’ve got guests. You can’t drive in. The swines are causing havoc behind on our bowling green.”
“Where are the heifers?” asked Jasper.
“I meant the wretched heifers you ruddy buffoon!” screamed the Colonel.
I hitched up my night dress and set off towards the house. As I panted across the lawn, clutching a length of blue poly pipe, I was acutely aware of a sea of faces peering out of the drawing room windows at me. I skidded wildly on the slippery grass and a cheer arose.
The heifers were waiting by a gate onto the lane. Within five minutes they were back in their paddock and we were trudging wearily back to The Manor.
Lady Farqhuar intercepted us as we skulked past and insisted on our coming in to toast the New Year. Our horrified protests fell on deaf ears. “Don’t worry, it’ll just be lots of oldies.” Jasper whispered soothingly as I buttoned up my old mucking out cardigan.
We were ushered into the house and thrust into a drawing room with at least 30 guests.
They turned to stare as we walked in. I almost turned on my heel and bolted.
I felt as though we had blundered into a Armani campaign. They were all impossibly glamorous and none of them were a day over 25.
“We thought we’d let Tarquin throw a Party at home this year.” Tinkled Lady Farqhuar gesturing towards a devastatingly handsome young man who promptly offered us champagne.
“How lovely.” I croaked, taking a mortified swig.
“Is that a nightie you’re wearing?” asked a stunning blonde girl in a Little Black Dress.
She looked genuinely fascinated.
“They’re a different breed Farmers!” barked the Colonel, offering us a cigar.
“Farmers in pyjamas!” piped up a Kate Moss look alike, and everyone laughed.
A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!