Monday, 28 March 2011

Keeping cool and awake!

I had never put everyone together in a field before. Never had the need. Until now.

I spent a day making the chicken field as safe as I possibly could, removing anything that wasn’t nailed down. By the time I’d finished it looked rather smart, certainly neater than it had in years.

First thing the following morning I took the horses Georgie and Alfie, the goats, the sheep, the chickens, ducks, geese, my dog, and of his own volition probably because he felt he’d be missing out otherwise, Niko the cat, and put them all in the one field together.

I’d kind of expected them to check each other out, to argue and generally misbehave, but what I hadn’t expected was how loud they’d be. It sounded like an orchestra tuning up, with loads of independent and unconnected sounds battling to be heard above the rest.

The geese screeched, the horses neighed through their noses, the cockerels crowed, the goats yelled, the ducks whacked, my dog barked, the cat fled and the sheep went for a lay down. And walking through the middle of them all was me, shushing.

Quite what I thought I was doing I have no idea. They didn’t pay me any attention anyway. But I’d become determined in my shushing. I was the boss of the field, I was in control. They should respect my shushing.

So I started yelling it, shushing at the top of my lungs. They didn’t go quiet, they just saw me a competition and got louder. Well two can play at that game. Just as we reached our crescendo, two trucks bumped down the path, parked up and disgorged men armed with chainsaws.

We all fell quiet and I leaned against a gate post, a vision of cool. If I’d had a piece of straw, I’d have chewed on it.

Several of the hedges around some of the other fields had sprouted trees big enough to threaten the electricity cable that ran above them, and they needed cutting back. These were the guys to take care of it. Four chainsaws started in unison – I could hardly hear the RAF jet flying overhead.

In our field we all kind of looked at each other, and with a collective understanding, thought no, we can’t compete with that noise. The ducks and geese wandered off to perform their morning ablutions in the stream, the horses found their hay, the goats went in search of something they shouldn’t eat, my dog found something smelly to roll in, and the chickens went off to lay an egg each.

The only one without anything to do was me. So I went and sat down. I knew I should be doing things, there was plenty to keep me busy. But somehow it’s hard to get motivated when there are others around you working. I kept telling myself that my little smallholding was only big enough for so much hard work, and that these guys were using it all up. There was no room left for anymore. So I sat there, sipping coffee from a flask and reading.

It was quite nice actually.

By midmorning I knew I was getting dangerously close to feeling sleepy. I’d done nothing more energetic than some enthusiastic shushing, but my eyes were feeling heavy and I couldn’t stop yawning.

By sheer force of will, I managed to stay awake until all the hedges were neatly trimmed, the chainsaws put away and the guys had left. Then I slumped down in some hay and fell fast asleep, not waking up until a chicken walked across my face.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Pandora - a warrior on her way to heaven

In certain cultures, when someone important dies they tip back their heads and scream at the sky, not in grief, but in warning to the heavens that a warrior is on their way into their midst.

Late last night, I had to have one of my horses put to sleep.

I’d been in London at a meeting with a book publisher and caught the lunchtime train out of Paddington. The train was empty and fast, and even including a change at Exeter, I was still back in Barnstaple by four thirty.

Hungry and tired, I drove the twenty miles home as quick as I could. There’s nothing like reaching home after a stressy day, and even though it hadn’t been long since I’d seen my dog, he greeted me like I’d been away for months.

I heard the quad bike pull up outside and hoped Debbie would greet me just as enthusiastically. She did, but not in the way I’d thought.

“Pandora’s down!” Debbie yelled, even before she’d opened the door, the words pouring out so fast I could hardly catch them. “I thought she was laying down in the field but she wasn’t. She couldn’t get up. I got her up in the end and moved her away from the others into another field. But she went down again, and now I can’t get her back up!”

Still in my suit I threw on a coat, jumped into a pair of wellys and said, “Get help. Phone the vets. I’ll meet you down there,” as I ran out the door.

I found Pandy tangled against the fence almost upside down. She looked like a different horse, tucked-up and skinny – how can a horse suddenly look so skinny and frail? – and pasted head to food in thick mud.

Pandora came to us two years ago on loan as a companion for Georgie. Last week I introduced Alfie to them so they were a trio and they settled down into a comfortable routine. Georgie fell instantly in love with Alfie, and Pandy just let them get on with it. Pandy is around 30 years old.

With a friend we managed to get Pandy away from the fence, on her feet and smothered her in rugs to keep her warm. The vet arrived soon after.

The vet was wonderful, fussing and talking to her as he made his examination. There were a few problems and they were all related to old age. Still, never say never, he gave her some pain relief and left us for a couple of hours to see how she’d respond.

It was late. It was dark. It was cold and it was only fair the friends who’d rallied round went home. I was really grateful for their support.

So I stood with Pandy and talked to her, kept her alert and stopped her from going down. She even ate a little hay.

When the vet came back, it was clear the pain relief was wearing off and she’d deteriorated. It was just her time. She was old and tired and it was just her time. Earlier that day she’d eaten breakfast, was perky and happy and half a day later… If you’re going to go, and all that.

She slipped away just before ten with me and the vet talking to her, Dex my dog beside us, and an owl hooting in the distance.

I didn’t tip my head back and scream at the sky because I’m British and we don’t do that, but just the same, I want to warn the heavens that a warrior is on her way into their midst, and this warrior, this perky, brave little warrior, is called Pandora. Rest in peace baby girl.