We’d journey, seemingly forever, from the town to the country. Darkness would fall, the headlights of the car only just winning the battle against the rural pitch black. Sleep. Breakfast in a farmhouse kitchen. Tea towels draped over the handles of the range. Spot, the farmhouse dog whose name is all that’s necessary to describe his appearance, darts frantically around at your feet. A Jack Russell’s demeanour never seems to change.
Out to the yard to fetch the sheepdog, between the barns there’s a mist trying hard to be fog. In the back of a Land Rover dog and I climb, I perch on the wheel arch, this is his space not mine. He eyes me suspiciously, I’m not his master; he suspects I am quick but he knows he is faster. The four by four vehicle forces dirt tracks to yield. Supermarket? School run? No. Sheep in a field. He’s given the order and carefully slinks. Slowly at first then a whistle says FLY! Surgical precision. Away. COME BY! I fill pockets with stones that I find on the field. There are millions, they’re worthless, I’m told it’s called flint. They can make sparks and fires – now that’s worth a mint.
My memory grows hazy, it’s a new time of year. I climb on a tractor – a Ford? A John Deere? Lambs I would later be able to eat – so cute, so cuddly – now my favourite meat. Some fed on bottles, I feel no remorse, knowing little of gravy, spuds or mint sauce.
Here comes the harvest, a barn full of grain, protected from splashes of autumnal rain. I ride on the trailer towed by the tractor; it’s bumpy, hilarious, dangerous even – but all thoughts of accidents don’t seem to factor. Marks from the tractor scribed on the mud, straight lines and arcs, circles round trees, I’d repeat their perfection with a pen if I could.
Back at the farmhouse a pheasant’s our feed. Shot by the farmer, he carves it in tweed.
A pipe. Pipe cleaners. The smell of tobacco.
Spot jumps. We go home.
I learnt last night that my Mother’s best friend – whose husband was my Father’s best man at their wedding and whose daughter was born on the same day as me – died this week of a heart attack. As a child I would visit their farm and, unsurprisingly, images of the place began to return when I heard the news. Tainted by the passing of time, some may be idealised fabrications; most are as vivid as if they were only days old. The slightly bouncy rhythm I’m going to blame on the fact that I was recalling a time when everything was a form of play.
Every child deserves to have the opportunity to see the life blood of all of us – the products of working the earth – nutured and harvested. Yet I doubt I’ll even be able to provide that experience for my own kids today. How many of you know someone who works with the land?
Not many of you I’ll wager.