High summer heat-haze, syrupy air laden with insect and birdsong and occasional horse nickering, knowledge that there will be two weeks of no-work… Knots in my shoulders began unknotting. The tension of too many problems and being the one with workable solutions began to dissolve. My breathing was slowing and deepening. I could feel the beating pulse of my heart finding a new rhythm.
Then, through my drunken heat-hazy limb-heavy state I was aware of a new sound. Distant – but getting closer. A low and regular growl. Growing louder. Resolving itself into a mechanical and ripping roar. Enjoined by the yipping, high, bark bark bark yelp squeal of dog. The whistle of man. And the increasingly frantic bleating of what sounded like 1000 sheep. Sheep that were getting closer. Closer to me.
I thought briefly of jumping into the single-track nettle-filled roadside ditches. Nope. Not an option – bare legs and flip-flops.
There was only one way to go and that was up the hill. Now. And at speed. A speed that had to beat the dog and the sheep and the roaring, predatory quad-bike-man. I was panicked into running. I tripped on a flip-flop. And left it lying in the road. My feet stung as they slapped the rubbly tarmac surface. I looked behind and could see the beasts gaining on me. There was a multitude of sheep. A bleating scrabbling mass of grubby wool and yellow satanic eyes pursued by machine and mad barking dog. And the only thing between them and the farmyard was me. A stumbling unfit footsore me.
Above the din I heard shouting. Insistent shouting. Noises that were clearly human but which contained no meaning I could decipher. The heartbeat was sounding so loud against my eardrums. I would as well have been deaf. I stopped, briefly, bewildered by the human insistence. The sheep were gaining on me. They were almost upon me. My nostrils were full of their smell. I could feel their breath. The clatter and slip of their horny feet on the loose road grit as they pushed on towards me. In one split second I saw the newspaper obituary – 44 yr old Mother of Five Trampled to Death by Sheep.
I looked at the ditch. I looked at the sheep. And with one despairing leap I was up to my thighs in nettles…
In reality we weren’t far away.
We back-tracked, reversing carefully to avoid the ditch either side of the track. About a mile up there was a right hand turn dipping deep into a copse of trees and disappearing. But there was a huddle of farm buildings on the other side of the moor valley and it seemed sensible that this ribbon of road led to them.
We followed the dip through another ford and climbed up towards the houses.
The car was weighed by a heavy defeated silence. A glum air of we will never get to this place. Broken only by the fricative tug of air through Ana’s mouth as she sooked her sooky-fingers.
Finally, emerging from between tall hedgerows, we arrived in the middle of what would have been a farmyard. At one time. In the distant past. I think.
Is this a scrapyard Mum? asked Jamie.
4×4’s; motorbikes; a rusted mitsubishi; a Y reg Passat; an old mini; a tractor (small); another old mini. And atop it all – the tiara, the crown – there was an eye-nippingly bright yellow ferrari…
We were in Papa-Heaven.
A deep-tanned outdoor face appeared at my driver’s window. Derek the ‘farmer’ (he told us later he did no farming now) to welcome and direct.
I put the car window down and Derek nodded – yes, this was the cottage – and he pointed to our left.
I heard Jamie in the back say thank God – an exaggerated stress upon God. Ana stopped sooking and started unbuckling.
Wait til Dad sees this Mum… and I thought, I can’t wait…
Sat in the cafe this morning, watching the faithful called to worship in their provincial insular best. Glad-handing on the steps of the church. Begloved, besuited, booted and hatted. Almost uniformly middle-aged. Only a smattering of the very young. Scrub-faced and eager, toddling and laughing and tugging at grannies’ hands.
The odd one or two came for take-away lattes and black teas. Trailing that particular powdery smell of the prim and pious. Stout heeled sensible shoes adorning sturdy feet. Paisley scarves and woollen coats protecting against the snell High Street wind. Hairstyles set and nodding to the 1950s. And not succumbing to that wind.
The talk was of old Eddie: ‘My, he got a quick one, didn’t he?’ ‘Funeral’s on Tuesday’ ‘Should be a fine turn out for that’ ‘That’ll be a guid hoose for somebody’…
A couple of farmers followed behind them. Faint reek of the byre clinging to them. All dungareed and thick-knit cable-sweatered and mud-encrusted steel toe-capped boots. Bacon rolls were ordered and sheep dip discussed. The young one was ruddy cheeked and red-nosed and already tending towards the meaty muscularity of his father. Horizons defined by the sheep and the cattle and the timing of markets and the price of red diesel and government subsidy.
Then came the boy-racers in their borrowed mazda soft-top. T-shirted and jewellery be-decked they ordered paninis and irn-bru and boasted of the drink consumed the night before and exploits with the lassie who’d gone back to the flat.
Mad ginger came in and ordered his customary coffee and toastie and got lost in a rambling jungle of words and E lost patience trying to decipher the mess and cut him short to go into the backshop.
My own coffee cooled and reluctantly I made for home with the shopping.