Diary of a Dorset farmer’s wife
By Jessica Miller. The illustration is by Becky Blake
Published in November ’11
For a long time now, I have secretly harboured an ambition to establish my very own smallholding of animals. I daydream about gazing out into a stable yard of geese, ducks, chickens, lambs and pigs. I imagine Lily and I in our wellies, frolicking with our menagerie in the spring sunshine, petting woolly coats and stroking silky bantam feathers, against a bucolic opera backdrop of bleats, quacks and grunts.
I have a recurring dream, in which we are entrants at our local Agricultural Show; it is a beautiful Summer day, and Lily, wearing a stockman’s coat and flat-cap, solemnly parades her prize pig around the main ring, before tottering out to rapturous applause, brandishing a big, shiny Gold Cup.
One day, in an unguarded moment, I mentioned the Grand Plan to Jasper. The fact that he didn’t even glance up from his newspaper is testimony to how many whims and fancies have come before this one. He chuckled slightly, shook his head and muttered: ‘Don’t be a silly bunny.’
I bristled, slightly affronted by his dismissive response. ‘And why is it “silly”, might I ask?’ I replied sulkily.
‘You can’t just keep animals for the hell of it you know. You’re not Dr Dolittle.’ Silence.
‘It IS almost my birthday. Can I have a couple of lambs?’ I asked in a wheedling voice. He put his paper down and looked at me sternly. ‘And what are you going to DO with these lambs? You can’t just keep them until they die of old age you know. They don’t stay lamb size forever. They turn into great, ignorant woolly sheep with horrid maggotty bottoms! It is all very well pulling that face, but it won’t be you who has to deal with the maggotty bottoms; it will
be muggins here.’
I opened my mouth to protest, but Jasper nodded his head towards the window. ‘Look out there! What do you see?’ I look into the garden at the two enormous geese, strutting round the front lawn like bouncers, and hang
‘You smuggled those things in by stealth,’ he started, ‘you fibbed about killing them; you never had any intention of fattening them up for Christmas! You just wanted them to waddle about looking decorative.’
‘I thought they were sweet.’ I said in a small voice.
‘Ha! I’m glad you’re using the past tense,’ he replied, ‘they were sweet twelve months ago. They’re not so sweet now are they? They’re a pair of overgrown, anti-social bullies who poo all over the yard, wake us up with their honking, terrorise the poor dogs and attack people.’
‘Attack is a bit of an exaggeration,’ I tutted. Jasper took a deep breath and picked up a letter from the sideboard. I could see the Royal Mail emblem through the paper. Oh dear, I had forgotten about that.
‘Dear Mrs Miller, we are sorry to inform you that on 15 February 2011, one of our Royal Mail delivery workers was menaced and subsequently attacked by your geese. I have to warn you, that should this happen again, I shall have no alternative…’
‘Yes, yes. I know what it says.’ I interrupted hastily. At that moment, the man who rents the cottage next door pulled into the stable yard and got out of his car. As he leant over into the passenger side to retrieve his shopping bags the geese crept up behind him, heads lowered, hissing menacingly, before simultaneously rushing forward and grappling at his bare white legs with their monstrous beaks. He gave a bellow of fright, dropped his shopping on the floor and staggered to the refuge of his front porch, closely pursued by his attackers. Jasper looked at me and raised his eyebrows. ‘I know, I know!’ I sighed.
Later that afternoon, Lily and I wandered down the lane to Ali’s house. She and her husband have set up a fabulous smallholding, complete with geese, chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, turkeys, sheep and goats. After we’d had a guided tour, and admired some very smart rare-breed partridge, and I had lusted over an enchanting pair of Barber Danvers bantams, Ali announced: ‘And now for the new additions…,’ and led us round the back of the barn to the old stables.
I looked over the door, and there, nestling in the straw, were two beautiful pink and black piglets. They grunted a greeting and stretched luxuriantly. The sun streaming through the windows shone through their pink ears; it looked for all the world as though they were smiling. Lily was enraptured, mouth open, as she gazed at them in wonder.
‘They’re piggies,’ I whispered. ‘Piggies…’ she repeated in a hushed, reverential tone. I was overcome by those dreaded, all too familiar sensations – the clammy palms, quickening of the pulse, a premature stab of guilt. The pigs grunted again. I breathed in their pungent piggy smell and admired their curly tails. Beyond them, spectre-like, rose Jasper’s face from the straw, puce with rage. No, no, I mustn’t.
‘…they’re great pets too. So friendly. We’ve got two left in the other barn if you know anyone who is interested.’