Jess of the Dairyfields – Jessica Miller A Dorset dairy farmer’s wife
By Jessica Miller. The illustration is by Becky Blake
Published in July ’12
The Easter Saturday Portman Hunt point to point at Badbury Rings is the nonpareil of social functions; it is rural camaraderie at its very best and its beer tent is the hub of social activity. Numerous would-be race-goers have succumbed to the siren call of its rustic, makeshift bar and leaving its cosy, canvassed interior has often proved impossible. There have been many occasions, pre-Lily’s arrival, when we haven’t clapped eyes on a horse or jockey all day, eschewing the parade ring, bookie and races in favour of a catch-up in the beer tent with friends.
Parenthood brings responsibility, though. As the day dawned this year, I was bustling around the kitchen making a picnic. How civilized and grown up I felt as I prepared smoked-salmon sandwiches, roasted-pepper tart, carrot cake and shortbread, before carefully packing them into my smart new hamper.
Jasper looked mildly panicked as I loaded it into the car. ‘Don’t worry dear,’ I reassured him, ‘we don’t have to sit on a blanket by the car. You can still go to the beer tent to see your friends.
‘Thank God for that,’ he said relieved, ‘I’m not quite ready to join the red corduroy Brigade.’
An hour later, as we queued on Beech Avenue near Badbury Rings, we were feeling gloomy at the prospect of being cold and wet all day. Then the sun burst through the pewter clouds, bathing the rings in golden light; dazzling reflections winked off the windscreens of the cars parked on the hill.
At Lily’s insistence, we had brought Frog the dog, a decision quickly regretted when she made a dash for liberty through the open window, through the open door of the Volvo parked next to us, and started thrusting energetically at the elderly Bichon Frise on the back seat. The Tweed-clad gentleman, reading his race card on a camping chair at the front of the car, didn’t turn a hair – either because his hearing aid was off or broken; he remained oblivious to the blood curdling howls from just behind him, even as Jasper dived in to retrieve Frog.
Lily squealed with glee at the sight of the towering pink bouncy castle; the squeals were redoubled at the sight of our friends Tom and Libby. Seconds later Libby had unstrapped Lily and whisked her off for a turn on the bouncy castle. Jasper and I wandered up to the beer tent, which was already brimming with people.
I was left with the pram and Frog, who by now was trussing my legs together with her lead. I had just managed to disentangle myself, when Libby appeared… alone.
I felt light headed with terror as I croaked ‘Where is Lily?’
‘Slight problem,’ Libby replied. ‘She’s climbed to the top of the highest slide on the bouncy castle and is too scared to come down. She looks a bit freaked out.’
‘Oh God!’ I gasped, thrusting Frog’s lead at Jasper. I pushed my way through the crowd at the foot of the bouncy castle. Lily was at the highest turret, clinging on to a pink pillar, wearing an expression of abject terror. She wobbled and swayed at the top of the near-vertical drop.
On seeing me, her face dissolved into tears. I kicked off my wellies in order to charge up to rescue her, when a little man wearing a grease-stained t-shirt barred my way, pointing at a sign which read ‘Under 14’s only’
‘Don’t be so ridiculous,’ I hissed in outrage as a Mike-Tindall-lookalike dived head first down the chute, scattering toddlers like nine pins. ‘Strike!’ boomed his mate from the top of the slide. I ducked under the man’s arm and charged up the inflatable steps as fast as I could, which, it turned out, was not very; the slippery pink plastic underfoot bobbed, sagged and wobbled with every step.
I reached the top, sweating profusely, gathered Lily into my arms, sat down and manoeuvred myself to the top of the slide. Jasper and friends were gathered at the bottom and, having observed my ascent, howling with mirth. I tried to look nonchalant as I prepared to descend, but was unprepared for the little boy who used the collar of my wax jacket to steady himself.
Yanked roughly forwards, Lily and I parted company as we plunged down, performing sideways somersaults. Something in my neck clicked just before I shot off the safety pad and landed face down in the grass.
Feigning a lofty indifference to my darling husband and comrades, I spat out the mud my mouth had collected, picked up Lily (‘Please Mummy, can we go again?’) and set off towards the beer tent. There I found Frog, tied to a tent peg alongside the hamper, whose contents now consisted of a few pastry morsels of my red pepper tart, some crumbs of carrot cake and a half finger of shortbread. Frog’s muzzle was smeared with icing sugar, her eyes were glazed and the distended stomach growled ominously.
Jasper appeared, clutching a pint glass and swaying gently. ‘Hi darling,’ he said, giving me a beery kiss, ‘I’m starving. Let’s get the picnic out.’