Jess of the dairy fields
By Jessica Miller. The illustration is by Becky Blake
Published in November ’12
It was my friend, Angie, who suggested that we organise a ‘Village Bonfire Night’. I agreed and threw myself into the arrangements with alacrity, spurred on by Lily, who was quite demented with excitement at the idea of setting fire to things.
Jasper was, in absentia, delegated the task of creating the bonfire. It was a job offer met initially with considerable resistance; he attempted to evade the job with something about a heavy workload:
‘I haven’t got time; ask someone else,’ he said firmly.
Fortunately, Lily’s powers of persuasion are irresistible; one look at her crestfallen little face and he was off with a tractor and trailer, returning a couple of hours later with a towering load of wood, scrap and rubbish, which he deposited in the orchard.
Another friend, Jenny, had provided some excellent fireworks; Angie had made a batch of sausage rolls and Mother-in-Law delivered a huge vat of her delicious, top-secret-recipe mulled wine. I was busy coating apples in toffee sauce and listening to Lily chatting excitedly as she proudly displayed the bonfire-night paintings that she had brought home from nursery
‘Look Mummy, Guy Fawkes,’ she announced, jabbing at a stick man atop a pile of red and orange splodges. I cursed under my breath. I had forgotten to get the Guy! I quickly phoned some farming friends in the hope that they might be able to donate a scarecrow, but my efforts were in vain. Like Christmas without a tree, or Easter without eggs, bonfire night simply wasn’t, well, Guy Fawkes night, without Guy astride the raging inferno.
I drove to town to pick up some last minute shopping, and was still contemplating my predicament when I bumped into a friend outside her dress shop on the high street. I was explaining my dilemma when she interrupted: ‘I’ve got an idea; you can have one of my mannequins,’ she said. I looked quizzically at the immaculate mannequins in the shop window, showing the Winter Collection to best advantage.
‘I can’t put one of those on a bonfire.’
‘Not those, silly,’ she replied, ‘I’ve got some old ones in the storeroom.’ I emerged, five minutes later, staggering beneath a 6’4″, bald and stark-naked, female mannequin.
One of her preternaturally long legs was stuck out at right angles, as though she were a Leni Riefenstahl extra captured mid-goose-step.
A group of boys loitering outside One-Stop sniggered as I stumbled past them – feigning lofty indifference until the protruding leg knocked over the metal barber’s shop sign. I bent down to pick it up reflecting that I couldn’t have parked in a more conspicuous place – in the middle of the market square; an articulated lorry was helpfully blocking the road outside the bank so traffic was at a standstill and I was the free entertainment.
The car was filled with sacks of horse feed; Lady Guy would have to travel ‘third-class, third-world railway’ style, I thought grimly, as I bundled her onto the roof before lashing her into position with baler twine.
It started to rain. I was trying to force the rogue leg, which, Dr Strangelove-style, kept saluting the sky, but I struggled to gain purchase on its slippery surface.
I yanked it crossly, aware of my audience in the nearby pub window. Lady Guy resisted for a moment, before the leg yielded with a sickening crack as it snapped off at the hip, careered down the windscreen, bounced off the car bonnet and into the road with a clunk. A bus had to brake sharply to avoid running over the leg. As I scurried out to retrieve it I registered the look of shock on the driver’s face; it was a very realistic looking leg.
‘Good afternoon Mrs Miller,’ said a voice like honeyed mahogany.
‘Ah, er, good afternoon Vicar,’ I replied smoothly.
Not a flicker of surprise crossed his face that I was standing in the pouring rain clutching a false leg whilst a naked mannequin lay spread eagled on my car roof.
‘How are you?’ he asked kindly.
‘Oh, just marvellous thanks. Doing a bit of shopping.’
‘So I see,’ he said and, casting an appreciative glance at the perfectly moulded breasts, added: ‘See you at church on Sunday?’
‘Absolutely. See you then.’ I squeaked.
Lady Guy, sporting a long blonde wig from the dressing-up box, was propped against the Aga when Jasper came home.
‘What the hell is that?’ he asked.
‘It’s Guy Fawkes,’ I said cheerily.
‘Guido Fawkes: the 36-year-old, bearded, traditionally two-legged, 80-Years-War-veteran, male, Catholic, regicide plotter?’
No answer was the stern reply.
Two hours later, everyone gathered in the orchard, warming their hands around steaming mugs of mulled wine.
Jasper threw a match onto the bonfire and flames sprang up just as the clouds parted to bathe the paddock in phosphorescent moonlight…, simultaneously silhouetting the one-legged mannequin in all her naked glory.
Children’s screams rent the air.
‘Good Gawd, it’s Joan Of Arc,’ said Major Farquhar. A small rocket fell over during lift-off, then sought refuge under Mrs Lodsworth’s tweed skirt. She was shaken but, a badly burnt petticoat aside, she survived otherwise unstirred.
After the initial horror subsided, the children had a marvellous time, their faces were alight with excitement, their cheeks rosy from the fire. I looked out to where Bulbarrow Hill lay like a slumbering beast in the moonlight. I breathed deeply of the magic mix of crisp evening air, wood smoke and mulled wine, then reflected on the words of Charles II: ‘Dorset – there never was a