Jess of the dairy fields
By Jessica Miller. The illustration is by Becky Blake.
Published in January ’13
Christmas is always special, but this one had been especially so. Having turned three in August, Lily was old enough to appreciate the unique magic of the occasion, and her excitement was infectious. The icing on the cake was my sister and her husband joining us for the festivities with Francesca, their three-month-old daughter, whom Lily had idolised since she saw a photo of her as a new-born baby.
We went to Wincanton Races on Boxing day. I lost all my money and Jasper won over £200. He’s inherited his Mother’s admirable knack for choosing winners. Socially, it was an unprecedentedly busy run up to New Year, and we spent little time at home. By the time New Year’s Eve arrived, we were all feeling rather done in, including Lily who astonished us both by putting herself to bed at six in the evening.
Having relaxed in a hot scented bath, I put on my beautiful dove-grey silk nightie (my Christmas present from Jasper), and dished up two mugs of turkey soup, which we ate in the candlelit snug watching Downton Abbey, lulled by the cosy sound of crackling logs and soporific heat from the wood burner.
We were consequently fast asleep when the phone rang.
‘Hello! Is that Mrs Miller?’ barked a man’s voice.
‘Yes.’ I yawned, groping for the light switch.
‘Your ruddy cows have escaped. They’re in our rose garden!’
I rubbed my eyes and looked at the clock. It was 11.59pm.
‘Who is this?’ I asked, suspecting a practical joke.
‘It’s Colonel Farqhuar from The Manor. You’d better get here sharpish or I’ll blow them all to smithereens!’
I went cold. The Colonel was a lovely gentleman, but encroaching senility had triggered, as it were, a worrying preoccupation with guns and fire. He was no longer safe on the shooting field. Only the week before, Lady Farqhuar had been summoned to take him home as he started to mistake a hapless beater for game.
‘I’m so sorry, we’ll be there in five minutes. Please don’t shoot them.’ I gabbled, as I pulled on a pair of damp wellies onto my bare legs.
His reply was drowned out by the opening bars of Auld Lang Syne. A volley of deafening bangs went off in the background. In my state of somnolence, panic and confusion, it was impossible to tell over the phone whether it was fireworks or a shotgun I was hearing.
I started imagining headlines : ‘Cowabanga’, ‘Beef and death from Colonel Blimp’, ‘Never say Heifer again’, ‘War hero makes mincemeat of cows’, ‘Crazy Farqhuar on rampage’, ‘Cowdunnit? Keen-as-mustard Colonel roasts beef in firefight’.
Snapping out of it, I shook Jasper awake and then made an SOS call next door to his mother for emergency baby-sitting.
She hurried over in her dressing gown to await our return.
‘There’s no time to waste,’ Jasper said grimly, ‘Let’s go.
We jumped in the Land Rover and shot off down the lane to the Manor.
As we screeched to a halt at the end of the drive, the Colonel appeared from behind a gate post, swigging worryingly enthusiastically from a hip flask: ‘You can’t drive in. We’ve
got guests. The swines are causing havoc behind on our bowling green.’
‘Where are the heifers?’ asked Jasper.
‘I meant the wretched heifers you ruddy buffoon!’ screamed the Colonel.
I hitched up my night dress and set off towards the house. As I panted across the lawn, clutching a length of blue poly pipe (for animal herding not fashion purposes), I was acutely aware of a sea of faces peering at me through the drawing room windows. I skidded wildly on the slippery grass and a muffled cheer arose from within the house.
The heifers were waiting by a gate onto the lane. Within five minutes they were back in their paddock and we were trudging wearily back to The Manor.
Lady Farqhuar intercepted us as we skulked past. She insisted on our coming in ‘to toast the New Year’. Our horrified protests fell on deaf ears.
‘Don’t worry,’ Jasper whispered soothingly as I buttoned up my old mucking out cardigan,’ it’ll just be a quick glass with the oldies’.
We were ushered into the house, then thrust into the drawing room to be greeted by the sight of at least 30 guests… who all did a double-take, then turned properly to stare at us, as we walked in. I felt as though we had blundered onto the set of an Armani advertising video shoot; they were all impossibly glamorous and none of them was a day over 25.
‘We thought we’d let Tarquin invite some friends for a party at home this year,’ tinkled Lady Farqhuar, gesturing towards a devastatingly handsome young man who promptly offered us champagne.
‘How lovely.’ I croaked, taking a mortified swig.
‘Is that,’ asked a stunning blonde girl in a Little Black Dress, ‘a nightie that you’re wearing?’. She seemed genuinely fascinated.
‘They’re a different breed, farmers and their wives!’ barked the Colonel, offering Jasper a celebratory cigar.
‘It’s just like an episode of that TV show,’ said one of the beautiful things.
‘Oh yes,’ piped up a Kate Moss lookalike: ‘Farmers in pyjamas!’
‘Oh God,’ I thought to myself as the laughter echoed endlessly round the room. ‘Happy New Year.’