Jess of the dairy fields
By Jessica Miller. The illustration is by Becky Blake.
Published in March ’13
February had been a month of mixed fortune on the farm. It’s been a difficult year, what with the huge amount of rain and the ever-present threat of bovine TB. Jasper’s flagging spirits were, however, bolstered by the safe deliveries of an unprecedentedly large number of strong, healthy heifer calves.
However, euphoria is short lived, and we were deeply saddened by the death of Bernie the bull, whose sheer awe-inspiring bulk belied the gentlest of natures. His docile presence and affable disposition had won the heart of even the stoniest farm hand, not to mention his legions of doting bovine wives whose devotion to him was absolute.
As hard as it was to lose him, we realised that life must go on. Having stayed by his side while he was put to sleep, Jasper came home and glumly looked through the Agriculture section of Blackmore Vale Magazine in search of another bull. By a stroke of good luck, there was a Friesian advertised for sale on a farm in nearby Gillingham, and we arranged to go and collect it the following day.
It wasn’t until the next morning that Jasper remembered that the starter motor on the cattle lorry had broken, but displaying the same stoical determination as his father, he summoned Nathan, his Wing Man, who promptly appeared on his trusty tractor.
‘We’ll get a tow start.’ He told me. ‘Don’t look so worried.’
Trevor and I sat in the passenger seat as the two men briefly conferred, before hitching the lorry onto the tractor with a big metal chain. Jasper jumped back into the cab and leaned out of the window.
‘Go steady now, don’t move off too fast!’ he shouted. Nathan smirked and set off with his foot to the floor. The lorry lurched forward. Jasper swore loudly and instinctively tried to brake. I caught a blurred glimpse of Colonel Farqhuar flattened into the hedge as we shot past him at high speed. I watched in the wing mirror as he regained the middle of the lane and, as ever, conforming to the ‘annoyed old man’ stereotype, shook his fist. Nathan pulled over to unhitch us in a field gateway and we were on our way.
The rest of the journey was uneventful, and we were soon trundling along the country lanes surrounding Gillingham. Miraculously, given our appalling map-reading skills, we found the farm without ado and were soon inspecting the bull. He was a truly magnificent specimen, but whilst there was no doubting the excellence of his pedigree, it was abundantly clear from his stamping hooves and the menacing look in his rolling eyes that he would gore you in a nanosecond.
An unbidden image came to me of dear old Bernie. Remembering how he used to close his eyes blissfully and grunt with pleasure while you scratched behind his ears, I had to swallow a lump in my throat.
‘Just don’t go forgetting he hates people and you’ll be fine.’ the farmer told us, tapping out his pipe baccy on the five-bar gate. Trevor and I stood well back as the great beast thundered up the ramp of the lorry snorting furiously.
Five minutes later, we were on way home. A traffic diversion forced us to go through the centre of town, so I asked Jasper to stop at Waitrose. The turning into the car park was too tight so he was forced to pull into the park and collect bay right outside the store. Several old ladies on a bench sucked their teeth disapprovingly as I jumped out and ran inside. I was queuing at the hand basket only checkout when I happened to glance up. On the other side of the plate glass window, the lorry was pitching about like a ship on high seas. A small crowd had gathered, and as I rushed outside I could hear the collective gasps of ‘Oooh!’ and ‘Ahh!’ as it lurched wildly from side to side while a cacophony of hooves striking aluminium and enraged bellowing issued from within.
Trevor sat in the passenger seat looking less like a dog than a disapproving mother-in-law. I thought Jasper had done a flit and left the engine running until his face appeared in the window, then disappeared again; he was hiding in the foot-well.
I made my way outside, then edged through the throng of people with my coat collar pulled up over my face. I was just about to jump in and make a sharp exit, when an officious looking man appeared holding a clip board. ‘Who owns this vehicle?’ he asked. His nasal voice was drowned out by a series of brain-rattlingly loud smashes as the psychotic bull tried to kick its way to freedom. Everyone turned to look at me.
‘This, madam,’ he sniffed, from that lofty moral high-ground occupied only by cyclists and parking facilitation executives, ‘is a collection-only area’.
At that moment, the bull’s hind hoof struck the flimsy side door, which flew open. Before I could step forward to close it, the bull swung round, presented its rear and swished its tail, splattering the man and clipboard both with a fine spray of green muck.
‘Just GO,’ he hissed, mopping his face with a handkerchief.
Later that evening when Jasper and I had recovered slightly from the ordeal, we sat down in front of the fire with a bottle of wine.
‘Shall we watch a film tonight?’ I suggested.
‘Good idea.’ he replied.
‘Raging Bull or Cattle Drive?’