Jess of the dairy fields
By Jessica Miller - Jess tries to hide a new acquisition. Illustration by Becky Blake.
Published in March ’14
The interminably long, wet winter is, we hope, over. Spring has sprung. Jasper has been assiduously cultivating the 400 acres of farmland with a relentless succession of rolling, chain harrowing and ploughing in preparation for the spring planting of the maize. He has also been imposing some order on the havoc created by the abundance of nature – cleaning out endless ditches which, due to the record rainfall of recent months, were choked with soil, branches and debris.
The daffodils that surround the orchard are starting to unfurl their merry yellow leaves. The garden, which has until recently resembled a centenary commemoration of the Somme, is bursting into life, with buds shooting joyfully up through the rich earth. Everything seems to be blooming and blossoming, and I am filled with an irrepressible sense of joie de vivre.
Jasper is also in high spirits, relieved to see the back of the relentlessly atrocious weather that prevented him from tackling his many farming jobs. His frustration would manifest itself in sporadic bouts of the deepest gloom. He would sit gazing out at the torrential, unceasing rain with a frown on his face. Every so often he would sigh gustily before commencing yet another restless pacing of the kitchen. The weather seemed to conspire against him. It seemed that every time he’d seize a break in the rainfall to saddle up one of the horses, he’d get halfway around his ride before the heavens opened and drenched him. He would invariably return looking like a drowned rat with a face more thunderous than the skies above.
Now that the long awaited spring has arrived, he is back to his usual cheerful self. Never one to miss an opportunity, I viewed his newly restored benevolence as an ideal opportunity to introduce another animal to our menagerie. My tendency to accumulate animals and poultry is well documented, as is Jasper’s resulting exasperation. I’m a firm believer in fate, and when Lily came home from school one day clutching a story book with a peacock on the front cover, the idea was born.
We had been in the pub on a stormy night in January, chatting to John, who has a smallholding in Kings Stag. He happened to mention that he would have some peacocks for sale in March. I looked at Jasper excitedly. ‘The answer’s NO,’ he said firmly. And that was the end of that. Or at least, that was the end of that then. Now, however, the sun was shining, Jasper was in high spirits and I began to scheme.
The following week, when Jasper was out maize drilling, I telephoned John. After a brief discussion, during which I spoke in the hushed and furtive tones of the truly guilty, it was agreed that he would deliver the peacock the next afternoon.
‘Have you ever owned a peacock before?’ he asked.
There was a pause. ‘You know that they make a helluva racket, don’t you? When they call they sound like babies being tortured.’
I was silent as I grimly digested this startling piece of information.
‘Does your husband actually know that you’re buying this peacock?’ he asked suspiciously.
‘OK, see you tomorrow afternoon!’ I replied breezily, pretending I hadn’t heard the question, before replacing the receiver with slightly trembling hands, and succumbing to a prolonged fit of nervous giggles.
By 5.30 the next day, the Peacock was ensconced in the stable on a thick bed of straw. By 6.30 I had bathed, changed into a seductive ensemble and spritzed myself with Tuberose, which Jasper finds irresistible.
When Jasper and his faithful sidekick, Bandit, walked through the door at 7 pm, I was standing at the Aga making his favourite chicken and chorizo risotto and sipping a glass of Sancerre. It is not easy to exude come-hither sexiness while fending off the ecstatic greeting of a mud-soaked springer spaniel.
By the time I had mopped up the spilled wine, my beady-eyed husband had clocked the roaring fire and fresh flowers and was casting his eye over the candlelit table, sparkling silver cutlery and white napkins. He looked like Quincy examining the evidence. I stifled a nervous titter and shot off to put another log on the fire.
‘This all looks lovely. And my favourite supper, too. You spoil me,’ he smiled, giving me a kiss when I returned. He looked as though he were trying not to laugh.
I popped an olive into his mouth before handing him a cold beer from the fridge. This was all going marvellously, I thought gleefully. He doesn’t suspect a thing!
‘So, what have you decided to call it?’ he asked as I tossed the salad.
‘The peacock that you’ve hidden in the stable.’
He was openly laughing now.
‘How did you know?’ I gasped.
‘I bumped into John’s wife when I was in the village shop. She asked me how the peacock had settled in.’
He looks remarkably relaxed about it all, I thought in amazement. Oh, the relief! I took a happy swig of wine, and pictured the peacock strutting majestically around the orchard, its fabulous feathers dazzling magnificently in the sun. I could get a peahen and they could have cute little pea babies, I thought excitedly.
‘And you’re not cross?’ I asked.
‘Nope, it’ll make a change from turkey at Christmas.’