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Jess of the dairy fields

By Jessica Miller; the illustration is by Becky Blake

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My birthday falls at the end of March and, as middle age looms ever closer, I attempt to alleviate my gloom by partaking of a little retail therapy. Previous birthdays have provided a marvellous, guilt-free excuse to indulge my passion for collecting farmyard animals. Over the years I have treated myself to a diverse selection of furred and feathered creatures, including the most fabulous pair of rare-breed bantams – which lay exquisite pastel coloured eggs –  a peacock (which made a noise like a baby being murdered) a llama (there was almost a divorce over that one) and a pygmy goat,  whose angelic little face concealed a demonic nature and a wanton appetite for destruction.
The day before my birthday, I sat at the kitchen table wearing a distant smile as I idly leafed through the BVM day-dreaming about pot-bellied pigs. Jasper looked over my shoulder and saw that not only was it open at the ‘Poultry and Animals’ section, but that I had enthusiastically highlighted several advertisements with Lily’s pink felt tip pen.
His mouth fell open with dismay. He looked like Toad in the Wind In The Willows, after he had crashed his car: ‘Why have you highlighted alpacas?’ he asked.
‘No reason.’
He peered at the pages again.
‘A donkey? Why on earth would you want a donkey?’
‘I’m only browsing.’ I said defensively.
‘It always starts with browsing. You start browsing and it’s all downhill from there.’
‘Well it IS my Birthday.’
‘So why can’t you go shopping in town and come back weighed down with bags of clothes and cosmetics and hide all the receipts from your husband like normal women?’ There was an edge of desperation in his voice.
‘I HATE clothes shopping! I want a DONKEY!’
He adopted the firm (if inaccurate) ‘I’m in charge’ expression he assumed when negotiating with Lily before the box marked ‘tantrum’ was fully open.
‘No donkey,’ he said firmly. ‘In fact, no more animals at all until at least next year.’
‘Not even a tiny goat?’
His arms folded tightly across his chest: ‘The postman is still scarred from the last one.’ His face softened somewhat: ‘What about a trip to the multiplex with some girlfriends?’
‘Funny you should say that, Emma only last week suggested a Birthday Cinema Outing.’ I said thoughtfully.
‘You could go and have dinner somewhere nice afterwards.’ He said, sensing victory.
I was warming to the idea; the new Brad Pitt film was out.
‘I’ll organise a taxi for you all,…’ he said, eyes narrowing as he aimed straight at my Achilles heel, ‘…so you can have cocktails too.’
That clinched it. The following night Jasper drove me the short but significant journey over the border into Yeovil and dropped me by the cinema: ‘The taxi will pick you and the girls up at 11pm. Have a nice evening.’
It was bitterly cold, so I waited in the foyer. Rejoice! I was early for once. It was only 6.55 and we were only due to meet at 7.00. I collected the pre-ordered tickets and wandered happily around enjoying the smell of popcorn and anticipating a fun evening.
7.00 came and went; there was still no sign of them. By 7.30 I was feeling distinctly anxious. The film started at 7.45. I had a look around outside and checked to see they weren’t foolishly lingering there, before resuming my lonely wait.
Not for the first time, I cursed myself for not owning a mobile phone as a matter of principle (the principle being I kept dropping them into basins, sinks and worse).  I scrabbled around in my bag for my pocket phone book, hurried over to the Box Office and explained my predicament. The girl behind the glass counter grudgingly consented to let me use the landline. Emma and Sarah’s phones went straight to voicemail but Sophie answered on the fifth ring.
‘Where are you?’ I asked crossly.
‘We’re here, waiting for you.’
‘Where?’
‘Here!’
‘Where is here?! I can’t see you!’
‘You can’t miss us.  Emma’s wearing a canary yellow ski coat. Where are you anyway?’
‘I’m behind the glass counter where they sell the tickets to the right of the entrance as you walk in.’
The ticket girl glared at me and tapped an imaginary watch. I pulled an apologetic face.
‘”Ooh, Let’s hide from Jess!” Funny lot aren’t you?’ I said tartly. I remembered six months before when they found it hilarious when they lost me at the Gillingham and Shaftesbury show. I had a nasty panic attack and after several announcements over the loudspeaker they eventually found me slumped in a chair outside the St John Ambulance tent while a kind medic plied me with hot sweet tea and held a cold compress to my clammy forehead.
‘We’re not hiding!’
‘Well where the chuffing hell are you then?’ I shouted.
‘Look, we’ll wait for you at the bottom of the stairs, hurry up, it’s about to start.’
‘What stairs?’ I spluttered. My head was starting to throb.
‘The stairs by the popcorn counter.’
I looked across to the popcorn counter… no stairs.
‘Calm down! Just go and wait outside the entrance to Carluccio’s. I’ll meet you there.’
I squinted through the foyer’s glass doors, directly at…  Frankie & Benny’s diner.
‘Err,…’
‘Jess, why are you calling from an 01935 and not an 01305 number?’
Oh God, not again. ◗

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