Jess of the dairyfields
by Jessica Miller; the illustration is by Becky Blake
Published in January ’16
Just over a year ago, I was looking out of the kitchen window at our two turkeys – Tania and Terry – strutting about in the yard. Inspired by friends who produce free-range turkeys just outside Bridport, eight months before I had set off bright and early one sunny April morning to the poultry auction at the Gaggle Of Geese in Buckland Newton. Mindful of the fact that Jasper is wise to my animal auction weaknesses, I told him that I was going to a furniture auction in Dorchester, to look for an antique sideboard for the dining room. To add authenticity to my duplicity, I made a show of measuring the wall space in question and asking him to jot down the dimensions.
The poultry auction was already bustling with people when I arrived. Studiously ignoring the geese, guinea fowl, glossy ducks and coveted Araucana hens, I made for the Turkeys. What an unprepossessing bunch of runty vulture hybrids, with their scraggy feathers, bald heads and gimlet eyes. There was something rather obscene about their woggles which made me shudder. I told myself that their ugliness would make it far easier to despatch them come Christmas time. Readers will be well aware of the impediment which mawkish sentiment imposes on a farmer’s wife [at least this one – Ed]. I took my place in the throng and shortly thereafter was the proud owner of a pair of turkeys.
I felt terribly pleased as I slid the cage carefully into the boot of the Range Rover. Gordon popped his head over the back seat, took one look at them, and promptly withdrew with an expression of abject disgust. When we arrived home I settled them into a spare stable which I had surreptitiously prepared before I left. They strutted around uncertainly and fixed me with beady black eyes.
I jumped as the stable yard gate creaked open behind me and Jasper and Lily appeared. I assumed the stricken guilty expression of a city wife apprehended sneaking a new pair of Jimmy Choos into the house. They peered over the door at Terry and Tania.
‘Interesting sideboard.’ Said Jasper.
‘What are they Mummy?’
Jasper snorted and rolled his eyes.
‘Nothing like a home grown bird for the Christmas table.’
‘And you’re going to kill them? And pluck them?’
‘Yes. Well no, not the killing bit, but I’m a good turkey plucker. I’ve done it before.’
‘Why two of them?’
‘One for the table and one for the freezer,’ I replied breezily. Jasper shook his head and sighed.
Over the following months, Terry and Tania grew bigger and fatter. Their unique characters grew in direct proportion to their size. They would sidle up to the kitchen window at breakfast for some toast crusts, stand by the horses whilst they were feeding and and hoover up the stray coarse mix, and follow me around the garden gobbling conversationally. Their bald heads and dangling woggles gradually ceased to appal me, until, one day as I watched them sitting companiably in the late sunshine, I realised with considerable dismay, that I could no sooner eat them than I could eat Gordon.
At my behest, Jasper had arranged for someone to come and despatch them. As their date of execution approached, I cursed myself. As we decked the Christmas tree and festooned the house with decorations, all I could see in my mind’s eye was the Christmas table, laden with sparkling glasses and cutlery, candles, berries, holly and a huge oval platter taking centre stage, ready with gleaming carving knife and fork….and outside in the frosty night, an empty stable strewn with bloodied feathers. Not since the demise of Antony and Gloria Patch (our Gloucester Old Spot Pigs) had I felt so wretched and helpless.
We went to London, where Lily stayed with her cousins while Jasper and I went to see Macbeth in the West End.
Lady Macbeth’s emotional disintegration following Banquo’s gruesome murder and her wretched plea ‘Will these hands ne’er be clean?’ struck a dreadful resonance and I spent the remainder of the evening tormented by thoughts of turkey giblets. I made a Herculean effort to conceal my angst from Jasper, even going so far as to pore conspicuously over Mary Berry’s slow-roasted-AGA Turkey in front of him.
Meanwhile, Terry and Tania remained blissfully unaware of their impending fate, their once-sharp eyes softened by trust, and (I fancy) affection.
Tori, Jasper’s Sister phoned on the eve of their execution.
‘I know it’s late notice, but would you like to join us in London for Christmas day? ‘
Breathlessly, I asked Jasper. ‘Sounds like a good idea. And it would save you having to cook.’ He said innocently, not taking his eyes from the newspaper.
A year on, Terry and Tania are still happily wandering around the stable yard. As they’re ancient now for turkeys, they’re much too tough to eat now.
Happy New Year to man and beast. ◗