Jess of the dairy fields
by Jessica Miller; the illustration is by Becky Blake
Published in March ’16
It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this column, to learn that for many years I have harboured dreams of having my own flock of sheep. Jasper’s vociferously derogatory opinion that sheep are nothing but maggot-bottomed, neurotic half-wits, whose sole ambition in life is to expire, has done nothing to diminish my fantasy of beholding a flock of matronly ewes grazing in the orchard whilst their lambs gambol and frolic joyfully in the spring sunshine.
Whenever I have broached the subject, Jasper’s response has always been the same.
‘NO.NO.NO. Not now. Not ever.’
I have discovered that his horror of sheep is so deeply entrenched that my legendary powers of persuasion can do nothing to sway it. No amount of good-behaviour, wheedling, flirting and presenting him with his favourite meals will budge him. A Sheep-related tension has simmered for over a decade, and I have admitted defeat. Thoughts of cuddly ewes and bouncing lambs had been all but forgotten…until Christmas Eve.
We came in from shopping to find an answer machine message from our friend Ian. It transpired that he urgently needed some grazing for his sheep until the following March. Jasper’s inner turmoil was concealed by a poker face. He deliberated for what seemed like an eternity, as he gazed thoughtfully out of the window at the empty orchard.
Eventually, (as I knew it would) his innate kindness and loyalty triumphed, and he picked the phone up.
‘Hi Ian, bring the sheep over whenever you like. We’ve plenty of grazing.’
He gave me a stern look.
‘Don’t go getting any ideas Jess. We’re just doing a favour for a friend – you’re not keeping any. Is that understood?’
The Sheep arrived just after dark. Jasper, Ian and I drank mulled wine and listened to them bleating uncertainly in the Orchard.
That was three months ago. It is now March. I have just received an SOS call from Jasper’s parents, who live next door. I was rolling pastry when the phone rang. I was surprised to see their number flash up on the phone. They were driving to Cheltenham to watch The Gold Cup and should have left by now. Surprise turned to fear as I heard Jasper’s father swearing loudly on the end of the line. In the fifteen years, I had known him, I had never heard him swear. There was a crash followed by a scuffling noise. It seemed as though he had dropped the phone – muffled oaths were followed by the tinkling of smashed glass and a loud screech, which I identified as Jasper’s mother.
In the fertile soils of my imagination, the penny dropped. Burglars had done their homework and presumed that the house would be empty because it was Gold Cup Day. They had broken in to steal the family silver, only to be surprised by poor Jill and Brian who were now paying a grim price for their tardiness. Rage and adrenaline coursed through me as I grabbed my rolling pin, and shot out of the door, raced across the lawn and jumped over the wall into their back garden. Gordon bustled along beside me, hackles up and sensing danger.
I was sprinting over the gravel towards the back door when I heard a crash coming from the green house.
‘GET OUT! GET OUT YOU WRETCHED THINGS!’ Jill screamed from within.
Brian appeared in the back doorway.
‘They’ve got her trapped in there – you’ll have to try to pull them out!’
‘Trapped by who?’
‘Those bloody sheep!’
It took me a few seconds to process what was happening when I arrived at the greenhouse.
What I was seeing induced cognitive dissonance. Jill was wearing her best tweed twin set and pearls, the gold embossed Cheltenham Gold Cup Owners & Trainers badge already pinned neatly on to the velvet lapel. She was pinned against the wall, legs alarmingly akimbo as her gleaming patent shoes scrabbled for purchase in a tray of seedlings as three ewes thrust themselves with gusto into a large bag of sheep nuts.
‘Get them out!’ she yelled, as one of the ewes barged into her, making her sway wildly. As she grabbed hold of a shelf to stop herself falling over, the whole thing collapsed with a
‘Take my hand!’ I bellowed.
With a look of grim determination she hitched up the elegant ankle length tweed skirt until it was above her knees. Her only option given the the restricted space and the positioning of the ewes, was to open her legs, effectively straddling the middle ewe, and shuffle towards the door. She grimaced as the stiff wool snagged against her inner thighs. It was a surreal sight – like a bucolic version of Twister, as for a couple of seconds she was perched fairly astride the broad woolly back, the prim skirt rucked up to the waist. The ewe plunged forward, and I caught Jill just before she fell.
We stood outside the greenhouse, catching our breath.
To her eternal credit, she didn’t scold me for my part in the unfortunate incident (neglecting to check the electric fence); she assumed a stoic expression as she brushed the worst of the wool from her best tweed skirt.
‘Right, we really must set off for Cheltenham or we’ll miss lunch. And I’m so looking forward to the lamb…. ◗