Jess of the dairy fields
By Jessica Miller; the illustration is by Becky Blake
Published in May ’16
Between the months of March and May, our sleepy hamlet smells like a farmyard, thanks to almost incessant muck-spreading. Cow slurry is placed into a huge cylindrical machine which is towed up and down the fields behind a tractor, flinging out a dense spray of dung. Whilst the smell is pungent enough to make one’s eyes water, the fertilising benefits to the soil are enormous, creating a rich, fecund earth in which to plant the maize.
Undertakers say that the smell of death permeates the skin and defies even the most stringent attempts to deodorise a pair of hands that have been in contact with a cadaver, lingering long after the hands have been scrubbed, soaped and disinfected.
It’s the same with slurry. It’s inevitable that during the course of muck-spreading, Jasper will come into contact with the foul-smelling brown slop, despite valiant attempts to minimise
contact by wearing a long-sleeved plastic suit buttoned up to the neck. Perversely, a long hot bath and a scrub only serve to compound the stink, so that he smells worse after a bath than before.
During a post-muck-spreading meal at the Thimble Inn in Piddletrenthide, I saw the lovely waitress sniffing in a perplexed manner while she took our order as she tried to deduce the source of the stench. Jasper’s face was quite flushed on account of the vigorous scrubbing he had subjected it to.
He had lathered his hair with a wide array of sweet-scented shampoos and smothered himself in everything from mango body butter to the ubiquitous Brut. The slurry smell prevailed over the exotic fruits, resulting in a unique combination: an odour that conjured up the image of a bull in a Body Shop.
Recently, we had a last-minute B&B booking from a Chelsea couple who wanted to bring their sons (aged three and five) for a taste of country life. They were a charming family, although woefully ill-prepared for a weekend in the sticks. Bella, a Bardot-esque, blue-eyed blonde, emerged from the car wearing skin-tight leather trousers, a clinging red cashmere jersey and vertiginous heels.
As she tottered across the driveway, I noticed the slack-jawed, lustful glances from the two roofing men who were rebuilding a chimney. I thought one of them was going to fall off his ladder.
Gordon bustled over, growling territorially, made a ferocious lunge at the rabbit-fur gilet Bella was carrying, and was promptly banished to the utility room, where he sat glaring beadily out of the window at us and bristling with disapproval.
Charles (dashing, clean-shaven, dazzling smile) strode across the driveway to shake my hand, followed by the two boys, matching in pale blue cashmere jumpers, cream corduroys and beautiful suede loafers. The parents shared a pot of tea in front of the fire while Lily showed Hugo and Cosmo her wormery at the top of the garden. ‘We’d love a tour of the farm when you have time,’ said Bella when I went to collect the tea tray. No time like the present.
After donning the Wellington boots we keep for guests, we piled in to the Land Rover and set off down the lane. Charles regaled me with his love of the country and dream to own a smallholding one day.
‘Don’t be silly, darling!’ interjected Bella with a tinkling laugh. ‘You hate manure!’
‘Talking of manure, what is that hideous smell?’ asked Charles, delicately shielding his nose with a silk handkerchief. He was fascinated as I told him about the f dung sprayer and how it distributed the slurry.
We turned down the farm track to find Jasper in the field with the tractor idling as he peered into the sprayer and scratched his head. Such was the force of Charles’s enthusiasm that he was out of the car before I could stop him and, after introducing himself to a startled Jasper, was staring in wonder into the yawning maw of the roaring machine with his handkerchief clamped firmly over his nose.
‘What’s happening?’ asked Bella as she touched up her lippy in the rear-view mirror.
‘It’s jammed. Probably a stone lodged somewhere.’
Jasper was climbing back into the tractor when the machine made a laboured keening noise. Charles, on his way back to the Land Rover, turned to look. It all happened so fast. The metallic bang of a stone dislodging as, almost in slow motion, a thick spray of glutinous cow manure rose majestically in a graceful arc and coated Charles from head to toe. We watched, stunned, as an oblivious Jasper towed the frantically spewing machine back to the farm. Bella’s mouth was a perfect red O of amazement as Charles turned to face us.
‘Oh look,’ I said, ‘he’s the embodiment of my favourite song from Oklahoma: “Slurry with a fringe on top!”‘
The children started laughing first, followed by a collective, all-consuming hysteria so intense my sides still hurt days later. This morning, I received a thank you card from Bella. ‘…What a memorable weekend! The boys have produced some splendid drawings of Daddy covered in cow poo (one of which I enclose). Charles will be working from home for the foreseeable future. He’s bathed twice daily for a week, and he still smells like a farmyard….’ ◗