Jess of the dairy fields
By Jessica Miller; the illustration is by Becky Blake
Published in July ’16
People are often surprised to discover that I was born and bred in North Wales and only moved to Dorset when I was 21. I met Jasper shortly afterwards, and we were engaged eight months later. It was a blissfully happy time and the good people of Dorset welcomed me with open arms – with the exception of a brace of alarmingly rancorous old harridans who regarded me as an imposter and embraced the principle, ‘Here comes a stranger, let’s throw a brick at her.’ Fuelled by whisky and a level of malice that I still find unfathomable, they vented their spleen to all and sundry. Arguably, my most heinous shortcoming was my Welsh heritage (‘It’ll never last. She wasn’t even born in Dorset!’).
As a child I would spend hours on the beach at the bottom of our lane: riding my pony through the breaking waves on warm August evenings as the sun slipped down behind the Little Orme, walking the dogs, sharing a can of cider with my sister on the slipway as we watched the sun rise. The beach was the backdrop to my childhood and adolescence, so it wasn’t a surprise that I desperately missed it when I moved to Dorset. When I passed my driving test in Dorchester, I drove straight to Ringstead and sat on the pebble beach looking out to sea for ages, until my fingers and toes had gone numb.
Days at the beach are amongst Lily’s earliest memories – she recalls sitting beneath an umbrella at West Bay, eating a ham sandwich while dear Trevor, my springer spaniel, plunged over the waves in pursuit of tennis balls. Even now, I escape to the beach as often as I can. It is my sanctuary, and I feel profoundly privileged to be only a short drive from Dorset’s breath-taking Jurassic Coast.
On an unseasonably cold and dreary July day, I suggested that we drive to Burton Bradstock. Lily’s friend, Sophia, was joining us for the day. What could be better than some bracing sea air, sandcastle-building, a brisk walk, followed by an early supper at the Hive Beach Café?
Jasper glanced dubiously at the grey sky. ‘I think the cinema at Brewery Square might be a safer option.’
‘Nonsense. A few clouds never hurt anyone, and Lily and Sophia will have a brilliant time!’
Reader, I admit that my intentions weren’t entirely altruistic….
Unbeknownst to Jasper, I had replied to an advertisement in the Blackmore Vale Magazine for a pair of Tamworth pigs for sale in Winterbourne Abbas. I highlighted the advert and hid it in the glove compartment. My plan was to ply Jasper with alcohol at the Hive, so that he would be more compliant on the way home. He’d be feeling pretty soporific after a whole lobster and a few pints of cider. With any luck, he’d slip into a deep post-prandial slumber, leaving me free to look at the pigs in peace.
As we neared the beach, a few fat drops of rain spattered against the windscreen, and then the heavens opened. Jasper sighed and shook his head. The beach was deserted. Pewter clouds gathered on the horizon.
‘It’s just a shower,’ I muttered as we pulled up in the car park.
‘Ooh, it’s like a monsoon,’ said Sophia in an awed voice, shouting to be heard over the deafening staccato of rain hammering on the roof.
‘Coats on, hoods up!’ I said brightly, ignoring their expressions of abject dismay as they gazed out at the impermeable grey. I jumped out, straight into a puddle. Cold, muddy water oozed through the thin canvas of my white tennis shoes. Jasper sniggered.
Miraculously, as Lily and Sophia were clambering out, the rain stopped, the clouds parted and the sun appeared. People emerged from cars and children raced down to the sea, whooping with excitement. Lily and Sophia were off, squealing as they splashed through puddles, clutching their buckets and spades.
Jasper and I stood for a moment, appreciating the stark beauty of the coastline, the untamed power and roar of the sea as it hurled itself against the shore. The waves were huge. I drew a line in the sand and told the girls they mustn’t go beyond it. ‘Told you it was just a bit of rain,’ I said to Jasper, my thoughts drifting deliciously pigwards. We watched Lily and Sophia happily shovelling sand into their buckets.
I registered the freak wave before it broke. It kept coming. I was quick, but not quick enough. It knocked the girls flat on their faces while the raging white froth surged onwards up the beach. They were saturated from head to toe and utterly stunned. When they realised that their new buckets had been swept away, the screaming started. We had been on the beach for less than five minutes.
Having changed the traumatised duo into warm, dry clothes and bought some takeaway sandwiches from the Hive, we set off for home. ‘What’s this?’ Jasper asked sternly, brandishing a magazine page.
I squirmed. He had found the Pig advertisement. ‘I only wanted to look at them,’ I mumbled.
‘If I’d known you only wanted to look at them, I wouldn’t have bothered bringing cash.’
‘You knew?’ I gasped.
He laughed at my amazed expression. ‘Every cloud has a silver lining….’