The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Jess of the dairy fields

by Jessica Miller; the illustration is by Becky Blake

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Back in May, Lily and I were riding through the farmyard one sunny afternoon when I heard a plaintive bleating coming from the large barn. In a desperate attempt to prevent Lily from hearing it, I burst into a loud and tuneless rendition of ‘One man and his dog’, eliciting a look of alarm from the Colonel, who was walking his labrador along the footpath. My efforts were in vain. ‘Lambs!’ Lily squeaked, jumping off Asbo and running to the barn, as the Colonel hurried away across the field, casting startled glances over his shoulder and chuntering under his breath.
Lily’s face appeared around the barn door, flushed pink with excitement. ‘Oh Mummy, they’re adorable!’ she sighed. Asbo bustled into the barn, jammed his head into a container of sheep nuts and proceeded to stuff his face. He regarded the frolicking lambs with a bored expression that was the exact opposite of Lily’s rapturous excitement.
Jasper’s right-hand man, Farmer Phil, came round the corner with a bale of straw. ‘They were born this morning. Would you like to feed them?’ he asked, handing Lily two bottles of milk. Lily was so overwhelmed with happiness that she couldn’t speak. She knelt down in the golden straw as the two fluffy lambs sank down on their front knees and grabbed the teats, their blue eyes glazing over as they greedily drained the bottles. They finished their milk and lay down on either side of Lily as she scratched behind their ears.
I knew what was coming next. ‘Where’s their Mummy?’ she asked.
I coughed loudly, willing Phil to look up and see my frantic head-shaking.
‘She died giving birth to them,’ he said. ‘Ever so sad it was.’
Lily’s face crumpled in distress. I glared at Phil.
‘They’re all alone in the world now. They’ve got no Mummy or Daddy to look after them,’ he went on sadly, shaking his head.
‘Poor little things,’ whispered Lily in a trembling voice.
‘They’re orphans,’ added Phil quietly, in accents of doom.
Lily’s bottom lip trembled and a single tear ran down her cheek and dropped onto the lamb’s snowy-white head. ‘What’s going to happen to them?’ she gulped.
I shook my head frantically at him.
‘They’ll go off to slaughter in a few months.’
Lily paled visibly. ‘They’ll be killed?’ she croaked.
I coughed loudly but Phil studiously ignored me. ‘I’m afraid so, Lily.’
Lily’s tears flowed freely as she clutched the lambs to her chest. I debated jumping off my horse and throttling Phil, who concluded by saying: ‘Unless we can find a nice little girl to look after them.’
I looked sharply at him. This was a conspiracy, nothing less than subterfuge.

...eyes closed as they enjoyed the Goldberg Variations...

…eyes closed as they enjoyed the Goldberg Variations…

Lily turned to me, an expression of desperate longing on her tear-streaked face. ‘Oh please, Mummy! Please let me keep them!’ she sobbed.
Phil tried to suppress a smirk. ‘Well that seems like an ideal solution. It’s not like you’re short of land,’ he said innocently. ‘And they’ll keep your grass down.’
‘Please Mummy, PLEASE!’ begged Lily.
‘Oh for heaven’s sake, all right then,’ I said crossly, scowling furiously at Phil. He had literally and figuratively seen us coming.
‘Thank you, Mummy! You’re the best Mummy in the whole wide world!’ she cried, kissing the lambs joyfully.
‘As luck would have it, I’m driving past in about half an hour. I’ll drop them off for you,’ said Phil.
‘Thanks Phil – you’re a real brick,’ I said in tones of deepest sarcasm.
‘Don’t mention it, I’m happy to help,’ he grinned, as he gave Lily a leg up onto Asbo.
As soon as we got home, Lily rushed into the house. ‘Daddy! Daddy! Mummy said I could have two orphan lambs!’
Jasper put his newspaper down and regarded me with a horrified expression. ‘Has Mummy lost the plot?’
‘Don’t blame me. This is all Phil’s fault! He knew exactly what he was doing, and he played us like a fiddle!’
‘You can’t blame Phil for this,’ he countered sternly. ‘Phil is not responsible for your compulsion to collect animals. What about the peacocks, pigs and goats? And the psychotic alpaca that attacked those elderly B&B guests? Were they Phil’s fault too?’
I realised that arguing was futile. Phil had done a number on me. I couldn’t help but grudgingly admire how deftly he had played me.
Lily named the lambs Debbie and Dexter. They live in the front garden during the day and sleep in Asbo’s stable with him at night. They have grown considerably and are full of boisterous energy, constantly jumping up at the postman and trying to barge their way in through the front door.
Only last Friday, I had cleaned the house from top to bottom ready for bed and breakfast guests, made up the beds and lit the fire in the drawing room. Debbie and Dexter were mooching about in the garden like a pair of bored teenagers, rummaging in the flower border and jumping up to look through the drawing room windows.
Having welcomed the guests and helped them upstairs with their luggage, I showed them through to the drawing room for tea and cake. I stopped short in the doorway. Debbie and Dexter were curled up on the sofa nearest the fire, eyes closed as they enjoyed the Goldberg Variations on Classic FM. And this may sound fanciful, but I am convinced that they were smiling….

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