Thankfully they don’t happen very often, days like these, nobody’s immune to them though, and I think you have to have one now and then to remind yourself that you’re living in the real world. Today has been one of ‘those’ days.
After travelling for six months, arriving back at the farm can sometimes be like stepping back in time, nothing much changes. The daily routine, give or take, begins without any need for an alarm clock or a cockerel. For as long as I can remember, like clockwork, my brother pulls into the yard at about 8am, every morning. Every morning at this time, the dogs in the kennels outside go ballistic as his car pulls into the drive.
It used to be Monty, Badger and Meg in the kennels. Monty’s chasing rabbits in the sky now, and where he used to sleep we have our relatively new addition to the family, Titch. Badger’s rounding the sheep up in the sky too, and I still miss her. Beautiful Titch, a minute border collie, came to us from another farm where she was surplus to requirement; she was chained up all day apparently, my brother took pity on her. I can’t bare the thought of any animal being chained up, I can’t and won’t do zoos. She didn’t really have a name when she got here and was quite petrified. I found it hard to believe they could give her away; to me she was so adorable and affectionate. ‘Dunt get on with other bitches’, we were told. ‘Take her if you want her’. It was as easy as that. She’s perfect in every way and is easily the most obedient dog we have. I called her Titch and she learned her new name in two days, she’s really bright. I lovingly call her Titty, which still makes me laugh when I say it. They were right about one thing though, her previous owners, she really does despise other bitches. Not an ideal situation when her roommate, be there a wire fence between them, is Meg.
Meg is my brother Martin’s dog, she gets preference having been here longer, so gets let out of her kennel first, as soon as he arrives for work each day. Titch, on lock down when ever Meg is out of jail because of the little ‘I hate you bitch’ problem, has to stay in jail. This is the cause of much vocality in the farmyard, every morning at 8am, and throughout the day, if one is in and one is out.
Titch has this incessant yap, yapped with such repetitive gusto that she’s given herself a hiatus hernia. I’d yap too, if I was the only one locked up and there were seven other dogs running around in the yard. ‘What’, I would think, ‘the fuck is this all about?’ ‘How come they can all be out, and I’m locked in here’. This morning was no different to any other, apart from one thing. The barking, yapping and carry on sounded a lot more serious.
I was laid in bed, much later now the mornings have got darker. A few weeks ago, when it was light much earlier, I’d have been up contorting myself around on my yoga mat to the yielding tones of Barbara on my yoga DVD. When you don’t have a proper job, you have the privilege of not having to conform to that time zone. This morning the dogs woke me up before I’d even had chance to do a horizontal stretch and yawn. I did note the anger in the barking, and I could tell there was a bit of a tussle outside. I heard Martin shouting ‘fuck off Bobby’, but then everything went quiet. This scenario wasn’t that unusual. If all the dogs are out in the yard, things can get a bit frenetic. We have four who live down the road, Sweep, Bobby, Ben and Chip, who come up to say hello in the morning as well as our own. Our housedogs, Labradors; Jet, Diggy and Flynn are always excited to be let out on a morning and would have been out there with bells on. Noise noted, that was that, I thought nothing more of it. So, I rolled out of bed, and onto my yoga mat. Half an hour of down dogs, half moons, salutes, and standing sticks, and then into the shower.
When I got downstairs, I wasn’t greeted in the usual way. Normally every time they see me is like the first time with my dogs. If they don’t see me for an hour, it’s like it’s been a year and nowhere on the planet do you get such a welcome. Nothing but solemn faces greeted me and there was Mum, in the corner of the kitchen, holding a bloody swab on Jet’s ear. ‘Oh no’. I always like to think things are never as bad as they seem, but it couldn’t have been any worse. I went over to see Jet, and was almost sick. All the hungry thoughts I’d been having about that new tasty cereal went right out of the window. Jet had half of his ear ripped off. Through hazy eyes and the blood, I thought, ‘maybe its just a little rip?’ I comforted him for a while and felt pretty useless; he was obviously in terrible pain. My sympathy started to turn to anger. How could this have happened? ‘This never happens when I let them out’, I thought to myself. I felt a bout of Tourettes coming upon me, and probably chuntered profanities all the way from one side of the kitchen to the other.
I had to get out of the kitchen. The raw flesh was making me want to spew to be honest, I’ll never cut it as a vet. To be fair, if it was a human, I’d probably be fine with all that sort of thing. I’ve got my First Aid certificate, you have to have one to instruct SCUBA.The thing with me is, and you can poo poo it as much as you like, but I can talk to the animals! I don’t know how I do it, I just do it. I knew how much pain Jet was in. I went outside to get some fresh air and probably partly hoped that when I went back inside, it was just a little rip on his ear and it had all been a horrible illusion. I walked over to where the kennels in the yard are, and there it was. A velvety triangle of fur and skin about two inches long, which half an hour previous to this was attached to Jet’s ear. I picked it up and marched back into the house. I thrust the chopped off ear into my brothers hand in disgust, he just looked at me like I wasn’t a full shilling. Maybe they can sew it back on?
It wasn’t until I saw the ear on the floor that I really realised how bad it was. What a brave boy though, he’s been amazing today. Pumped full of paracetamol, I’ll have him on the codeine if he’s in pain tomorrow, that stuff’s rocket fuel. He’s only got half an ear now and I still can’t get over it, how cruel. Isn’t it interesting though, that because he’s not inflicted with the vanity of humans, that it probably isn’t hurting quite as much as it would if you or I had our ear bit off. I think if you had to look at it in the mirror, it’d hurt a whole lot more. And so the day began…
Afternoon and still stewing over the morning’s derangement, I took myself into the orchard to take my annoyance out on the soil. I find peace in the garden, I can spend hours in there. I love flowers and trees, and I love insects and critters. I’ve taken it upon myself to sort that place out, when I got back from my travels the weeds in there were up to my hips. Every year it’s the same, cut the weeds down, put pesticide on. Within three months it all grown back again. This year, I started hacking it all back and made it my mission to get it back to lawn. I’ll guess the dimensions, but the area is roughly about a quarter of an acre, it’s big enough to have 6 mature apple trees, a cherry tree, a pear tree and a few plum trees in there with big gaps in between. I’ve almost finished digging it all over, by hand. I don’t do things by halves, what’s the point in climbing a mountain and only going half way up it? I love gardening, it becomes an obsession especially when it’s a big job. Maybe I’ll find some treasure? I always think that, even when I dig up an old Shire horseshoe it’s like I’ve discovered the Holy Grail. I hold it up in the air, ‘taddah, that’s a beauty’, dust all the soil off and probably look very pleased with myself. I’ve found plenty of those and even a tiny little horseshoe, which must have belonged to a miniature Shetland pony, from who knows how long ago. It did cross my mind that the rest of it might be in there somewhere, but thankfully, no heads yet.
The bigger the mess the happier I am to tackle it, that way I can see I’m making a difference. So, there I am. I’ve finally reached the corner of the orchard and have dug 2/3 of it. I’ve even planted new grass seed in half of it now, I was so excited when I threw the seed on. When it rained the other day, I did a little dance like the pied piper, ‘grow grass grow… grow grass grow’, clicking my heels. Just as I was digging down the fence line, still thinking about ‘the velvet ear piece’, I had to throw the garden fork down and go and empty the barrow, for the fourteenth millionth time. When I got back to carry on, I thought my eyes were going a bit funny because the fork was moving on the end and It wasn’t me moving it. Then, another ‘oh no’. I’d put the pitchfork straight through a frog. Not that I’m a twitcher of the amphibian variety, but how often do I see frogs in our garden? Seldom, or somewhere next to never. I was so gutted, as I pulled it off the fork, it was swimming with its legs even with a prong through it. I had to suffocate it, the poor thing would have died anyway, it had a big hole through it’s middle. Murderer. I buried it under the apple tree. The next hour was spent apologising to the frog. I’m so sorry frog. Poor Freddy. Poor froggy. I kept looking at the spot where I’d buried it, I was sure it was going to pop its head out for one last breath, to make me feel even more guilty. When the grass seed pops up next spring and the orchard finally has a lawn, I won’t forget the frog. I said to Mum, ‘ I’ve just put the pitch fork through a frog, what else can go wrong today?’
All afternoon whilst I’d been digging and stewing about ears and frogs, our deaf cat had been screeching to her own opera, which is not unusual. She’s only just past the kitten stage, unfortunately when she was just a baby something happened to her, we don’t really know what. From only a few weeks old, we realised she was disabled and ever since, because she can’t hear herself, her meows could break industrial glass. Somebody’s strangling the kitty! ‘No, it’s just wobbly head’, as we affectionately call her. No different to how hard of hearing people always talk at top volume I suppose. Anyway, she’d been yowling all afternoon. She could be right behind you or 100 yards away, you never can really tell because the sound envelopes you in a three dimensional way. At tea time I’d seen her up the big ash tree on the edge of the orchard and thought, ‘shit, I bet she’s been up there all this time’. There’s the black cat, screaming and wobbling up the tree. Is she just screaming and wobbling as is the norm, or is she really stuck? It got to after teatime and I knew she had somehow climbed up there and couldn’t get down, because there she was, still all the way up there. They come in three’s, stupid superstition, but I was happy to know that this had to be the last of the day’s misfortune. I went and found Dad and asked him to bring around the microscopic Manitou. The cat was going for gold by this point, what a noise. There was no fear of the engine sound scaring her off her perch, which was excellent. I climbed into the bucket of the forklift and got elevated into the treetop, not really thinking about anything but intercepting the kitty. When we reached the height where she was stuck, I grabbed the cat by the scruff of it’s neck and hoped that it didn’t wobble off backwards. The bloody thing clung onto the tree with its claws and wouldn’t let go. I had to yank it off whilst trying to not fall out of the forklift bucket. I got her and was lowered back to the ground like a real life Ace Ventura, grinning from ear to ear. Talk to the animals, even deaf ones, well sort of. The cat was so happy to not be stuck in the tree; her usually wobbly head was still for once. I climbed out of the bucket, put the cat down and let out a big gratifying sigh. It was only right to put a couple of Magners on ice. I didn’t think going out tonight was much of a good idea really, not that much else could really happen in one day, but you never know! Hopefully I won’t dream of a holy weird frog with giant velvety triangle ears and a feline voice box…
Before I go, I must remember, it hasn’t all been about dismemberment today. Isn’t it wonderful when you see something that you’ve never seen before? You can go to the far reaches of the planet and back a thousand times and there’ll always be something you’ve never seen. So you can imagine my fascination when I saw this in the garden at the farm today.
Meet Dasychira pudibunda, or Pale Tussock Moth before it gets wings. It’s one of the most amazing caterpillars I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few in different countries across the globe. The caterpillars of the sea, Nudibranchs, are a favourite creature of mine. I Wish this little fella was six foot long and you could ride it! Size isn’t everything (this was about 2cm long), and seeing this today, apart from all the other shit that’s gone on, made my day. Thank you my furry little friend!