November 11, 2014 § 19 Comments

A much revised piece blogged August 2013. Written with tongue firmly in cheek as a Sunday Supplement article for the chattering classes, but never submitted. No truth in it at all…

These days I feel qualified to spout just a little about country living. For three years I have shared this rural idyll with God’s own creatures. I have met horses with their own expensive psychiatrists, and discovered that the aim of next door’s sheep is to wriggle through the manky hedge onto the main road and cause multiple pile ups. Sheep, you will be surprised to know crave adventure, and all of them derive a great deal of pleasure from causing trouble.

Sometimes I still harbour the idea of cultivating the genteel and ordered rural existence I have read about, but it always gets scuppered. If it isn’t by being kept awake by the sociable Death Watch beetles as they tap out amorous messages to one another through the timber framed walls, it’s the delighted squeaks of rats shamelessly having sex in the thatch while the vicar raises his voice in embarrassment as we sip Earl Grey from china teacups and nibble on cucumber sandwiches. With the crusts off, of course. But what I have found most important in the absence of a companion, is an adequate supply of hot water bottles.

I am lying in my king size bed with two freshly filled luxury specimens bought by a friend who had taken pity on me last Christmas, and I am gloating. It’s the only place in this house that’s even remotely above freezing. From the tiny mullion window that pokes out from beneath the eaves of the thatch, I watch Edward my next door neighbour leading his two mares into their meadow. They have made it clear they think it’s a rotten idea. They toss their heads and skitter sideways; not in that happy rather frisky way horses sometimes do, but as if something unpleasant is imminent. It has taken them less than ten seconds to make up their minds about the cold white stuff that’s just blanketed everything. I know, and my next door neighbour knows they’ll be complaining at the gate within minutes wanting to be let back in the warm. His hens aren’t impressed with the snow, either. They peer one by one out of the opening in the chicken house, then executing a nifty on-the-spot twizzle, scoot back to the stinking fug of the nesting boxes. Edward will be rather cold out there, and I am feeling smug because I am not – I am warm as toast.

The truth is, it’s time. To throw in the towel, that is. Call it a day. Quit while I’m ahead. Moving to the country was a very nice idea, but the lenses have finally fallen out of my rose coloured specs and I’m not even going to bother looking for them. It’s mostly about the weather really. When did we last have a proper summer? And speaking of roses, the leaves of the Blush Noisette I planted to grace my front porch have turned completely black and fallen off for the second year running, and the few blooms struggling to open drooped shamefully and sprouted powdery mildew that looked suspiciously like a serious case of dandruff. Even the tulips wilted pale in the orchard and gave up. The lawn did grow some fine looking weeds though…

But it’s not just the weather, it’s also the other creatures that live in my neck of the woods. Take the sheep for instance, although I’d sooner not talk about them as whenever I do, disaster hits. So I’ll be brief. Half of Edward’s rare breed Jacobs’ went in the knacker’s van last summer with some horrible disease which sheep catch as easily as breathing, and the other half hung around rubbing themselves on his rickety fence until they pushed it over and went walkies. They were scratching themselves silly because they were being eaten alive by maggots. Real farmers call this all to common incident fly strike, and Edward had to pick off the maggots with tweezers and spray their raw open wounds with purple stuff. A fun task – almost as much fun as catching the sheep in the first place. This can take all day. I know.

The few hardy souls that survived what life has thrown at them are now loitering miserably in his bottom meadow up to their knees in mud and complaining bitterly about the clinkers* the size of tennis balls dangling from their rear ends; and if that wasn’t enough there’s a thick layer of snow covering their backs and weighing them down. Bit like icing on the cake really in a perverse sort of way. I think about the sheep a lot and wonder what they are thinking about, but Edward says I’m wasting my time as they don’t think at all except when they’re planning an escape. And that, he assures me, is the only time, apart from when they’re dead, when they are completely silent.

I have no reason to leave the house. I don’t have dogs to walk, in fact since the divorce I don’t have any pets, human or otherwise, and the truth is Waitrose do a fine delivery service, unethical though it is not to use the local shops.  I can now spend the entire day in bed eating digestive biscuits and working on my laptop with its deadly slow broadband connection.

But surely there are some good points you may ask. Well yes there are – or were. There’s the peace, and then there’s the quiet, but then there’s those unidentifiable rustlings at the dead of night that have to be that weird man from the village who is probably a psychopath and out to get me. It’s a myth that the countryside is quiet, it actually never sleeps. The pheasants are largely responsible for that.

Then there’s the business with the light. My windows are small so they keep in the heat which is good, but they keep out the light which isn’t, and everything in the cottage takes on a rather dirty, grey tinge. The lights have to be left on all day which suits me, but frequent power cuts are a normal part of rural life so I have taken to buying candles in bulk. Winter has become the time of dancing flames, but they cavort not out of happiness, but because of the vicious draughts that sneak in everywhere. The idea of the roaring log fire is seductive but needs constant attention, and in order to get warm I have to go outside, chop more wood and get frostbite. Still, I have now found a man from Essex who delivers the seasoned and chopped variety and dumps it in my front garden at vast expense.

Christmas is fine as I make sure the cottage is full of visitors and tantalizing smells in the kitchen, but it is always tempered by what I know is coming next- January and February. These are my brooding months: the time when I begin to wonder if I might be losing all my social skills, and my marbles. It is also the time when I add hard liquor to my online shopping list.

 I make a kind of igloo with the duvet and plunge inside with my laptop. I type in Flats for Sale Central London. Central heating vital. No garden necessary.

*For those not in the know, clinkers are a combination of loose excrement mixed up with fleece that is still attached to the sheep. In the spring sheep are clipped at the back end and the tail – this is called dagging – in order to stop the dreaded fly laying its eggs amongst such rich nutrients…

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§ 19 Responses to Townie

  • Gak! I hope you find a place to live soon.

  • NEO says:

    Hah! Written like a true farm girl. We wouldn’t be happy if we weren’t complaining!

    In truth, it sounds rather idyllic, although I admit to doubts about thatched roofs. Other than that it sounds like home, and I miss it, a lot. Thanks 🙂

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Hah, Neo. Thank you, but I did make it up, at least the bit about hating it! I embellish well – a born liar clearly. Pleased it connected you with ‘home’. I miss the farming element of my life now it’s gone, but there were times when it was all consuming. 🙂

      • NEO says:

        It was outstanding, of course yours nearly always are. I never quite lived on a farm but worked with so many. Yes, you embellish, and I recognized that but, any farm girl from Indiana to Nebraska (or seemingly England) could have written it! if they had your talent, of course. 🙂

        • Rachael Charmley says:

          Kind words, Neo, and much appreciated. I haven’t written anything other than a haiku in months – it’s surprised me how rusty I am. Take care, my friend.

  • Joshua M Swenson says:

    Sounds like you should start considering moving to California! 😉 I love the imagery. Nicely done!

  • Bruce Goodman says:

    Over here we call clinkers them dags. There are two common expressions: “Rattle your dags” means :”Hurry up, get a move on”, and he/she is “a bit of a dag” meaning they’re a bit of a character.

    I could relate to the lifestyle rejected!!

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      I can see you have many delicate and elegant turns of phrase in your neck of the woods. I am mightily impressed. Next time the dog is dawdling about on one of our rambles I shall ask him politely to rattle his dags. I shall let you know the result in due course…

      • Bruce Goodman says:

        Don’t ask the dog “politely”. And “rattle your dags” is a great expression, and a good one to become “universally” used in the English-speaking world. Rattle your dags….!

  • Laine Jensen says:

    I really enjoyed reading some of your prose, Rachael. I can see your natural flair for writing (and rewrites are part of the natural process too).

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thanks, Laine. Glad you enjoyed it. Am really surprised how rusty I am after six months of zero prose writing! Now I know how important regular writing is…

  • Miranda Stone says:

    As much as I love your haiku poetry, I’m delighted to see you return to fiction once again, Rachael! I found myself smiling as I read this, enjoying the narrator’s inner dialogue. (I also found myself feeling bad for the poor sheep! I had to chuckle at the following passage: “I think about the sheep a lot and wonder what they are thinking about, but Edward says I’m wasting my time as they don’t think at all except when they’re planning an escape. And that, he assures me, is the only time, apart from when they’re dead, when they are utterly silent.” It makes me think of sheep plotting stealthily in whispers, unheard by nearby humans.) Country life definitely isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure! Wonderfully written, my friend.

  • Ain’t language grand? Round these parts ‘clinker’ is lumps of rock which had still been attached to coal when it had been burned. Beautiful stuff – hard, smooth and like a swirling rainbow.
    Ah, the countryside! Who could ever forgot stepping outside in the middle of the night and not being able to see a damn thing because there are no lights!
    Great prose, Rachael, you reaally got inside your character!

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      I know these clinkers of which you speak from childhood in the Midlands! The skeletons of coal … unmentionables stuck to sheep bottoms …but do not look up ‘dingleberry’. And yes, the absence of light pollution. A strange phenomenon these days! Glad you enjoyed my attempt at the Waitrose stereotype!

  • […] Continue reading Townie | Changing Skin and other stories. […]

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