Well this month it’s all about ducks. Torn between buying Aylesbury’s or Call Ducks, I finally plumped for a pair of the latter which just happened to be for sale at a local farm. They were a laying pair, I was told, the drake two years old, the duck just one. She’d already laid a couple of eggs and was keen to sit, although as the farmer’s wife pointed out, it would be better if she went broody on five or six. I brought them home tremulously, put them in a stable with a trough of water, called them Polly and Wally and hoped fervently for doodles. (I had to explain this to the teenagers who’d never heard of Polly Wally Doodle so I sang it for them, until middle child, who had her boyfriend to lunch, went a bit pink and said “Could you stop now, Mummy?”)
Well, Polly laid ELEVEN eggs, yes ELEVEN before she finally sat. Frankly I thought she’d bitten off more than she could chew, but I admired her spirit. Three weeks later six of them hatched and wanted to be off and waddling (words fail me on the sweetness front) so Polly, torn, abandoned the remaining eggs in the nest and quacked after them. I heroically resisted saying I Told You So.
And Polly is the mother of all mothers. She guides, she chides, she fusses, she feeds, she teaches them to swim and is all things maternal and busy. Wally, meanwhile, lives firmly up to his name. I built a ramp for Polly and her doodles to get into the makeshift pond, which as soon as they were able, they all duly trooped up and into. It took Wally weeks to work it out. Weeks. (Their wings have been pinioned so he can’t fly). When he finally got it, he decided it was his pond and his alone and has a hissy fit if his ducklings try to get in with him. He has to swim alone. Of course he does. Once he’s done with it, naturally, they’re allowed in, but only then. When it’s good and dirty.
One day, of course, they’ll waddle off to the larger pond complete with over-the-top fountain at the far end of the orchard. My husband grew up with peacocks in his back garden whilst I grew up with runner beans, so he thinks it’s perfectly normal to have a veritable Versailles kicking off in the back yard. I still slightly cringe when I see it. For now though, the ducks are firmly in the yard and the other animals, whose territory this is, are divided on the subject. The horses ignore them. The Labrador is interested but relaxed. The terrier wants to kill them and has to be kept on a lead At All Times. The bantams, feathers ruffled initially, are now sanguine, and onwarm afternoons, even share their shade with them. I meanwhile, have become a duck bore. I tell friends and watch them glaze over as no doubt you’re glazing too, but still I persist. Yesterday in Tesco’s I found myself dithering over Hello! or Poultry Today. And I’m thinking of joining the Call Duck society, to learn more. Did you know, for instance, that Call Ducks mate for life? Or that they’re so named in order to call the pesky, crop eating Mallards from the sky so that farmers can – ahem – deal with them?
I’m sorry this missive is short but I must away to my brood. It’s nothing to do with my own empty nest, but I must just check on Polly’s full one. Before I go though, can I just thank all of you who’ve said such lovely things about my new book – My Husband Next Door. I do hope you all enjoy it.
Many thanks indeed and best wishes,
So a New Year dawns and we return from our holiday to find a house full of mice, an overflowing septic tank and a horse with ring worm. The mice are not particularly unusual at this time of year but Dee, who helps in the house, finds them scream-making so we do our best to persuade them to leave. Also the Glis-Glis – a form of edible dormouse particular to this part of the world – who like to curl up in the children’s bathroom and play dead, before opening their eyes as Dee lunges in with the Cilit Bang. (Actually this only happened once and the Glis- Glis was singular but Dee’s scream was tremendous.) The septic tank I won’t bore you with but it obviously needs to be sorted out at vast expense and the ring worm on the horse – my new scary mare – treated.
All of which left me wondering if we should move to London where none of this would happen? Except on a recent visit to a friend’s birthday party in Wandsworth I saw the most enormous fox leaving their front garden. In fact I thought it was a dog and told my friends so when they answered the door. “No no, definitely a fox” they assured me. “But it was vast” I told them. “Twice the size of the ones in the country.” “Ah yes, that’ll be the Kentucky Fried Chicken,” they replied sagely. So perhaps the city would come with its own much bigger rodent problems, I think, as I take a nibbled cushion which has clearly served as a jolly comfy feather bed to a family of dozens, to the bin.
On a very grey and chilly January day only the thought of country sports prevents me from longing for a tropical island: which brings me back to Duchess, my new scary mare. Too scary, I’ve decided, in fact I’ve admitted defeat. Lovely though she is – a huge gentle giantess – she’s simply too big for me, so I’m looking for a very good home. My husband disagrees and thinks I should plough on, but then he’s not the one perched on high, galloping towards the next jump, frozen with fear as it looms, complete with ditch on the other side. No, I’m looking for someone much taller and stronger, probably a man, I tell him, assuring him I’m still talking about the prospective horse owner. Promise.
Also, I have a book to write, as my agent reminds me gently, and can’t be getting too distracted with the animals. Life has to be lived, though, I tell him slightly disingenuously when we meet for lunch, so that it can be written about, surely? Up to a point, he agrees, before casually asking how many chapters I’ve done so far? I tell him I’m far too excited about the launch of my latest paperback, A Rural Affair , to be worrying about that. This, of course, has the desired effect and he beams with pleasure and orders another bottle of wine. Easily distracted, like me. But actually, I am looking forward to May 24th, very much, and hope you are too, and that you enjoy this latest offering.
I’ll write again soon, but until then,
As October draws to a close I feel as if it was the summer we’d all been waiting for. Glorious blue skies, a low strong sun drawing out fabulous colours and balmy breezes; always my favourite month, but this one excelled. The only dark cloud was that we had to say goodbye to Truffle, our beloved black Labrador, who, if you recall, was old, frail, and now clearly in pain.
The young vet from the practise came to do the dark deed. He’s attractive this vet, so much so that when he came to inoculate a friend’s horse, she declared she almost got in the car with him when he left. We giggled for days. This wasn’t so much fun. The daughters and I sobbed, the other dogs crept to their baskets and as Lynn, who helps in the house said mopping her face: “If they could ‘ave cried, they would of done”.
So now, as I kick up the leaves around the fields, I don’t look like the crazy dog lady with a vast bitch pack, but I do miss her terribly. She cut her own cool dash through life, and even though my husband would roar “I will not have a dog who roams!” she did, with panache, while the rest of the family covered for her. Often I’d be out riding across the hill, a mile or so away, and pass her coming back from urgent business at the racing stables. I’d gaze astonished as she trotted past, almost doffing her cap to me, having been given treats by the jockeys and rolled in the lovely smelly stables. “Where has she been!” Husband would roar as she came in, stinking and licking her lips. “Oh, just pottering,” we’d lie. Once though, it was a roam too far, and a well meaning villager called the dog warden – I hadn’t got round to having her chipped and the puppy had chewed her collar and tag off – so it was a night in the cells at the council offices for her. When I collected her, frantic with worry the next morning, she practically had the entire staff come to the door to wave her off. She made friends wherever she went.
As, it seems, I will have to make friends with my huge new horse in the paddock, Duchess. My lovely old mare who’s the same vintage as Truffle is lame, and if I want to totter off with the local hunt and cut my own dash, I’m going to have to get on this vast five year old. John, who’s quiet and patient, helps me. Naturally she behaves like My Little Pony for him, and a stamping, snorting diva for me. We do go out together, Duchess and I, autumn hunting, and I’m dry mouthed with fear. Heather, a sweet woman is taking the non-jumpers and at the meet I cling to her like glue gabbling insanely “can I come with you Heather, can I come with you?” Of course she says smiling and rides across to greet old friends she hasn’t seen for a season, then more old friends, but always with a white faced limpet beside her. We survive, Duchess and I, although obviously we cheat and never become airborne, but the following week the old mare is better and I scramble back on. Emboldened, my old mare and I jump as we’ve never jumped before – don’t ask me anything crucial about hunting, all I’m doing is staying alive at the back – and I come home windblown and elated. It can’t go on, though, I know. The old mare will one day go the same way as Truffle, and the youngster will have her day.
Am I too old for all this, I wonder? At a Saturday meet I missed – Saturdays are always a bit hectic – my lovely friend Tina broke her collar bone and was unconscious for five minutes. She and three others ended up in Stoke Mandaville for the afternoon. The children encourage me though, not, I know, through any salacious desire to see my collar bone broken, but there’s method there, nonetheless. They know that the more I’m writing, and hunting, and buying new dogs – the latest, they claim is my fourth child, being in possession of a second name – the more I’m distracted, and the more I take my eye off them. What they mean is, the more they get away with.
All of a sudden it’s November and the clocks have firmly gone back giving us long winter evenings. A friend of mine loathes it, but I don’t really mind. If it’s dark at four, what can you do but eat a lot of chocolate and watch television? You certainly can’t walk dogs or ride crazy horses and obviously it’s far too dark to write. Day time TV beckons and I gladly succumb with the first tin of Quality Street of the season. (By Christmas, I kid you not, I can be up to four.)
Hope you’re well and very best wishes,
And so the school and university holidays are well and truly upon us. Obviously the next eight weeks of my diary have no appointments, no girly lunches, and no meetings in London since the nature of my job allows me this luxury. I am free – with just a hint of smugness – to tend exclusively to my offspring. Why then, am I constantly in an empty house? The children, it appears, have bigger and better plans and are busy getting on with their lives in London, Ireland and Croatia as we speak. I seem to run an upmarket boarding house where periodically one or other will pop in for food, clean laundry and the space to sleep off a hangover. It’s not an empty nest since they still nominally live here, but since I’m in between books, it certainly leaves me with time on my hands.
Time, obviously, to get to grips with my own particular mid-life crisis, a large bay mare called Duchess who’s staring in at me through the window from the paddock. She’s wondering why on earth I bought her in a weak moment six months ago and have now barely looked at her, handing her over instead to a local boy who loves to ride her and thinks nothing of scrambling up onto her steep, seventeen hand frame. (Seventeen hands, for those not in the know, is about the size of a small museum, and since she was only four when I bought her, she’s got time to grow). Frankly, I’m windy and prefer my placid old mare or the children’s pony if I’m going for a canter. Tomorrow, I tell myself avoiding her steady gaze and deciding instead to walk the three dogs for my daily dose of exercise.
Yes, three dogs, which is obviously slightly too many, but they crept up on us. According to the vet, our old black lab Truffle was supposed to die three years ago, and so we got a young lab to ease the pain. But Truffle limped on. Six months ago it was definitely curtains – lumps everywhere, gastric flu etc – so I impulse bought a terribly sweet Border terrier puppy. (A bit of a pattern emerging here, what with Duchess the horse.) Thank goodness, since I’m passionate about her, the old lab refuses to be written off, making me a strange doggy woman as I potter around the fields at her very slow pace, hollering unattractively for the two disobedient youngsters who are bored and off chasing rabbits – and, on the odd horrific occasion, our sheep, which my husband mustn’t know about.
Such are my summer days so far. A garden that needs tending, horses that need riding, dogs that need training and children that don’t seem to need me that much at all. Should I start another book? Or wait for the golden days we keep hearing about on the weather forecast to assault me and render me supine in the garden with someone else’s book? The latter I feel. And then at six o’clock, a large gin and tonic, by which time I’ll be ready to look busy when the harassed commuter comes through the door. I’ll keep a garden trowel beside me and be up and ready to harry those weeds the moment I hear his key, hastily tucking my comfort read of choice, Persuasion, out of sight.