Clare Mackintosh: Sheep may safely graze
PUBLISHED: 11:04 11 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:05 11 September 2017
The field is perfect for an orchard. Neat rows of apple trees; clusters of pears. Long trestle tables covered with crisp French linen; groaning with salads and cheeses for hungry harvesters
There has been much debate over what to do with the field that came with the house. A little less than an acre, it lies to the immediate rear of our long, hedge-lined back garden, accessed via a five-bar metal gate with dropped hinges, too heavy for the children to lift.
The current residents are two dozen or more woolly sheep; the property of a farmer a few doors down, who has tenanted this same field for more than 20 years, and who turned up on our doorstep on moving-in day, hopeful to continue the arrangement. It was difficult to say no, and so we stood in the drive as he solemnly counted out too few ten pound notes for it to be worth our while; and we reminded ourselves of the hours we’d save in tending the field and he was doing us a favour really, wasn’t it?
But the field is ours. And at some point in the future we will reclaim it. But for what purpose? “A pony!” cried Evie, as we sat amid packing crates with mugs of Aga-hot tea. “Too small,” I replied. She scowled. “Me? Or the field?” “Both”, I said. I had plans for the field, and they didn’t include mucking out once a week and scouring the undergrowth for ragwort. The field is perfect for an orchard. Neat rows of apple trees; clusters of pears. Long trestle tables covered with crisp French linen; groaning with salads and cheeses for hungry harvesters. We would produce our own cider; I’d make jams by the jar-loads to fill the cellar I was currently too scared to venture into.
“We could rescue a donkey,” Rob said. I looked at my husband. “Or a goat,” he suggested. I softened slightly, distracted from my fantasy orchard. Imagined an Eeyore, grazing on thistles; a pair of Billy goats doing whatever Billy goats do. They’d certainly take care of the grass, and the children would adore them. We could milk them! Just in time to avoid embarrassment, I remembered that attempting to milk a Billy goat would definitely mark us out as newbies among the locals. I did love goat’s cheese, though, so the idea definitely had potential. Would the children embrace goat’s milk on their cornflakes, I wondered?
I sat bolt upright, inspiration striking. Alpacas! “What do they do?” Rob said, in response to my brilliant idea. I wracked my brains; remembered the gorgeous scarf I received last Christmas. “They have super-soft coats. We’d shear them,” — I was a little hazy on the detail — “then I’d knit from the wool.” Rob looked dubious. “Remember that jumper you made me?” The jumper in question had one arm shorter than the other, and so many dropped stitches I’d had to pass off the design as lace. Maybe not alpacas, then.
“Could we have a football pitch?” George wanted to know. “It would be less poo-ey than goats or alpac-wotsits.” I looked at Rob. That would be easy enough. A couple of goals and Bob’s your uncle. Or in this case, your dad. “And we could have floodlights for when it’s dark,” George continued, “and a manager’s box and stands for home and away, and —” Clearly George had a rather more ambitious image in mind than my two-goals-and-a-can-of-white-spray-paint plan.
“What do you think we should do with the field?” I asked Josh, who had yet to throw an idea into the ring. He rolled his eyes; a teenager in the making. “Why do we have to do anything with it?” Honestly, children… “Well,” I said, as patiently as I could. “Because it’s ours. We own it. So we can do what we want with it. We could have a rescue donkey, or goats, or alpacas, or an amazing orchard with white linen table-cloths on rustic trestle tables…” I broke off as Josh’s eyes glazed over. Did no one else in this family have any vision? He looked at me with an expression that was becoming increasingly familiar. “Don’t you think you’re busy enough, Mummy, without adding goats and donkeys to your list?”
I resisted the urge to punch the air, as my boy played unwittingly into my hands. “Perhaps you’re right,” I said sadly. “I guess an orchard would be best after all.” I caught the glance between my children and their father. “What?” There was a long pause. “We were just remembering the time you made marmalade.”
Ah yes. Marmalade-gate. Litres of orange goo, bravely poured into sterilised jars in the hope that it would somehow set of its own accord overnight. It did not. For months I poured it like honey onto anything and everything, until even I grew sick of it and bagged it up for the bin men. Apples would be different, though. Cider, and dried apple rings, and apple compote, and… I sighed. Looked around the table.
“We’ll just keep the sheep, shall we?” I said. My husband nodded. “That’s the best idea you’ve had yet.”