We spent eighteen months at the farm.
It began blissfully – the 'village' or little town, where the Co-Op was a symbol of freedom – none of the major supermarkets considered it a profitable place, so we had a rural Co-Op store. The school and preschool, the pool and leisure centre, the marvelous church and 'Little Fishes' – the village preschools where I made such good friends.
After three months, we celebrated my freedom from cancer. I was well again, we decorated, we went to country shows, we dug a huge vegetable garden. Alexandra was conceived, and Neil began to pick up gardening jobs to fill in the non farm time. We went to Chelsea, I planted hanging baskets, heavy with child, and Neil drove around housing estates, and sold the lot.
The steeply sloping car park of the Co-Op made you feel like you were in a seaside town. The air was good, and I was normal.
A long hot summer progressed, and I sat whale like in H's paddling pool, I had a friend, a real one, called Dawn, and she sat with her feet in the paddling pool. Dawn was married to Jim and they managed a fish farm, owned by Roger Daltrey, of 'The Who' – no really. They went away, eventually. It was a strange time. I met Jemima, whose daughter Tamlin was homeschooled – I think she may be in school now – and so many other people. I felt alive. I joined the Mothers' Union with a lovely Scottish lady, I hung out with church friends.
We bought sheep! Oh, that was the time. Long phone calls resulted in free quota from the National Reserve, we juggled irresponsibly with finances when the house sold, and we bought SHEEP! Twenty North Country Mules, with a lamb apiece. We rented land and we stood and gazed in awe. Sheep! Actual sheep. I still remember that feeling like it was yesterday, my heart bursting with joy, we'd done it, we'd really done it - when Neil was busy working somewhere, I'd strap my toddler into the superannuated Land Rover, and heave my huge bulk behind the wheel, and we'd drive off and check our sheep!* I can't explain that feeling. I only know I want it back.
I dreaded the trip to Salisbury to have my second child, as it was predicted that Solar Eclipse traffic would cause gridlock. It didn't. Boo was born early, on 6th August 1999, and I was bathing her ready for her trip home on the day of the eclipse. It was no big deal.
She was a beautiful, bonnie baby, who ate and slept and did not much else. The midwife said I didn't even look like I'd had a baby, never mind a c-section (which she was, a very dramatic emergency) and life was so GOOD.
But, never happy, I didn't like the semi isolation. I love village life – all the hellos and how are yous and oh you NEVER did's ... and I like isolation, the peace and quiet and wildness of a lonely place. But to be all but isolated, in a clique of people who speak to each other, but not to you? And poor Neil, who worked from 5am each morning in winter, doing all the rough jobs, in the simple hope of learning the ropes, dairy wise .. but was landed with a fierce South African overseer, who had revolting racist views, and frankly thought that this new underling, skin colour notwithstanding, should be equally grateful to do the dirty work, and ask nothing in the way of learning ... it was a hard place to be, in some ways.
We bought Buttons, the skewbald shetland cross who still shares our lives, and H learned to ride on him. She went to Pewsey Carnival Horse Show, aged three, and won the Thelwell Lookalike, hands down. Remember that when she rides in the Olympics!
Then, we decided, we had to move. We looked at houses to rent. (we should have stayed another winter, and saved) but B was getting too much for Neil. He was a hateful man. His wife, whom I'd befriended and baked bread for, not much better.
We saw a house in Cannings, and said 'no' - it was a hideous, damp old shack. Then we saw a house in the Manningfords, and we lost our hearts, we so wanted that house. We knew we would live up to it.
However. A lovely public school boy, whose initials are GB, employed by a worthy estate agent, decided we were not the right type, and avoided our attempts to rent the house in the Manningfords. Knowing what I know now, I do so hope he was heavily into derivatives, and hopefully, also up to his neck in American sub-prime mortgages. I am not normally vindictive, but George, I hope you fried.
Insanely, we decided to apply for the tenancy of the damp old shack. It was opposite a Miss Read school, and in a picturesque village, and since, as a child, I'd been moved here, there and everywhere, and I swore that once the children were in school, they'd stay put, forever if necessary, it suddenly seemed more appealing.
A freezing bathroom half in the back garden, with an ailing toddler and a little baby? You're right. It was a mad move, and destined to end in depression, but into 'Number One' we moved. And I rue the day.
*Our ewes were well past lambing, and I was mainly only head counting. Please don't get involved with ewes who are pregnant, or recently lambed, if you are pregnant yourself. It's an absolute no no.
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