Island Blog – Second from the Right

I am very happy to have had my covid jag. It never crossed my mind for one minute to refuse it and I was astonished to hear that anyone would. However, that is not my business. My arm was mildly sore for a couple of days and I felt tired but otherwise escaped any side effects, not that I would have minded them. I have, after all, been given a small dose of a killer virus and my body has had to fight it, the busy little thing that it is. I said as much. Well done busy little body, still standing by me after all these decades and ready to leap into action in the face of assault, snipers posted at all vantage points, unlike me who would struggle to leap in anyone’s face these days. My walking is slower. Noticed. My rise from a chair and my return to it more considered. Turning my head quickly can send my eyeballs into disco mode and I hold the bannisters when ascending the stairs. I don’t know when this began and it doesn’t bother me even if I do sometimes remember, wistfully, the younger mountain goat in me, the one everyone begged to slow down, sit down, sit still, the one who was more girl gone than girl sitting.

I still feel a big fudgy today but without any discomfort. I can rest when I want now that all demands are silenced and the only demands around are those I make upon myself. Yesterday I made none at all but instead sat watching a TV series and drank cups of tea beside the fire. Outside is not worth looking at to be honest. Wind and more wind, gusts that make the windows flex most alarmingly and slanty rain that comes in great punches. It’s February, I remind myself, the month of slanty rain and wind punch and time travels so fast. It reminds me of other Februarys, stomping down to the steadings, early doors, in enough waterproofing to allow lift-off should a gust decide to punch. I am going to feed the calves, about 15 of them, with sliced swedes. I think about swedes. I know some very good looking ones with bodies and green eyes and big muscles but these are not on the menu today, more’s the pity, and I would hesitate on the slicing thing with them. These swedes are cold, round and hard-skinned and I have to feed the damn things through a hand-turning swede slicer. It takes ages and a lot of effort to raise enough for the babies who await breakfast. Eventually, and puffing like Thomas the Tank Engine, I fill the troughs and 15 heads are instantly lowered. Whilst they are distracted I move into the pen behind them to rake out yesterday’s muck and straw. I get too close and without even turning around one whacks me a belter on the knee with a hoof. I shoot backwards, airborne, or it feels like it, to land on my butt right in the middle of the muck pile sending it up and out, as if a bomb had just landed. I am that bomb. The muck flies out, turns back in and lands all over me, face, hands, waterproofs. I am livid and very sore. Struggling to my feet I resist, with great difficulty, the urge to stick a pitchfork tine into the arse of Second from the Right, who still doesn’t turn around. Once breakfast is done, I herd the calves out into the rain and wind for a merry day in a soggy field with no shelter and no grass. By the time I return to the farmhouse kitchen, all but my face is cleaned of muck and the turn ups of my too-big waterproof breeks hold enough water for at least 8 goldfish.

I am glad those days are done and glad that I lived them when I did. Younger, I bounced back more quickly. Of course there was no time for moaning or whining about a face covered in calf leavings, nor sympathy for my big fat red sore knee. I was the fool who got too close, remember? This is farming life. You have to keep moving, keep going, keep upright because if one goes down everyone loses. I loved that life and loathed it in equal measures. Even now as lambing time moves closer, I remember the thrill of being so vital to the day’s work, however hard it might have been. Being active as no matter of choice keeps a body fit and supple, a mind clear. It is different now, now that my activity levels are all down to me and there is a noticing required in my older days. Keep moving, keep finding something to make you bend, reach, walk, move, climb, lift or you just might seize and freeze into a shape of great inconvenience.

When I limp back down to bring the calves in later that same day, I stand at the gate rattling a bucket of cake (not our sort of cake) and I can feel a fire in my belly. As they file through the gate I clock Second from the Right and give her one hec of a thwack on her arse. She bucks and flips and turns to face me, snorting. Right back at you Missy, I say. Right back at you.