We are off to China in a day or two and before we leave I wanted to write something moving, memorable and possibly motivational but regretfully nothing springs to mind. So prompted by an old photograph in our collection I decided to share memories again, one of mine and one of someone else’s.
A couple of years ago my grandson and his cousin Charley where moonlight fishing, not fishing for moonlight which sounds wonderful but fishing by moonlight but, I digress. Hearing a cry in the bushes the boys investigated and found a bag containing a couple of abandoned kittens. One of their fellow fishermen took one of the kittens and Jack and Charley brought the other one home. They called her Poppet, shades of Pirates of the Caribbean, she was tiny she could have fit in an egg cup. Charley took charge of her and clearly adored her and the feeling was mutual and if he was at home she spent most of her time snuggled on his knee or on his pillow. Her rough start in life clearly had some effect because she was the feistiest, most independent little handful you have ever met and would have us brimming with laughter as she leapt and dashed up and down the stairs or down the hall sliding on the wooden floor just for the fun of it. She’d also bother the elder statesman cat Bagheera and tirelessly lay in wait and leap out to bait our two bemused dogs.
We had a cat flap and both Poppet and Bagheera had complete freedom to roam day or night. One morning in the early hours we heard a shriek of horror coming from Charlie’s room followed by his hurried footsteps as he headed for the bath room with subsequent moans, retching and vomiting. We were worried; gastroenteritis, food poisoning we speculated? Eventually he emerged his face an ashen shade of green. He could barely speak just a strangled comment, “that cat, that cat!!!” We were no wiser.
Charlie asked for a black bin liner I suggested a bucket would probably be more useful if he was going to be sick again he gave me a pained, haunted expression. ‘It’s for the pigeon’ he said with a grimace and staggered off up to his room.
On one of her prowls in the early hours Poppet had come across a dead pigeon already well decomposed and, relishing her prize, decided to bring it home for her hero and deposit it stinking, and crawling with maggots, on the pillow next to Charlie’s sleeping head.
The love affair was over, Poppet was never allowed in Charlie’s room again, though her love never abated. We also decided that the cat flap should allow the cats to exit but that they would have to come to the door to be let back in we didn’t relish the receipt of any more tokens of her love.
Most of my early childhood was spent in Yorkshire, ‘God’s own county’, when I was ten we moved to Cumbria a jewel in God’s crown that is for sure. In the heart of the country, the village of Welton at the foot of the Caldbeck Fells, there were no daily milk deliveries or supermarket where you could go and get a carton of the white stuff, it was glass bottles in those days. Being the youngest it fell to my lot to go and get milk from the neighbouring farm which had a magnificent heard of Jersey cows and the first milk started at 5.30am.
Winter or summer it would have always been a joy to walk the few hundred yards to the farm, there was always something to see a tiny Wren, a cheeky Robin or speckled Thrush, and at that time of day the dawn chorus was still in progress. In the winter the sunlight would come up and you could see it move up the tree trunks casting its shadows or highlighting the textures of the bark or the colour of moss or leaves.
Despite my hungry family at home waiting for the warm, creamy milk to pour on their porridge or put in their tea I always dawdled along my steps would get slower and slower the nearer I got to the farm but not because of the country idyll.
I should point out that before I was exiled from our kitchen carrying the stainless steel milk can. I was protesting loudly that it wasn’t fair that it was always me who had to go for the milk. My siblings would be setting the table or stirring the said porridge and my mother would tell me not to be silly and to hurry along everyone was waiting for breakfast and Dad would be in from the stables for his second breakfast. He was up at 4.30am to feed and water the horses.
The cow byre was right next to the road so that the Milk Marketing Board lorry that collected the huge steel churns didn’t have to come into the farm yard. As I approached I could hear through the open top half of the stable door into the cool room, the stamp of the beasts; Poppy, Heartsease, Blossom and so many other sweet names, the random contented lowing, the rattle of the cans and sometimes Barry or John telling Buttercup to ‘come away now. By this point I was almost walking on my tip toes and would peep over the bottom half of the door hoping that one of the dairy men or the farmer’s wife would be in there but I was always disappointed. Gingerly, trying desperately not to make a scrape or chink when I lifted the latch I would open the door and equally quietly close it behind me. I could see the cobble stones through the open door into the farm yard and I tip toed slowly to the opening pressing against the white washed wall so I couldn’t be seen.
The door into the dairy was to the left out of the door and about twenty yards along. I had stealth off to a fine art, and the sounds from the dairy would surely have covered any sound that I made but it did me no good, no sooner was my shadow cast over the door step than the objects of my terror, my tormenters, would rush across the yard towards me. My knees would turn to jelly and my tongue would cleave to the roof of my mouth and I would stumble madly on my spindly legs across the slippery uneven cobbles towards the dairy the pestilent geese honking and hissing and flapping towards me, barrel chested, their eyes fixated upon me, and their long necks thrust forward their vicious beaks filling me with horror and I’d arrive breathless and shaking in to the milking parlour. The farmer’s wife would greet me smiling “you’re always in a rush Angela no need to my dear plenty of milk” and she would fill up my can with the foamy, creamy milk. The cowmen would shout a cheery hello and I would stroke Peach who was the smallest cow in the herd until I stopped trembling and my heart beat would slow and I would steel myself to make the return trip. I had to time it just right so that the geese would hopefully wander back to the other side of the yard before I ventured out and this time I had to walk back because I didn’t want to spill the milk, which made the mobbing even more hair raising.
Sometimes I would have bad dreams that their powerful wings would beat me to the ground and I would feel their beaks pecking at my skin.
Like a condemned prisoner, every morning for two years, I ran the gauntlet of those pernicious fowl, they never caught me, not a peck or a flap and I never explained to my Mother either.
Both my Mum, absorbed with making ends meet and getting her family clothed and fed and ready for school or work didn’t analyse my reluctance to go to the farm and Poppet certainly thought only of pleasing her rescuer often those we love or care for make these sort of unthinking errors which cause us sorrow or pain and we respond and have to live with the consequences. Our past can influence our future.
Charley never trusted Poppet again as for me once we left Welton I rarely gave it a thought, but it might explain why as a teenager I ditched a boyfriend who took me to see Hitchcock’s “The Birds” but I certainly didn’t blame anyone, except the geese.