COUN­TRY LOV­ING

Imo­gen Green dis­cov­ers that when some­thing seems too good to be true, it usu­ally is

Country Living (UK) - - Contents -

Ru­ral life isn’t al­ways idyl­lic, es­pe­cially when it comes to dat­ing, as our colum­nist Imo­gen Green dis­cov­ers

WE WERE MOV­ING the sheep to fresh pas­ture when my sis­ter-in-law Susie sud­denly said, “I’ve found you a date.”

“Who?” I asked, star­tled. We don’t have sheep­dogs. All our ewes are trained to fol­low a bucket, so 57 puz­zled woolly faces gazed at us, won­der­ing when the rolled bar­ley was go­ing in the trough.

“Leo,” Susie said. “He’s di­vorced, I’ve known him all my life, and you’ll see him at his cider party at the week­end.” She banged her bucket on the trough for em­pha­sis, but I would never have said no any­way. You cross Susie at your peril.

On Satur­day, barely ten min­utes after milk­ing was fin­ished, Susie’s ir­ri­ta­ble hus­band An­drew was honk­ing his horn un­der the ap­ple tree by the gate. We barely had time to wash our faces and strug­gle into clean clothes be­fore head­ing off to the party. It took place in a court­yard lined with stone build­ings. A folk band was play­ing, and there were bar­rels of cider that An­drew im­me­di­ately made for. The guests had a Hardyesque look, with their whiskery faces and care­fully styled ru­ral wear. Susie, in her hack­ing jacket, blended in nicely.

I wan­dered across to where a scrat­ter – a diesel en­gine with two rollers – was crush­ing ap­ples, and a cheer­ful gang was load­ing the hop­per with fruit and shov­el­ling mashed ap­ple onto a cider press. I quickly re­alised that the best job was mak­ing the cider ‘cheese’, so rolled up my sleeves and joined in, smooth­ing the pink and gold chunks onto a bed of straw. My fel­low work­ers beamed at me, but it was too noisy for con­ver­sa­tion, what with the scrat­ter and the folkies, who had clearly had too much rough cider, and kept singing, “No nay never, no nay never no more.”

The lay­ers of chopped ap­ple and straw grew higher, and my arms and clothes were run­ning with juice when some­one tapped my shoul­der and I turned to see a tall man in a waist­coat. “Susie sent me,” he mouthed, and led the way into a small gar­den.

“Susie is a bit bossy,” I apol­o­gised, as pheas­ants whirred into the air ahead of us. “She’s su­perb,” Leo said. He had a handsome, good-na­tured face, his blue eyes set off per­fectly by a bright blue neck­er­chief. In fact, he looked pic­turesque enough to have wan­dered off the film set of Far From the Madding Crowd. We sat down and a cou­ple of ter­ri­ers scram­bled onto his lap. “Do you have dogs?” he asked, and I ex­plained that I lived with one el­derly Jack Rus­sell who spe­cialised in eat­ing maps, and that oth­er­wise our farm was rather dog-un­friendly be­cause the an­i­mals tend to gang up and mob any they see. Leo then changed the sub­ject to the huge crush he’d had on Susie as a teenager, and the way he used to ac­com­pany her on long pony treks by fran­ti­cally cy­cling along­side her.

“Do you re­mem­ber how, at her wed­ding, those two horses pulling the lan­dau bolted, and she mas­tered them like Boadicea?” he added ex­cit­edly. “Oh!” I said. “I’m sorry – I didn’t re­alise you were at the wed­ding!” He sud­denly looked un­com­fort­able. “I was just… in the crowd out­side the church.”

Next morn­ing, Susie was so hun­gover that she scarcely spoke dur­ing milk­ing. She didn’t even com­ment when old Mrs Hask­ins rang to com­plain that our sheep were in­tim­i­dat­ing her Stafford­shire bull ter­ri­ers. But just as Susie was leav­ing to crawl back to bed, she asked, “So how did you get on with Leo?” “He’s su­perb,” I said. “But in love with an­other woman.” And you know what? She never asked who.

‘Bathsheba seeks a Gabriel Oak – who isn’t stuck in the past’

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