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