Not long after he took on a smallholding for his cobs, the builder boyfriend found a couple walking through his fields with their dog.
They had appeared out of nowhere, apparently by squeezing through a small hole in the hedge with a neighbouring property.
As there is no footpath through his land, the BB was perplexed. ‘Can I help you?’ he called. But the smartly dressed couple waved him away. ‘No, thank you!’ the man called back politely enough, as he and his wife walked on with their spaniel, which darted this way and that, soon entangling itself with Jimmy and Duey, the builder b’s black and white cobs.
The horses ran around the dog and the dog ran around the horses and the whole thing threatened to end in a terrible mess of squashed dog, so the BB ran over and insisted they put the dog on the lead and get out of his fields quickly. And yes, he may have embellished that. But it was an emergency, for at that moment the smaller and more capricious of his two horses, Duey, was commencing a flat-out charge towards them, nose down, like a bull.
Not long after that, I happened to be there mucking out while the BB was at work, when the same man walked by the gate, stopped, and stood staring at the stable block.
I walked over and introduced myself and the man asked what a statue of Mary was doing by the water trough.
‘Oh, she used to be in my garden in London,’ I explained. ‘My other half rescued her out of a skip. When we moved here he decided he would like her to guard his horses.’ The man looked at me askance.
Sometimes, it is a shock to see yourself as others see you. In my head, I’m still a girl about town. I sometimes forget that I’m a lot muddier these days, especially since lockdown.
There I was, in jeans, wellies and a bobble hat, streaks of grime across my face, grinning over the gate, like Barbara from The Good Life as Jerry, tired of Margot being upset, tries tactfully to point out that she is dragging the area down.
The gentleman continued his inquisition: ‘And who’s that old man with the other younger man in scruffy clothes I see here?’
‘That’s my partner with his father,’ I said. ‘They’re builders.’ And then I began stammering. ‘I keep a thoroughbred at an eventing yard up the road.’ Why did I say that? To defend myself? What difference did it make that I owned a horse posher than a muddy cob, and would be changing into jodhpurs later to ride it around an arena? But he had me on the ropes.
I looked at this smart man looking at the muddy piebald horses grazing the fields around the ramshackle yard the BB was working hard to do up.
And I looked at him looking at the upturned cart to which the builder b manages to attach the least fat of the cobs a few times a year, the rusty muck trailer left behind by the previous tenants that we had to tow out of a ditch, and the statue of Mary we have guarding the horses because I’m Catholic and the BB’s superstitious, and I thought: Oh, he thinks I’m a gypsy.
And not for the first time I bristled with indignation on behalf of that particular group, because I’ve come under fire locally for defending travellers, and being friends with travellers, which is hard to believe in this day and age, but it happens.
Anyway, the main point was that I learned from the conversation that the man is local, and that is why he comes through our fields.
We’ve had all sorts of problems with lockdown walkers but we were never terribly surprised that when people came from towns and cities they didn’t know the countryside code.
What is more of a long-term issue is that everyone is now so bored they yearn for variety. They long to come off the beaten footpath.
‘It’s all right, we’re local!’ they call cheerfully as they scamper through.
Last night at dusk, it occurred to me that there is a serious flaw to all this cosy trespass, as I watched a neighbour’s dog running loose through our fields as they went by on their evening walk, smiling and saying hello to us as though nothing was amiss.
When a local pony, ours, chases and tramples a local dog, theirs, I’m not sure how local their attitude is going to be.
They might say: ‘It’s all right, we’re local. You’re local. What’s a squashed dog between neighbours?’ But then again, they might get a local lawyer and give us the local vet bill.
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