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25 December 1998



WELL another year has gone by and its Christmas again.

Goodness knows where the months went to. It only seems like a few weeks since we were taking down the tinsel and the holly from last year, and here we are putting them up again, only this time in our new home.

Then again, perhaps it isnt that long since we finally finished clearing away last years decorations. I seem to recall that the tree stood in the corner of the not very often used front room until almost Easter before we decided that it had seen much better days and consigned it to the dustbin.

December is the season for parties and presents, but also for remembering those less fortunate than yourselves. Were very choosy about which charities to support. There are so many begging letters at this time of year and you cant hope to give to them all. I have to admit to feeling a little annoyed at all the envelopes that fall like confetti on the doormat and resolve to say no to them all, except my regulars. One of the half a dozen that we do donate to is, of course, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution. As Fred often says, you never know if you might need them one day – its really more of an insurance than charity!

Anyway, to that end, we took ourselves off to an Arctic supper and talk – I dont see any reason why you shouldnt make giving to charity enjoyable wherever possible and in this case it was a lovely evening and parting with our money was quite painless.

As we sat round the table at the start of the evening I was very much put in mind of the nativity story, or to be more accurate, of Bethlehem. Many years ago people who were considered to be "cerebrally challenged" were locked away in asylums. (Nowadays a lot of them would be given a single parents allowance and encouraged to find a job, but thats another story.)

One such establishment was the Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem in London. The name of this dreadful place was soon shortened, colloquially, to Bedlam and before long this word came to be used to describe any extremely noisy uproar and confusion, where one sound is indistinguishable from any other – such as when a large group of farmers get together in one room for a social occasion!

I thought, hopefully, that when the delicious venison stew (the closest the organisers could find to reindeer) was served, the volume might reduce enough to stop the ringing in my ears. How on earth do people manage to keep conversation going in full flow while quickly demolishing a plateful of raspberry meringue and cream?

Still, I suppose its all good practice for the serious eating that accompanies the festive season. One advantage (?) of having two jobs is that I have two firms Christmas meals. This year these consisted of an evening dinner in the barn and a lunch at the nearby National Herb Centre. My mouth should be watering at the mere thought of it, I suppose, but right now I couldnt face another crumb – and its not even Christmas day yet.

I dont think that I dare even glance in a mirror. Im sure I must have all the lithe silhouette of a kelly doll; push me over and Ill just roll straight back up again!

Oh, well. Ive got a whole year to get back into shape.

And, in the meantime, Id like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy and, hopefully, prosperous New Year from the Quartlys.

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27 November 1998



AFTER all the rushing around of the last few months, it makes a really pleasant change to sit back and enjoy the calm.

Michael now has his head down (I hope) for his last year at university. He never writes to us and seldom phones, unless he wants something or has a problem. Silence from Nottingham is definitely good news.

Emma has quickly settled in at Liverpool. To begin with, I was worried how she would cope with life in a big city after 18 years of living miles from anywhere, but she seems to be in her element, having found all the best clubs and cheapest bars in town (maybe I was right to worry).

In between her social engagements she is learning to talk in hieroglyphics. I had no idea it was a spoken language, but apparently it is. At least she doesnt have to bother too much about pronunciation – after all, theres no one alive to complain even if she gets it totally wrong.

Fred too is starting to take life easy, although he hasnt fully retired yet. While we wait for someone to come up with a sensible offer for the farm, weve let all the pasture land for grazing and as a favour Fred is doing the shepherding. Well, he really needs all the exercise he can get, now that he doesnt need to get out of bed in the mornings.

Im not too sure whether the "healthy" body is accompanied by a healthy mind, though. Yesterday he told me that the small inscribed bible I was packing had been a gift from his godmother on the occasion of his cremation! Theres no answer to that.

I suppose I ought to try to make the most of the peace and quiet. Im sure it wont last long, before I have to get back into the fray. I dare say the first job I should think about doing is to make last years Christmas cake. I bought the ingredients 12 months ago but somehow never seemed to get round to putting them all together. Theyve been sitting in the pantry waiting for me to find time to do something with them ever since and theyre more than likely well past their "best before" date by now. Perhaps I should just carry on thinking about it.

All in all, Christmas preparations havent got off to a very good start this year, I was sitting at the breakfast table writing to sister Barbara, to invite the family down for the holidays – we both love writing letters so only use the telephone if we have something urgent to say. On this occasion, perhaps I should have given her a ring. It might have saved some red faces.

"What day of the week is Christmas Day, this year?" I asked Fred. A simple enough question. He took down the calendar from the wall and looked at it.

"Monday," he said,


Youd think that after more than 20 years of marriage I would have learned by now not to believe a word he says, without double

checking, but he did have the calendar in front of him, after all.

It was two or three days later before I found out that it is actually on a Friday.

Oops! I wonder if Fred realises that I have now invited his mother-in-law (along with all the other in-laws) to stay from the Saturday before Christmas to the day after Boxing Day – 11 days in all instead of the five days I had intended. I cant wait to see his face when he finds out.

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30 October 1998



Ive never been to a farm sale before and I was quite surprised at what an Aladdins cave ours turned out to be.

Tools and equipment that hadnt seen the light of day in more than 20 years suddenly appeared in the back paddock, and Fred and friends stood huddled together in deep conversation trying to decide just what was that box thing with a handle, and was that piece of metal a spare for an old grey Fergie, or for the newer MF35, or maybe it wasnt part of a tractor at all.

A scythe that had seen better days, old milk buckets and an ancient oil pump; everything was dragged out from the dark recesses of the barn and laid in neat rows on the grass.

I love listening to auctioneers. It amazes me how they manage not to trip over their own tongues; and would anyone notice if they did? Somehow, with friends and neighbours milling round and chatting, it was almost turning into a fun day out. At least it was until the tractor came under the hammer.

I had a wild urge to shout out "You cant sell that. We need it!" But of course, we dont. Not any more. Wed decided to let Blue go too. Hes far too young to retire, and anyway he wouldnt be happy as a pet. I suppose the worst part of the day was watching him peering out through a car window as he was driven away. Neither a rather wavering chorus of "Bye Bye, Blue" or the fact that hed nipped his new owner on the bottom, managed to raise our spirits by more than a half-hearted smile.

So now the farm is deserted. No dog. No sheep. Even Michael and Emma have left us, to go off to university. Theres just Fred and me, and a lot of tidying up.

Live and deadstock gone, mostly for around half of what it would have fetched last year, we still have the farm itself to sell. Were getting all sorts coming to view; lawyers, surveyors, engineers, City types, even the occasional farmer!

Our last viewer arrived, with his wife, in a four-wheel drive and they set off with Fred to do the guided tour. It had been a rather wet day and the ground was muddy and slippery. In a field aptly named Stocky Knob, the driver lost control and slid down the bank. The car spun and tipped over onto its side. Luckily no one was hurt, other than a few bruises. Fred had a soft landing, on top of our visitor!

The problem was how to get the vehicle back onto four wheels. Who said we didnt need a tractor any more?

OK, so I was wrong. Yet again our neighbours came to the rescue and within short order the car was righted; and the trauma of a badly dented wing and door didnt seem to put the couple off as they carried on looking round, before driving off to have words with their insurance company. The same couple have been back since, for a second look. I do hope that they are the ones to buy as I rather took to them. It may sound silly, but leaving my home of over 20 years (and Freds home of a lifetime) doesnt seem quite so bad if we are handing it into the care of someone we like.

So, now we have to wait; and in the meantime theres still plenty of work to keep Fred occupied. He may not have any sheep to look after, but he still has a little while to go before he can fully retire.

Margaret Quartly

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25 September 1998



RETIREMENT, moving house and divorce are supposed to be the most stressful things anyone can go through in their lives.

Id like to add something else – waiting for A-level results. I can now say with some conviction that doing (or trying to do) three of these things at the same time is quite likely to end up with you considering the fourth! Though I suppose, strictly speaking, that were only doing two at once.

Weve found a nice house – not exactly what we were looking for but we like it anyway – so amid all the usual doubts weve started to pack boxes and make lists.

Im a great list-maker. The first is usually a list of all the lists Ill need. The major one this time is the ever growing list of all the people well need to inform, from friends and family to the tax man and ERNIE. Yes, we do have a premium bond. Just the one. Not surprisingly, in 40 years it has never won anything.

Through the blur of travelling to see houses, talking to our estate agent, solicitor, bank (most important), auctioneer and so on, seemingly ad infinitum, Ive been tiptoeing carefully around Emma, who has been likely to fly off the handle at the slightest thing no matter how trivial.

It came as a temporary relief when the big day arrived. Three Cs and a D; very respectable, but oh dear, she needed a B for the course shed set her heart on, and the leaflet said not to telephone the university before Monday.

Four more days of not knowing either way was more than flesh and blood could be expected to stand. I dont know about Emma, but I was quickly turning into a

nervous wreck. Luckily the powers-that-be took pity on us and there was a letter in Friday mornings post confirming her acceptance at Liverpool University.

It wasnt until that point that it dawned on me that this was just the beginning. Now, on top of helping to organise farm sale and house purchase, I also have to help fill out university forms, accommodation letters, applications for bank account, students union, railcard – the list seems endless.

Then theres trips to get photographs taken, to buy new shoes (practical as opposed to the wardrobe full of fashionable) and to get teeth checked and hair cut. In between all this of course, everyday life goes on.

I can only think I used to have an awful lot of spare time to sit around doing nothing in particular. Either that or theres something that isnt getting done and if thats the case I just hope it isnt something vital.

The "For Sale" notice has now gone up and Fred is sorting out all the stock for the farm sale, laying out the deadstock in neat rows in the paddock ready for the auctioneer, and fussing round the sheep to make sure theyre at their best. I think his sense of humour is beginning to suffer a little, under the strain. He went off to pare the sheeps feet and my comment that it was easy – they have a pair at the front and a pair at the back, didnt even raise the usual groan. Or maybe its just that my chronic jokes arent very funny.

Anyway, Michael and Emma will both be off to their respective universities soon, we will have moved house, hopefully the farm will have been sold, and Fred will have retired. So that will only leave one thing to worry about. How is Fred going to fill all that spare time?

Does anyone want a hand with their sheep?

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28 August 1998



IT was a toss-up whether to sit and write my diary or do the ironing. No contest.

I have a motto – never put off till tomorrow what you can put off till the day after! Theres very little housework that wont wait if you try hard enough. After all, if you dust today it will only need dusting again tomorrow, so why not just wait and clean up twice as much in one fell swoop?

Unfortunately the ironing isnt like that. If you sit and stare at it, it just sits and stares right back. I live in hope that eventually someone will get so desperate for clean clothes that theyll do their own, but so far no such luck.

Of course, Emma is a teen-ager and the role of a teen-

ager is to do absolutely

nothing, to go without rather than lift a finger and then to complain loudly that they are grossly put-upon and nobody cares that they have nothing clean and ironed to wear for tonights date.

Michael, on the other hand, is a male student. Always supposing that hed notice if his laundry wasnt returned, hed just carry on wearing the same clothes until theyd come on their own if you whistled. In an emergency he might be tempted to dig his shirt out of the pile and wear it in all its creased glory; if only as a manoeuvre designed to make me feel guilty.

Obviously Im a dreadful mother, not taking good care of my children at all, but I believe some of us were born to cook and clean and some of us were born to get out of as much of it as we possibly can. At least Fred does the washing up when Im at work, if he has time; though Im not sure if he realises where this thin end of the wedge could lead, and in the not too distant future. He has finally made the momentous decision to retire this year. Things are getting tougher every day and theres no one in the family interested in taking over the farm. So the time seems right to pull out and sell up.

Now everything is happening all at once. Twelve months ago retirement was just an idea for some time soon – maybe next year or the year after, or maybe not. Then, all of a sudden, the farm is on the market and the farm sale is organised. (Trust our luck, for Banbury market to close down just when we needed it.)

Were all agreed that we would like the farm to stay in one piece, so that means selling the house too and finding somewhere else to live; a big wrench for Fred who was born in the village and has lived here all his life. I think were swinging between excited anticipation of the adventure ahead, and blind panic.

House hunting is a novel experience for both of us as weve never moved before, but were learning. Estate agents obviously have special training when it comes to photography as, despite our "wonderful" summer, all the pictures weve seen so far show beautiful homes basking in warm sunshine, which from the assorted angles, must have been taken from half way up a tree or next doors roof. Not only can the camera lie, but were beginning to find out how often it does.

This is all a very big step, and Im not sure how Fred will cope with life without sheep, but one thing is certain – that pile of ironing is still sitting accusingly in the corner. Oh, well.

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31 July 1998



FOR the last few weeks our social diary has been bursting at the seams. It started in June with a cheese and wine in aid of Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, for which I was coerced into making a quiche.

My culinary skills are renowned throughout the area. Mention my pastry and people flock – to the nearest door in a desperate bid to escape! Anyway, my dish was returned empty and there were no reports of ill effects, so perhaps it wasnt too bad this time.

Next was our annual holiday: A weekend in Snowdonia. It goes without saying that we B&Bd on a farm. Now, Fred has quite a thick accent; a sort of Warwickshire/

Oxfordshire cross with plenty of "oohh, aarr" factor. Between them, Im sure that he and the normally Welsh-speaking farmer didnt understand above one word in three that the other said, but they still managed to chat for hours about the price of corn, the sheep trade and other riveting farming matters.

The following Saturday our niece Jayne married in the village church. Her husband is nicknamed Penfold as he supposedly resembles the cartoon character – even though his eyebrows dont float three inches above his head! It was a lovely day despite the rain, and the bride looked gorgeous. For once, the majority of guests had no farming connections so we actually enjoyed some "normal" conversation.

A week later it was party-time again. This time it was at the nursery, where my bosses, Mark and Jackie, were celebrating their silver wedding anniversary. This year is also the nurserys 20th anniversary, their daughters 21st and their sons 18th. It sounded like remarkably bad timing to me until I realised, there was only one party, one lot of organising – maybe theyre not so daft after all.

Having a party in a glasshouse may not seem too wise but family, friends and staff are all (well, mostly) respectable and there was nothing for HSE to worry about. At least, everyone was well behaved up until midnight, when we left them doing the Gay Gordons and the Military Two-Step, with no music, the DJ having

long gone.

Sunday gave us a day to recover from our late night, then it was off to the Royal Show. We only live a few miles away so go most days. Monday is for any business, followed by whatever I want to do. Fred has his choice (briefly) on Tuesday, followed by anything I missed earlier. On Wednesday Fred goes alone – Ive never understood his fascination for looking at sheep for hours on end. By Thursday I wasnt sure which hurt the most, our feet or our bank balance!

Well, Freds work jacket had seen better days and we did need kitchen chairs and that peach and brandy ice-cream was rather tasty!

We finished our social whirl with the annual Quartly

picnic – a get-together for any Quartly who wants to come along; entrance fee a plate of food. Sometimes we have visitors from as far afield as Canada and New Zealand.

Although we may only be as closely related as third cousin fifth time removed, or thereabouts, a remarkable number of the family are farming. It must be in the blood (most can trace a connection to Francis Quartly of the Ruby Red Devon cattle), and we often have a farm walk, though this year it was more of a farm-drive, in the dark and pouring rain. Still, we all enjoyed it and it was a fitting end to a flurry of social activity.

Maybe next weekend Ill get a lie in. Some hope!

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29 May 1998



Have you ever noticed the length of time you spend in a waiting room is in direct proportion to how boring the magazines are?

The dentist is running half an hour late and to pass the time you have a choice between looking at photographs of the rich and famous at a society wedding, or reading a story in a slightly dog-eared ladies magazine, only to find half way through that its part three of a five-part serial. If you do find something riveting you can guarantee that before you get to the end, youll be called through, and no

matter how often you go back, you never find the same article again.

I sat in the accident and emergency department of our local hospital the other week, waiting for Emma and her boyfriend Alan.

They had been involved in a minor car accident. Emma has been teased relentlessly about her parking – folk offer to get a taxi for the rest of the journey to the kerb – but going over the verge and parking in the ditch is carrying things a little too far!

Anyway, although they didnt seem to be suffering from much more than hurt pride and a few cuts and bruises, we thought it best not to take any chances. The notice on the hospital wall said that there was about an hours wait, so I assumed we were there for the evening and I picked up one of those new mens magazines.

Surprisingly, it was quite enjoyable, not to mention something of an eye opener. Especially the problems page, but thats another story. Id just started to read a rather long-winded joke that involved a Liverpudlian, a Mancunian and a West Indian (well, it makes a refreshing change from the Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman, doesnt it?) when Emma strolled back in.

There was no sign of Alan, which was a bit puzzling as hed really only come along to look after Emma. All hed suffered was a cut hand and I could have coped with the first-aid for that. After all Im a farmers wife; Im used to dealing with body parts that are bent and twisted. A little blood is easy. Eventually Alan arrived via the X-ray department. Typical, isnt it? I take one to see the doctor and its the other that gets the treatment.

Mind you, my family always has been a bit contrary, especially in matters of health. Fred tends to pass out at the first sight of a white coat (though I suppose that could just be an excuse to hold hands with a nurse) and its certainly not unheard of for someone to visit the surgery with, say, a painful foot, and to come away with ear drops or a bottle of cough mixture.

Luckily were usually a pretty healthy lot, but when we are ill it cant be with anything simple and straightforward. My sister, Barbara, is the only person I have ever heard of that has had cowpox. Come to think of it, I dont even recall hearing of a cow thats had cowpox. To add insult to injury, the closest Barbara has ever been to anything bovine is the milk she puts in her tea!

Actually it really is a horrible disease, like a milder form of smallpox, and I wouldnt wish it on anyone. Even so, I have the dubious honour of being the person that gave it to her, from a vaccination Id had.

Now theres not many people can say that, is there?

Emma and Margaret have been browsing the magazines at the local hospital following Emmas minor car accident. Fortunately no bones were broken.

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30 January 1998



I think Im normal. I suppose everyone says that, so perhaps my personal assertion doesnt count for a lot; but I do believe Im an average, ordinary wife and mother.

So why do my children think Im odd? Peculiar? Possibly even in need of professional counselling?

A mother should, I am told, complain at having to endure Top of The Pops every week. A mother should not join in and sing along. A proper mother, I am also advised, should periodically scream up the stairs to "turn that awful racket down!" She shouldnt ask to borrow the tape.

Admittedly, when Michael first played The Prodigy I thought the CD player had gone wrong and I was out of my chair and half way across the room in an attempt to prevent the player from self-destructing, before I realised that the noise was the music and its supposed to sound like that. And even that grows on you. Eventually.

I am also, apparently, sadly lacking in the "youre not going out of the house dressed like that!" department. When Michael came home from University with dark blue hair I rather liked it. It was short, neat and not bright enough to cause people to stare. What more could a mother ask for?

Emma insists Im into my second childhood. Personally, Im not so sure I ever left my first.

Of course, Christmas is a golden opportunity to let some of my "soft" out. This year we had a small family gathering (eight of us) at my sisters house. I have learnt over the years that Christmas at home is punctuated by phrases such as "Ill only be a minute" and "Ive just got this little job…" all of which involve wellies and winter coat and usually result in a strong smell of sheep and a rain of straw on the kitchen floor. Going to Barbaras is my secret weapon. Theres no excuse not to join in. TV is banned for the duration (though the video may be used in extreme circumstances) and out come the Ludo, Snakes and Ladders and other desperate games, followed swiftly by charades and assorted card games.

After being Old Maid five times in a row and beginning to feel just a little type-cast I suggested we had a change to Cheat. I had no idea my family was so dishonest and devious. They cheated with relish and, what is worse, with straight faces. Im sure I cant think who they get it from.

Well, Christmas is all over and done with now, for another year. I know its over because our local supermarket is clearing shelf space for the Easter eggs. Does anyone ever actually buy them at this time of year?

Mind you, Emma still has some left over from last year. She gave up chocolate for Lent. No chocolate bars or drink, no cake or even choc-chip cookies. She did very well and managed, with much moaning and complaining, to resist all temptation. Only now shes gone right off it altogether. Chocolate biscuits are back in but not chocolate on its own. Hence the Easter eggs.

I would have given her a helping hand if Id known, but unfortunately a mouse found them before I did. So Blue (the sheep-dog) can look forward to a very chocolaty New Year.

I have just been interrupted by my son. The conversation went something like this:

Michael: If you mention me, please dont use my real name.

Me: Why?

Michael: Because someone I know might read it.

Me: Oh, I see. Only the names have been changed, to protect the innocent.

Michael: Innocent?

Margaret Quartly: Does anyone actually buy Easter eggs yet?

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