Bella Hall: A time for planning (and shooting)

I am usually upbeat in January. I like the fact that the year lies ahead like a blank canvas, waiting for us to decide what to fill it with.

I am an “ideas” person (Dave dreads it when I start a conversation with the words “I’ve been thinking…”) and I love to have plenty of plans on the go.

This year, however, started sluggishly. We have only just managed to galvanise ourselves after New Year’s Eve – a late night with friends, brilliant food, a “light it and leg it” firework and some wicked homemade blackcurrant vodka.

I decided to start 2011 with the Herculian task of attempting to organise my family (I have six siblings) into meeting up this year, mainly to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday.

Trying to get a group of 29 together, at a time which is convenient and a venue affordable for all, is quite an undertaking. For a family who actually do like each other, it’s ironic that none of us live anywhere near each other.

After a lot of emails we’ve decided to aim for October half term and the venue will be in Ireland, somewhere near where mum and dad live.

Dad, unfortunately, has been in hospital as his leg had swollen to twice its usual size. He appears to have a problem with a couple of lymph nodes and needs a biopsy, but will have to wait until the consultant who performs biopsies visits the hospital. Such are the problems of living in a rural part of Ireland.

Here on the farm, Dave is always acutely aware of the precious time that the winter months give him. He uses it as planning time and has been preoccupied with a new opportunity that has presented itself. The other way in which he uses his “spare” time (other than spending it with the family) is to do his winter “networking”. Shooting, in other words.

This season has not been his best. It started so badly that he decided to go to the opticians. Having been nagging him to go for several years, mainly because his glasses are unfashionably round, I was secretly pleased.

Having established that his eyesight had deteriorated only slightly, he decided the problem must be that he wasn’t shooting enough. Keen to make the most of any remaining opportunities this year, he and some friends hatched a cunning plan.

His next two shooting dates seemed likely to clash. One was in Norfolk on a Thursday and the other in Aberdeen on the Friday. He was persuaded that he could do both. Shoot in Norfolk on the Thursday, get the train to London with his old college friends, board the sleeper train to Aberdeen, arrive there at 7.30 Friday morning, taxi to his Scottish hosts, enjoy the day’s shooting, stay Friday night, shoot again Saturday morning, get the train home Saturday afternoon. Sleep on Sunday. Just like the old days!

As it turned out one of his friends was unable to go, their Scottish hosts were invited to Birkhall (look it up if you’re interested) on the one night they were there and the sleeper train was like spending the night as a battery hen with a hangover, resulting in about two hours sleep. I’m not sure Dave’s shooting was improved by the whole experience.

Back on the farm, he has been spending a great deal of time trundling back and forth to Reydon with the cattle trailer, taking expectant mothers there and bringing young heifers back to Metfield.

This is time consuming and requires a lot of patience as you often have to pull over for traffic to pass due to the snail’s pace at which you are travelling. Nor is the cattle trailer the most easily manoeuvrable of objects.

On one occasion, I had borrowed something from a shop in Southwold which needed returning the next day, but I’d forgotten that I would be at work and unable to return the item. Dave was taking some cattle to Reydon and I managed to persuade him to take a detour into Southwold once he had dropped off the trailer at the farm.

But having unloaded the cows, he decided not to unhitch the trailer as it would take too long and proceeded to drive into the middle of Southwold. I winced at the thought of Dave and his cattle trailer in the middle of town. I’m surprised it didn’t make the local papers…

Life on the farm in winter is spent wisely in the workshop or with the cows, the guys take some holiday and Dave has time to prepare for the year ahead and take a bit of time out himself.

Our son, Will, has been playing a great deal of hockey and been training as part of the Suffolk Academy hockey programme, which he has really enjoyed.

Weekends are spent at the side of a hockey pitch or carting the younger two to various birthday parties or friends’ houses.

Combined with Sunday lunches with family and friends I couldn’t think of any better ways of spending the extra “time” that winter affords.

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