I was getting the paper from Cheriton post office the other day when a cheery voice said: “Hello, Charlie”.
This is always a terrifying moment for me and, I suspect, many other farmers of a certain age. Our lonely job means we’re useless at remembering names – and that’s before you take into account all those burgers I ate in the early 1980s and all that OP spray I sploshed about in the late 1980s. It’s a wonder I can remember anything all. Now, where was I? Who am I?
Oh yes. The voice belonged to a friendly female face, but I was damned if I knew who she was. She guessed as much and helped me out a bit. “I’m the lady with the mad dog – we met the other day!” and she beamed triumphantly as if that was enough information.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Was she in charge of the springer (a “rescue” one, inevitably) that had slaughtered my daughter’s helpless and gentle Cayuga ducks? No – that was an au pair from a nearby village.
Perhaps she was the owner of one of the two lurcher/greyhound crosses that had been let loose “for exercise” and had chased down and killed a deer on our lawn. No – that had ended with cross words with some local ladies, and the arrival of the police (you can’t blame me – two lurchers chasing deer is anyone’s cue to ring Plod). Somewhat unsurprisingly, there hasn’t been a friendly greeting since.
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Was she linked to the yellow mongrel that Hazel found savaging a fawn in the middle of Big Field? No, that was a man – and angry one, too, when we suggested that he ought to have his dog under control. “It’s National Trust, innit!” was his logic.
Could she be the owner of the huge white clumber that has been seen regularly coursing the fields, chasing hares, deer – anything it fancies? It might be – but I’ve never seen an owner anywhere near it.
Might she be linked to the owner of yet another springer who is allowed to run loose through the fields (even when there are sheep in them) because it has a bell round its neck? Hmm – unlikely. I threatened two barrels of number 5 when I last saw him.
“My terrier chased your seed drill!” she finally volunteered – helpfully.
“Of course!” I laughed. Mind you, it was funny at the time. As I hurtled along the headland of the Hangar field, I became aware that something small and yappy was trying to rip a tyre off the back corner of the Horsch.
Despite the near-death experience her little dog had had, the nice lady was quite happy to say it was her fault, and she was very sorry, and we parted the best of new friends – even if I couldn’t remember her face three weeks later.
Back home, I settled down with my paper, turned to the obituaries (now that’s a sign of age), and couldn’t help but chuckle. There was a long and glowing write-up of the life and achievements of Gary Dahl, an American freelance copy editor and entrepreneur. His most famous achievement was the “pet rock”, the perfect maintenance-free present for anyone who has absolutely no idea of how to train and look after a living breathing pet, like a springer, a lurcher or even a terrier – in fact, any sort of dog.
I wonder if there’s room on the shelves for pet rocks at Cheriton village store.
Charlie is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, in Hampshire.