DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER
POOR old 1999 – if ever there was a year to be overlooked this is it. Everyone is so absorbed by the millennium that 1999 seems totally irrelevant.
We always have a New Years Eve party in our house and the main topic of conversation was "What will we do next year for the big celebration?"
It was decided to change nothing. We will meet up in our kitchen, eat whatever arrives on the table, take part in Johnstons beloved table tennis tournament and try to ignore the fact that the children are wrecking the house – same as always!
Things have already been changing around home though. This has been a different winter break for us as, for the first time in living memory, we have also had a break from milking cows. Timothy, my brother-in-law who manages that side of things, has been changing over to what we call here the "New Zealand system" of dairying which includes drying the cows off all at one time. What a wonderful idea to do it over Christmas when the Open Farm is closed as well. It is strange though – when I head out into the yard in the afternoon and there is no familiar drone of the milking machines it seems almost eerily quiet. Usually silence at that time means something has broken down.
We decided many years ago to close the Open Farm to visitors during the months of November, December and January and have never regretted it. Not only does it give us a decent period for maintenance but it also gives us all a time to be a normal family without the constant demands of the public.
The days when our girls played outside with the visiting children are long gone and while they love the money they earn serving in the cafe or doing reception work, they enjoy these three months of privacy – as do Johnston and I.
There has been a new development over the past couple of years in that Johnston seems to have got himself the reputation of being "not too busy at this time of the year with access to a trailer". A dangerous combination for anyone with a lot of non-farming friends. So he seems to spend most of November moving furniture, delivering manure, clearing out the church store, taking items to charity sales and getting rid of the rubbish afterwards.
Christmas is the highlight of the period and the "craic is mighty" for the whole month. We are part of a very large family and everyone feels the need to entertain at least once. This year we had Christmas dinner at Hilary and Timothys home – all 23 of us around the one table. It was a tremendous feat of engineering involving considerable measuring, furniture moving, squeezing and a seating plan which could not be deviated from. All possible problems were foreseen and everyone got a hanky and went to the toilet before we sat down, so there were no disasters at all, despite the vast quantity of food and drink consumed.
In true Irish fashion we finished off the evening being entertained by the children. A wide variation of talent was displayed and all equally applauded. A wonderful night – and no cows to milk in the morning!
The Morrow family – Johnston, Judith and daughters (l to r) Helen, Amy and Jenny – plan their next New Years Eve celebrations.