DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER
JOHNSTON and I have been married for 20 years this month. Our tenth anniversary was spent with the children at a local folk park celebration picnic on the grass – so our plan was to do this one in style.
A week away in the sun, we decided, with all the luxuries a travel brochure could provide. Full board for a start – and free cocktails, well why not! Plenty of water sports for Johnston and a wee bit of interesting history and a few old churches for me.
Greece seemed a good idea or, even better, the Caribbean. We even had our travel companions lined up, too, as Johnstons sister Susan and his cousin Peter were both married the same year as us and six seemed a good diplomatic number. It meant two could sneak off for a romantic moment should the mood take them.
Well then came foot-and-mouth and reality hit home. So Johnston, Susan, her husband, Rocky and I are just home from a long weekend in Cork in the tent and it was great. No cocktails, but we did drink Guinness while watching the rugby on the pub TV, feasted on lobster and other local gourmet delights and there was plenty of history and churches for me. Pity about Johnstons water sports though and the sun. Well, you cant have green fields and constant sunshine.
Amy is off on her holidays on Monday. I suppose it is not really a holiday as such, although sun and fun are two big components. She is taking part in the Ulster Project, a cross-community development programme which takes Catholic and Protestant 15-year-olds and, over a six-month period, they learn about each other, themselves, their history, do a bit of public service and spend a month in America.
Jenny was involved in it two years ago and we were delighted when Amy got the same opportunity. Jenny is still in regular contact with both the American and local teenagers and, while we are no doubt a lot further along the road to reconciliation in Northern Ireland than when I was 15, we still have a long way to go – especially when you see the polarised voting in our recent election.
One of their tasks is to put on a big show for the American families and we were invited to preview it last Saturday. As we say here,a real "Come-all-ye". Everyone takes part, talent or no, and the result was indescribable. I have never heard Molly Malone sung quite so badly and, as for the yellow raincoated dancers who performed Raindrops keep falling on my head while twirling golf umbrellas, its just as well the audience were relatives!
Yet it was a great night: the kids had a wonderful time and certainly we all did some laughing and every parent there felt very proud of their offspring and not a little wobbly about the prospect of them leaving for America in the next few days.
Getting back to the dreaded F&M, we are opening the visitor farm at the beginning of July. The decision to do so was not an easy one, not only because of the still-present risk, but also because we have spent the last four months wondering if being a visitor attraction was really what we wanted to do with the rest of our working lives.
Im still not sure what the answer to that is, but I do know we havent been able to come up with any better ideas of how to make a living. And so Im back to being Mrs Streamvale the farmers wife to half the children in Belfast. Ill be handing out wee chicks, singing happy birthday, trying to explain the morals of modern dairy farming and cleaning the toilets. Such is life!
On the look out for a new opportunity… Judith and family are thinking about a change of direction.