DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER
I was heading out the kitchen door this morning on my way to the tearooms when I was faced by a herd of cows in the garden. Not a rare sight in a dairy farm, but always a nerve-racking one. If there are 20 in here, where are the rest of them?
This was particularly worrying this morning, as our next door neighbours are hosting their daughters wedding today – in a marquee in their garden. So after blocking the exit with my father-in-laws car and a few old branches, I went running about looking for telltale dung trails to see if the worst had happened and there were indeed 180 milk cows dandering in and out through the floral displays and banqueting tables. Thankfully no, my washing seems to have been more of an attraction, so tonight we can join in the celebrations and laugh about what might have happened and no doubt the story will get better with the telling.
We have been doing a lot of story-telling over the past weeks as sadly my mum did not recover from her fall last month and died peacefully as we sat round her bed chatting and laughing, very aware that the doctors say hearing is the last sense to go. Funerals take place very quickly this side of the Irish Sea and so we had two days of friends and family, reminiscing and remembering a woman who was liked by all who met her. The Ballyhandwood Catering Squad (in other words my neighbours) went into action immediately and sandwiches, tea, wee buns and, when appropriate, strong drink, were prepared, served out and cleared up, without my ever having to lift a finger.
My remaining elderly relatives have a bittersweet experience with funerals; they just love seeing everyone together and all the old stories get told; theres always a great spread and plenty of photographs to argue over. At the same time, "its another one gone" and the reality of life and death comes very close. I suppose I feel it, too, now that my mum has gone. As I said to Johnston on the night she died, "Im the mummy now" and although Ive been a mother for over 16 years, the significance of what I have to live up to is only hitting me now.
My New Year resolution of trying to see the governments Health and Safety requirements as a challenge, rather than a threat, has been very severely tested this month. The recent publicity about children under five visiting farms has hit us really badly on the open farm and we are not quite sure if we will be able to weather the storm. A very large part of me wants to fight back and ask parents what sort of life do they want for their children – one wrapped in cling film in front of the computer screen pressing buttons or one where you can experience the fun of being with a real live animal. Instead we have decided just to get on with the work with the children whose parents and teachers know that life is about weighing up the risks and making balanced decisions rather than reacting to yet another scare story.
Home again: Cows have been wandering amongst the washing.