26 October 2001



Living so close to the city has its good and bad points. The girls love it and I enjoy the convenience of shops and schools so close at hand, but it does have its drawbacks for farming. For us, one is getting the dairy cows across what used to be small country roads and now are main commuter routes into Belfast.

Extended grazing means an extended area to be covered and so we have no choice but to cross roads to get to the fields. Even though we wait until after nine oclock we still snarl up the traffic on its way to the main civil service buildings. Today I counted 40 cars banked up, even with us only letting the cows across in batches. The worry is always when the queue snakes around blind corners, because the cars fly down our wee road and accidents are quite common. So far we have not been the cause of any, but it is always a relief to close the gate on the cows when they are all safely across.

Now the Open Farm is closed for the season we have put up the table tennis table in our tearoom area. Johnston is always really keen to get it ready straight away, partly because he loves playing table tennis, but I also think there is an element of celebration that he has got rid of the visitors!

His brother Tim is also a keen player and the fraternal tournaments still have all the knife-edge tension as when they first got the table – over 30 years ago now. However, no one is keener than Tims ten-year-old son, Patrick.

As the only male of his generation (eight older sisters and cousins) he finds it hard to find a willing partner and has resorted to phoning Johnston on his mobile in the middle of the afternoon to ask if hes free for an hour to play! His best bet is Jennys boyfriend Aaron and he seems to have a built-in radar to detect when Aaron is visiting. He really is a very polite young boy and doesnt like to be pushy, so has taken to wandering past our living room window carrying his table tennis bat and waving in at the courting couple. Jenny counted him walking past 10 times last Sunday before Aaron took the hint and asked him for a game.

The closing of the Open Farm also means the slaughter of the two pigs we rear over the summer. As one of them took a nip at me the week before they went to the abattoir, I was quite happy to see them go and I really have no sense of the meat that lands on my kitchen table two weeks later having any connection with the piglets I hand reared.

Normally its just a question of bagging it and freezing it, but this year the butcher and I must have got our wires crossed because I was faced with cuts of meat that I barely recognised. I did say I wanted more with the crackling left on, but I got everything complete with fat and skin. This was delivered on a Saturday afternoon when we were expecting dinner guests that evening. By the time Nancy, my mother in law, arrived to help I was almost in tears. It seemed like I was never going to get through chopping and slicing the vast mountains of pink flesh that were dripping blood all over the floor. Nancy chopped, I bagged, Johnston carried it to the freezer, Amy made a pudding, Jenny washed the floor and Helen hoovered and by eight oclock we were ready for our guests. They all agreed that the pork in cider was delicious and were very understanding when I fell fast asleep at 10.30.

Its now three oclock, so I just have time for a cup of coffee before I go to do battle with the traffic on the Ballyhanwood Road. Weapons required are wellie boots, a large stick and sympathetic smile for the road rage sufferers.

Courting road rage: Judiths herd has a main road to cross.

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