In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments:
Spring is a bright memory against the damp summer. It brought me a visit and three presents from a country gentlemen, who out of the blue and without prompt or notes recited a poem about spring and sang about the cuckoo. These made me happy enough, but the next day he delivered a cardboard box the size of a Bible and done up with baler twine. I fished it out of my pigeon hole at lunchtime and inside found four fresh goose eggs.
Mindful of what happens in fairy tales to greedy folk I offered these around, but some of my insincerity may have showed as I got to keep them all. At home I drilled holes in top and bottom and nearly perforated my ear drums blowing egg out of shell. Goose eggs are great for cooking, and these were so free-range the yolks were almost neon. I used them to make brown bread and coffee ice cream, our favourite flavours (not together). Using a conversion of one goose to three hens’ eggs we ended up with so much that like a magic porridge pot it kept us in gluttony well into summer. The goose egg-shells I have kept as a tangible reminder of the kindness of strangers and the joys of working in a rural area.
The year has been punctuated by such episodes, some of which seem a little unreal as I look back on them now. I often get lost on home visits as I have a poor sense of direction and in the further reaches of the Downs satnav tends to collapse into muddled and repetitive orders to strike out across ploughed fields and rivers. But without so much reversing in the lanes I would not have stopped to see a patch of perfectly iced snowdrops under the hedge, or fields of poppies so thick amongst the wheat that I worry the organic farmer can’t keep going without doing something illegal.
Wrens remain my favourite bird, but I have great affection for the bunch of starlings that hang out on the power cables over the main road. And the barn owl that I spotted caught in my headlights as I headed uphill was a very thrilling sight. The gloss was slightly taken off it when my colleague told me he sees them quite often and now judges it a red letter day only if it’s a two-owl visit, but he’s a twitcher so hard to impress.
The best of these sightings was early one morning when I passed an enormous escapee pig, probably a metre and a half long, gambolling along the verge with a broad smile and two small boys in pursuit. I never found out where they had come from, or where they ended up. Perhaps they are still running free along the Ridgeway.
Through such events and the lives of the people I’ve met in 2012 I’ve been re-educating myself in the farming year. Though it is a huge book and requires an extra bungee and a fine day to do so, I have fetched Claire Leighton back from the library a few times to compare notes. Lots has changed since she wrote the text, but I can find plenty that I recognise in the illustrations. The rooks and chalky field corners behind the people in her woodcut landscapes look just like those I see daily. So I feel lucky to have the best of both worlds, a rural job and a city house. It’s been a very good year.