Thursday, 3 December 2015

The Great Escape

Ever since we arrived here over ten months ago, one of the things which has really niggled at me is the fact that you can’t escape the place on foot without negotiating a complicated obstacle course of barbed wire fences, fast-flowing streams, steep-sided ditches and a series of five bar gates. All very well if you are in training for the next Tough Mudder competition, less than ideal if you have an increasingly heavy baby strapped to your front with a hyperactive three year old hanging onto one hand and an over-enthusiastic Springador bouncing around at the end of the lead in the other. So by way of an early Christmas present, my wonderful husband set about constructing a beautiful set of stiles across each of the fences leading from the house to the road and a mightily impressive bridge to take us all safely across the ever-rising stream/white water rapids and out on to the hill.

Thomas Telford eat your heart out!

After much measuring and scribbling and scratching of heads the wood was ordered and delivered, a bewildering array of power tools and cutting devices (I do often wonder on occasions like these how many are actually essential and how many are actually just for fun) were loaded into the back of the Landrover and off we trundled down to the front field to embark upon the project. I think it would be fair to say that my husband’s ‘attention to detail’ (borderline obsessiveness??) reached a whole new level on this project with every single piece of wood lined up to the millimetre with a set square and a spirit level before being screwed into place.  Despite the driving wind and rain and working in two foot of thick, squelchy mud (a killer workout for the thighs if ever there was one) it was all going swimmingly well. Right up until the point that is when we attempted to pack up shop for the day and leave the field. You know the tagline that Landrover are fond of peddling out in all those glossy Sunday supplements, the one where they tell you that a Landrover can go anywhere? Well, turns out they were wrong. Clearly they have never attempted to drive one across a boggy field in the middle of Wales in the middle of winter. In all my years working in the City, there was often mention to the fact that colleagues felt “stuck in a rut” with their project or their career. Well now I have a whole new understanding of that particular expression. Watching the tyres on the poor Landy (my husband’s absolute pride and joy – I often wonder whether he actually loves it more than me) getting deeper and deeper into the ruts in the field it became increasingly apparent that it was going nowhere, despite attempts to push it, get carpet under the wheels and rock it back and forwards. Unfortunately for our pride, this whole fiasco took place close to the side of the road where a steady stream of local farmers and neighbours were passing and quite obviously slowing down for a nosy and a giggle. I could just imagine the look on their faces as they thought, “Look at those stupid bastards at it again, will they ever learn?!” So as night fell, it was with heavy heart that my husband bid goodnight to his chariot of mud and we retreated inside. The following morning I came downstairs to find my husband frantically Googling and YouTubing the instructions on how to engage the 4X4 function on our tractor (another classic for our farming neighbours) before he headed out to rescue his truck. A complicated series of knots and ropes later and the Landrover was finally pulled free from the mud, a lucky escape given that a day later the whole field flooded yet again.

Stuck in a rut.... turns out you can't actually take a Landrover anywhere

Tractor to the rescue (please ignore the bird in this photo)

Speaking of escapes, we also managed to leave the house after dark this week for the ubiquitous Date Night, our first since January (I know, that’s what having kids does for romance!). All dolled up, animals fed and watered and children all cooperatively asleep on time for once, we headed off to our nearest pub, or ‘tafarn’ as they are affectionately known in Welsh. A wet and windy Thursday night in the middle of November in a tiny Welsh village with a population of c. 100 people, you could be forgiven for expecting to have a calm, peaceful evening with nothing but each other’s eyes to gaze fondly into whilst listening to the crackle of an open fire and perhaps the soothing dulcet tones of a male voice choir in the background. I suppose I should have known something was up when we struggled to find a spot in the car park before having to negotiate a bevy of heavily inebriated chaps attempting to leave the establishment in a fleet of taxis. As we opened the door we were greeted by a sea of Welsh farmers and their families at the wake of the much-loved and respected local gentleman. The expression ‘utter carnage’ does not adequately describe the scene as we stood six deep at the bar for over half an hour waiting for a long awaited pint. It was actually worse than a Friday night on Clapham High Street. Finally with our drinks in hand and an agreement made with the barman to bring us whatever food they had left in the kitchen (supplies of almost every alcoholic and soft drink and food item having been depleted after the afternoon’s hard mourning), we got to know pretty much every person in the pub and successfully managed not to actually have to utter a single word to each other all night. Shots of Jägermeister were ordered and downed, weird and wonderful local specialties sampled (a particular highlight being Guinness with a good slug of wild cherry cider in it – known simply as “John’s pint”) and at one point later in the evening I found myself standing at the top of a ladder precariously admiring one of my new friends’ roofing skills. Later still I became engaged in a conversation about robotic milking with a local dairy farmer and actually found myself deeply humbled by the technology and IT prowess of this fellow who was world leading in his field, having had dignitaries from China visiting his pioneering farm that very week. Having worked in IT consulting for so many years in the South East I had mistakenly thought that there would be no call for advanced computer systems, data analytics and digital technology, let alone global business trips in deepest, darkest North Wales – yet another example of how wrong many of my preconceptions about moving here have been.

The next morning, slightly the worse for wear and a wee bit sore from all the strenuous bridge construction, yet another of our preconceptions was shattered. Our neighbours, curious about the fury of activity taking place in the corner of our field, came for a wander to see what we were up to. Having spent many years locked in a bitter dispute with the estate landowner where we used to live in Hampshire over a tiny parcel of land where we used to grow our spuds, we were fully expecting some sort of discussion about where boundaries began and ended and who had responsibility for maintaining this and that. It turns out nothing was further from their mind and they looked quite bemused that we should even mention anything of the sort. It turns out that around here people are not quite so precious about their land and common sense is king when it comes to dealing with the folks next door. Amen to that. And so we spent the rest of the morning skipping about on our new bridge, playing Pooh sticks and jumping off the steps, happy in the knowledge that we can go off for a wander more easily now whenever we want to, although if my daughter has her way I’m not sure we’ll ever get much further than the bridge!

And off we go! (maybe)

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