Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Goats , Stirks and Beehvies

When I came to write my new book, Nobody's Child, it was all about the things I did as a young woman, how I lived on a farm and kept animals.My husband was a the kind of man who looked on the world as something to be enjoyed and if not that at least started on . He was a lover of new ideas and doing things he knew very little about and had not come across before.
So he bought a goat.Not being one to do things by halves we ended up with several goats. I suppose it was the age we were. Things like that make me want to run back to the city now but we lived in an old farmhouse seventeenth century and had a lot of room, five hundred acres which nobody told us we couldn't move across ( we bought a trials bike and rode up and down the fields on it), huge buildings with nothing in them, so many that if the house took up one side, the buildings took up the other three sides. It was a complete square with a huge duckpond out the back.
I loved it right from the beginning. it was the happiest time of my life. When I was twenty nine Richard's father died and that was when things changed.  He had adored his father and found him dead in his workshop. He had been having heart problems but neither of us had lost anybody we loved up to then. It made us into adults. It also made us want a house of our own and a child of our own and things became very complicated.
We were happy after that but we had lost the innocence of youth. We also, I think, lost a lot of the ineptness of youth. Thinking back we made horrible mistakes with our animals and put them through pain through ignorance but we also tried to give them a good life in the country.
In my new book there is a big scene where Jake and Kath, the two main characters, acquire beehives which I knew a lot about because that was another of our ventures. They put them in the garden in the right spot ( it was so long since I had kept  bees that I had to read up about it ) but then a stirk leaps over the fence and knocks them over. In our case it was a goat and it was our own fault because she was on a long rope, as far as I can remember, and she managed somehow to get near the hives and knock one of them over.
We laughed about it so much later but the scene in the book is exactly what happened. She has long hair and the bees get caught up in it. He runs to the river with the dog, she goes after him and they have to wade through to the other side to get away.
The bees have to be brushed, dead, from her hair and for several days afterwards nobody can go anywhere near the beehives because the bees were so cross with us they would sting us.
It was difficult, we were living in a big caravan, building a house and couldn't leave the caravan for days. For the people in the story it was less serious. They managed to get the hive turned upright again.
Writing this was such joy. Also in the story they take the bees to the heather and we did this, we took them right up to the top of Weardale so that they could make heather honey. These are joyful memories and although I'm not taken to reading my own books I do like to remember where these  scenes came from and how happy we were and how much we had. We were young and rather stupid but our lives were filled with joy and goats and bees, ducks and sheep, pigs and hens, dogs and cats.