I’m writing this with mixed feelings: I’m on my way back to London. Don’t get me wrong, it’s only for the weekend but still, it’s the beginning of the end of another stint in the comparable wilds of Pembrokeshire.
Rhys will be back by the time I get there, and obviously, I am looking forward to seeing him again. I hoped when he left China last December that I would no longer have to wave him off to the other side of the world for work. Certainly not on a regular basis, but I’ll not get into that. When I first found out that I would have to get used to the rhythms of a seriously long distance relationship for some of the time, I was not impressed. For starters, catching up with someone whose daylight hours are so significantly different has a serious impact on my sleeping patterns. And that means it has a significant impact on my mood. But now that I am not tied to a desk in the smoke, I now see his jaunts as a chance to escape the city.
This time, I have brought my boys home with me. More than anything, a few Welsh(ish) events coinciding with my visit meant that I could see whether Milo and I could put our practice into action and compete over fences with some success. Our weekly forays cross country schooling is all very well, but in order to fully justify it, I needed to try my hand.
We turned up at the show late as usual. We always underestimate the length of our journey and are always ambitious in our planning- preparations to leave inevitably take longer than anticipated. That left my mother with a highly contagious strain of stress and we were fraught before even getting to the ringside. We needn’t have panicked: the ponies were angelic – albeit slightly excitable and bouncy angels – and all was well on the jumping front. Lolly and Paps, Maggie’s steeds of choice retained their halos for the duration of the day; Lolly even brought home a reserve championship to boost her ratings in the favourites chart. Milo and I managed a second and a fifth in our working hunter classes. I was thrilled with this, as it means that he isn’t one for getting a bout of stage fright when expected to perform away from home. But his halo slipped drastically in the middle. In an intensely disappointing step backwards, he had something of a ‘meltdown’ in his flat class, as if unable to handle the stress of it. I’ll savour the memories of winning on him just in case I should be waiting a horribly long time for him to win again. It’s like that old saying, ‘when he’s good he’s awesome, but when he’s bad is really quite the little monster’. Granted, I don’t think the saying is quite that and granted, I am prone to wild exaggeration but you get the gist.
He is frustrating in this way. On the beach yesterday, he calmly took the flags, the people, the surfers and crashing waves in his stride. Still, I need to keep pushing his boundaries, to keep testing hi, because that’s what keeps my faith in his future with me alive. As well as a large dose of grim determination.
My mother’s birthday was something of an experience. Mistaking her passion for her job as a general love of her workplace, Farmer Tim took her to A&E in his first bout of illness in years. Or even forever. A week later his ailment remains a mystery but at least the hospital staff managed to rule out a heart attack or appendicitis, both dreaded diagnoses by Maggie and I as we tried to negotiate milking and running the show at home without him to oversee proceedings. Whilst we coped absolutely fine with the help of a few FaceTime conversations to explain how to turn on and off various machines, we were relieved to see him put on his wellies within about 14 seconds of getting home nearly 14 hours later. We are even more relieved to find we still have a home 10 days later. Clearly we didn’t cause a minor explosion in the milk’s bacteria levels and thus causing his pockets to incur a tariff. If he hadn’t had a heart attack before, that might have brought one on.
Still, it got us all thinking about the future on the farm. Whilst Farmer Tim is not keen to forego his wellies entirely, he is now three years past his original retirement goal. That’s not because he can’t bring himself to retire or needs to carry on, it’s just that no one can make their mind up what the farm should do next.
There’s no doubt that things would have probably been more straightforward if we had been born male. True, we did just about convince Maggie, aged approximately six, that she was actually born Humphrey but that too much time in the bath caused her willy to wash away, but this was all in jest. Still, the feminist in us both says that there is no reason why such a gender stereotype should hinder life choices. So perhaps the real hinderance in making the decision of what to do with the farm is a far more complex predicament.
Of course there’s the uncertainty regarding agriculture post-Brexit, but I’m not prepared to go into that on here. You’ll fall asleep. And logistics such as planning restriction and investments and business plans are enough to make my head swim when it comes to the inevitable diversification options available to us. That’s before even starting on the plethora of options afforded us in terms of possible projects to embark upon.
Part of the real issue lies here with our propensity towards going with the flow, allowing life to take us in whichever direction it chooses. Notting Hill, for example. Maybe we’re classic examples of a Millennial anxiety whereby we have been told we can do anything we want to, be anyone we want to, so there are so many things we could be and do that we don’t know where to begin. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe we’re just a little bit indecisive and a lot scared of the realities of borrowing significant sums of money that will inevitably need to be handed back. The ‘what-ifs’ involved in this leave me in a cold sweat.
History, I think, also plays its part. Our great grandfather bought a house and a small amount of acreage. Our grandfather built the landmass and the business, and FT has made it flourish further. So what the hell do we do to make our contribution to the success of the farm? Just thinking of it makes the opening of Queen’s Under Pressure ring out in my head.
Then there’s the lifestyle. FT is a worker, there’s no doubt. And whilst neither of us is afraid of hard work, FT has the advantage of living and breathing farming. It is his passion, his pride and his joy. My passion is Welsh ponies, my pride is Prince and my joy is cake. So is it possible to graft for well over 12 hours a day every day of the year if what you’re doing isn’t what you love doing above all else? Is it possible to keep going all day after you’ve woken every two hours through the night for six weeks during calving to check on your cows if it’s not your passion? It’s also quite the imposition on your own lifestyle at the helm of such an enterprise. It’s not so easy to stay out until 4am, to visit friends, to show ponies or even just catch up on Made in Chelsea. That’s Maggie, not me. I’m a drama addict, and make it a Scandi-noir, please.
Maggie has always enjoyed being out on the farm and if anything, I have increasingly enjoyed it as I have grown older. This last week, watching calves scamp and folly out in the field for the first time, taking their first nibbles at the grass beneath their feet and supping tentatively at the water tanks is pure pleasure. Likewise, it’s wonderful experiencing a warm greeting from the rough tongues and itchy ears of yearling heifers. But have I grown to truly appreciate it for what it is, or is it just novelty and nostalgia that makes me long for greener scenes when I’m back in Notting Hill?
So my home is at a junction, my sister and father standing on the edge of a potentially monumental shift. It feels strange to dip in and out, to have opinions and ideas of my own but be unable to act upon them. One day maybe I will have a little rural enterprise of my own to shape how I fancy. For now, I’m on my way back to London, overall content to allow life with Rhys to take me where it will. Within reason.