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We’d arrived at Shorts and I was unloading the livestock from the trailer…
Carefully removing my hens from the travelling crate, soothing and clucking, I put them into their future home. They shook themselves huffily, looked at me sharply, and with feathers still ruffled began scratching a good dust bath to get rid of the horrors and indignities of the journey.
It was the mid-seventies, summer and blisteringly hot.
I was grimy, sweaty and gasping for a drink. Tara, my Irish setter, raised a forlorn eyebrow from the shade under the trailer; she reluctantly got up and followed me limply towards the cottage where a deep rhythmic thudding echoed from the bowels of the earth.
The thuds were coming from the well. Growing heaps of glistening wet iron oxide stained rock, rubble and clay were appearing by its side. I peered in…
“You must be done in. Stop for bit…please. Want a drink or something? Really, stop. Come on…come up for some air. You’ll get what ever it is, you know, the lack of oxygen thingy. I’ve got the goats and hens settled and need a break before I start on the rest. I’ll make us a drink. Here…give me your hand, I’ll give you a pull.”
I lay down as far as my pregnant belly would allow, put my arm down the opening, grasped a cold, clammy hand, sat back on my haunches and pulled. A half-naked, mud-smeared, Gollum-like creature appeared – Geoffrey.
Shorts’ well drew from below the water table, as was common in those parts. Faced with stone, it was a nine to ten foot deep hole covered with a housing of disintegrating cob, wood and corrugated iron.
An old hand pump was still connected, but a mechanical one had been fitted twenty years ago or so. This fine modern innovation made it possible for water to be pumped up into a rusting header tank perched precariously on a loose-planked platform in the rafters of the shippen. In turn this fed the cold water tap in the kitchen and provided hot water via the back boiler of the rayburn.
In theory, at least. On our arrival the header tank was empty. Thinking it just hadn’t been filled we confidently started up the pump but after a few minutes realised nothing was happening, went to check, and found the well empty!
We had no water.
Geoffrey went down to see if he could spot the problem. Unblock a spring; remove an offending rock…anything. But there was nothing to be done. The well was dry. We really didn’t have any water. Fuck!
There was another well of sorts on the far side of the yard from which a slow, rust-orange, oil-slicked, trickle emanated, but this was no spring more of a burping. For generations it had watered the stock on the holding, but not now, not during the drought. Could this be turned into our life saver? Given time perhaps…. And in the meantime?
So, as peasants do all over the world, I walked the quarter of a mile over the meadows to the river and carried a bucket back up to the farmstead. I boiled some water for a brew.
Bath time? Laundry? Down to the river again, and again, and again.