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The car glissades off the road bucking and lunging across a frozen buckled verge unexpectedly stalling on a ridge of iron-hard mud only a whisker away from the pole…I can scarcely believe it, I’ve stopped, I’m unharmed, the car’s okay, and, because of the freezing conditions, not even stuck – as far as I know. My gods were with me. I’m shaking so much I can’t get the car into reverse let alone co-ordinate clutch and accelerator. Eventually I manage, and after some manoeuvring, dislodge the car from the ridge and gradually inch backward onto the lethally icy corner. I limp home at a snail’s pace overwhelmed by emotions. I creep into the house trying to avoid being heard or seen, but Ben finds me and engulfs me in a hug – it’s too much, I burst into tears. I mumble about the animals and scrabble around for my overalls.

“No mum, no! You don’t have to go out there it’s dark, it’s cold. Rob will do them. Hey, look at me…it’s not been a normal day, look at you- you’ve had it. The animals will be okay. You’re ill. It’s freezing. Hey mum, don’t.”

I look at him and feel overcome – my son, so concerned, so gentle, so caring and he doesn’t even know about the might have been accident, his love is breaking me up. “Pip, I know it seems stupid, but I want to. I think, just for a moment I need the space, the peace. Please. I’m not being difficult. I promise I’ll stop when Rob gets back. Are you coping with the New Year’s Eve meal? The goose, all the bits? The pudding?”

“Yes, everything’s fine. Not probably as you’d do it, but it’s just fine. Don’t worry. But please, don’t do too much out there. Come in soon, won’t you?” Reluctantly he lets me go.

I stumble out to the animals and, as I know they would, they calm me, ground me. They sense my anguish and even though it’s way past their normal feeding time, they don’t bawl and jostle, they don’t even demand.  Instead they’re quiet, conciliatory; concerned liquid-treacle eyes follow my every movement, dew-dropped noses and rasping tongues tentatively nudging and exploring my hands, arms and hat. Gentle reassurance. I curl up on the straw where Robert finds me. In a couple of hours it’ll be time to welcome in the New Year!

The following few days passed in a haze of phone calls, journeys and doctor-nurse-hospital arrangements on behalf of my mother. Clamouring, pleading, demanding; questioning, challenging, probing. Eventually I was persuaded to take her to the main hospital in Plymouth in case the local cottage hospital could not provide all the treatment needed. Also, I was assured that return transport would be far quicker from there.

Her triage treatment in A&E was excellent and in a couple of hours we found she’d fractured her knee cap. From then on it was a nightmare. Treatment was to be ‘conservative’ – in other words nothing would be done, not even pain relief. Mobilise, I was told, get her moving (with a fractured knee cap? with nothing to help?).  It was obvious they couldn’t wait to pass the problem back to her home, her GP and community services. If you’re old and demented you don’t stand a chance, even if yours is a ‘mechanical’ injury, time and money will not be wasted on you. After a seven hour wait for return transport we arrived back at her home at 9pm – my mother was past all reason – frightened, confused and irrationally furious at everything, including me.

So here we are, frustrated and banging our heads against several brick walls.  Trying hard to find her some form of pain relief that won’t exacerbate her mental condition. Trying to get a response and hurry along the re-enablement team so we know how best to mobilise her without causing her more injury (but referrals, don’t you know, have to be processed through proper channels before a visit is allowed). Trying to encourage her to eat and drink (at the moment she won’t). Trying to explain to her what’s happened (she has no idea of why she hurts). I don’t know how she’s going to cope; her body’s fast becoming a random muddle of irrelevant, awkward bones.  But I know I still see that spark of  fighting spirit flashing in her eyes, and until that dies I will do everything I can.

hartland - new year's day 2009

hartland - new year's day 2009

It’s 30 December and Berengère’s family are arriving to stay with us over the next five days. This is their first visit and I know they are really looking forward to seeing the farm, the animals, the surrounding countryside; absorbing the quintessential unspoilt ‘Englishness’ of the area. Roland, Berengère’s father, feels that that much of England, especially London, is loosing its distinctiveness and was hoping that he would re-find the special character of the country on this rural visit.

They are most interested in the farm and its produce and are intrigued by my passion for animals, farming and the countryside. Ben and Berengère have always championed our out-of-the-garden and from-the-fields ingredients together with my home cooking, so her parents were, I know, looking forward to some tasty meals to restore their faith in British cuisine, food and farming.  The pressure was on! Normally cooking for ten doesn’t faze me, but I was ill and craving a hole in which to curl up and die.  The thought of being a genial host and chef on top of routine twice-a-day stock care and farm work was beginning to make me feel wobbly.

inspecting the cattle

inspecting the cattle

“It doesn’t matter” said Berengère “Really, not at all. Look, my mother was in bed for the whole week when you came to visit! They’ll understand.” (Martine had injured her back when visited in May and was condemned to her bed by the doctor.)

“I know, I know. But I want it to be special for them. I’ve planned the meals. I’ve kept back the joints. I want them to have the whole experience!” And as always when you’re not 100% everything is blown-up by lip-quivery see-saw emotions.

In my head I’d planned the meals for the days ahead – ribs of our Red Ruby beef, sweet melting legs of Whiteface Dartmoor lamb, slow-roasted aromatic hand of pork and warm hearty white bean and kale casserole.  I would prepare gratins of creamy potatoes and leeks, red cabbage and apple, tiny sprouts stirred into sticky chestnuts and port, steam fresh romanesque shoots and caldo nero kale (jealously saved in the veg garden). I wanted to make puddings of backberries and apples encased in the shortest of crumbly pastry, tiny mincepies with clotted cream, blueberries and currants in a cloud of fluffy meringue, a Christmas pudding (of course) and Christmas cake. I knew what I wanted to do…

It was fine! After a convivial first night where we celebrated the coming together of our families we planned the days ahead. Tomorrow we would take a tour of the animals and the farm, followed by lunch and whilst I stayed at home to prepare the New Year’s Eve meal Robert would take everyone on a hauntingly beautiful walk around Scorhill stone circle on Dartmoor.

lambs in five acres - new year's eve 2008

lambs in five acres - new year's eve 2008

Sitting down to lunch after the walk around the farm on gloriously hard ground (even our mud is beginning to freeze – total bliss!), the phone went…

“Paula, it’s Elaine from Spring House. Your mum’s had a fall. Well, a couple actually, we think…  it’s a bit muddled. But the doctor’s been out. He thinks her hip could be broken. He’s arranged for her to be taken to Derriford to be x-rayed. She very confused and in a lot of pain….”

“What? Oh no! I’ll be there. Don’t let her be taken to Derriford, it’s New Year’s Eve, it’s Plymouth, it’ll be complete mayhem, she’ll be shoved in a corner. Don’t let anyone take her. I’ll phone the doctor. I’m on my way…Oh God, please let her be alright…”

With my heart pounding, I garbled hasty instruction at Ben for the evening meal and with an apologetic good-bye, grabbed my coat and fled.

scorhill stone circle in the setting sun - new year's eve 2008

scorhill stone circle in the setting sun - new year's eve 2008

part three to follow…

christmas eve carols hatherleigh town square 24 dec 08

christmas eve carols hatherleigh town square 24 dec 08

So where have I been? What blanket of fug was thrown over my head rendering me silent? The first was the same as for many of you, I shouldn’t be surprised…The Cold (of the virus type)! The second is slightly more distressing…

My slip-sliding into pre-Christmas panic disappeared and unabashed childish excitement and joy took over; our family arriving, friends popping round, unexpected invitations and out-of-the-blue visitors.

The tree twinkled in the warm firelit glow of the sitting room; banisters, mantels and pictures were decorated with binds of evergreen; mistletoe decked doorway and beam whilst freshly woven wreaths festooned the doors.

All was ready – larder shelves burdened festive goodies – ham, turkey and goose; Christmas puddings, mince pies and Christmas cake; nougats, navettes, glace fruits and marrons from France; cranberries, clementines, nuts and chocolate. I was all set to feed the army descending on us for the next ten days. But I hadn’t bargained on The Cold.

Olly, first to succumb to The Cold just before Christmas, was surprised to find he became worse rather than better. Will arrived home with the London strain. Camille brought the French version with her over the channel, her temperature soaring on Christmas Eve. The next in the firing line was me – whilst cooking Christmas dinner (naturally). Then it was Berengere. With rapid and single-minded intent it worked its way through us all. We had the added frisson of the more exotic, as our friends from across the Atlantic added their contribution to the melting pot. This was fast becoming virus heaven!

‘Hey bro –how ya doin’? Gi me five!’

‘Aw’rite mate. Didn’t ‘spec you ‘ere. Aint ‘alf bad – oi mean look at these fekking geezers…!’

‘Pardon…I ‘ave not zee Englieesh…mais oui, ici, c’est trez bon. ‘Ow you say? Bloodee marvellous!’

‘Good to see you all in this neck of the woods. The frog’s right when ‘e says it’s bloody marvellous. Never seen such a cosmopolitan gathering. Here’s one for united nations and entente cordial!

The viruses rub their hands in glee at the prospect of increasing their kith and kin by 500,000 billion in the next few days. They high five and in unison stream forward to launch their attack; bookies shout the odds on favourites, and humans didn’t stand a chance!

sharing a quiet moment - two poorly people - camille and paula

sharing a quiet moment - two poorly people - camille and paula

Yesterday, sadly, the house emptied. Today, as I gather up pine needles, escaped shreds of wrapping paper, broken toys, cracker jokes, squashed mince pies and baskets full of holiday detritus, I stop as I seem to the whole time at the moment to gaze out at the frost-sparkling countryside. Do you know we haven’t had a drop of rain for over ten days? I can scarcely believe it.

The more distressing part two tomorrow…

“Hello, hello…oh hi Carol, it’s me. Paula. Yes, that’s right. Umm, yes just walked in. Five minutes ago. Yes, yes, no trouble. No, none at all. Rain of course, yes a lovely waterlogged view! We did…and Morna? How’s she been?”

The first thing I do on arriving home after an ecstatic welcome from dogs, beside themselves with excitement, is to pick up the phone to see how my mother’s been.

“Not too bad actually. Yes, she’s eaten a little better. No, not a lot but she seems to be enjoying what she’s had. Okay, yes…she’s been walking up for lunch. On the supervised table. Yes. No, she’s tucked up in bed now. Okay…look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”

Ever since she caught Norwalk virus back in February she’s remained frail; suffering from persistent UTI’s and chronic anaemia. Her seemingly unstoppable delight and interest in food and eating has become virtually non existent, waning to tiny mouthfuls of once irresistible treats. Tempting titbits, cajoling and remembered stories of where we last enjoyed a dish together have no effect.

I’ve brought her back surprises and morsels from Marseilles and a famous market in Aix where tiny sweet local wild strawberries jostle with out of season nectarines and butt heads with tat, treasure, saucisson and cheese: I’d found her a bunched, tied bundle of pungent Provencal lavender; ‘biscuit artisanaux’ – local biscuits, shaped as shuttles, with flavours of orange-flower water, almond, citron and cinnamon; ‘olive’ chocolate covered almonds; famous Marseilles olive oil soap; and small sachets in vibrant colours and designs of the Provence.

Relieved and happy at the news I could now settle my mind down to unravelling the animals, farm and vaccination logistics.

I set off to see her yesterday lunch time, remembering at the last minute to throw in my laptop and camera with photos that she might understand and enjoy. I rang the bell…

“Oh hi Paula. We’re just taking Morna down to her room. She’s…well, not too good actually.”

My stomach lurches. I go to her.

“It’s me, mummy, Paula.”

“Oh, darling, is that you? How lovely. How lovely. It is you Paula, it is you?”

“Yes it is. I’m here right beside you”

My heart opens, swells and hurts. Her frail, bent, jack-knifed-twisted body isn’t coping too well anymore. Doubly incontinent and often unable to translate messages from her brain to her limbs we carry walk her to her room. Her bones crack and creak with the effort and her breath gasps in laboured rasps and wheezes. I carefully clean, wash and dress her before making her comfortable on her bed. She’s hot and rustling dry to touch; her thin blotched papery skin no longer disguising jutting bones and blue-black bruises. I encourage her to take small sips of water, but she falls asleep, exhausted. I sit on the bed, softly stroking her face gazing pathetically at her crooked twisted body still seeing the beautiful strong vibrant woman she was. My emotions are turbulent and potent. I kiss her. I leave carrying my untouched basket of surprises.

On Monday I visited my mum. During lambing it’s difficult to leave the farm so I try and see her as much as I can before it starts. I make a quick dash down to Peter Tavy after lunch, have tea with her, and I’m back in time to do the animals. The extra hour or so of daylight now makes all the difference.

As the crow flies it’s no great distance. The road though follows a scenic route, narrow, windy, hilly; peppered with hamlets and speed restrictions. Reasonably quick if you’re the only vehicle but frustratingly slow if you catch a lorry, bus, tractor or tourist. Monday was a frustrating day and I was clock watching by the time I arrived. I noticed the light on in her room, ran up the stairs to the back door, calling to her as I pushed open the door to her room. I stopped dead, something was very wrong. A foul smell hit me. Taken aback, unsure, I called out.

It’s me, it’s Paula. It’s me. Are you here? What’s happened? Are you okay?

A small rasping croak replied. Yes, darling, just lying down.

I walked up to the bed. There she was. Curled, tiny; papery grey-white translucent skin stretched taught, she looked, for all the world, like a foetus. Large pillows surrounded her, engulfing her frail jumble of bones in a blowsy puff of nest. Her head, still, unmoving, looked unnaturally large, cheek-bones and jaw line sharply etched against the white sheets. Her eyes, sunken and bruised, slowly turned towards me, a filmy gauzy blue, no longer looking outwards but inward at some better world.

Darling, just lying down. Is daddy there?

No, no, he’s not. Not at the moment. What’s happened? I stroke her hand and head so as not to alarm her, trying to still my fear and anxiety.

Just having a small sleep. Is daddy there?

Not yet mummy. You have a little rest. I’ll go and get you a drink, shall I? I stroke her gently, letting her know I’m going.

I fly down the corridor to find someone, one of the carers, anyone. No one’s around. No residents either. No one. What’s happened? The doors are sealed, notices on them. I’m not concentrating. I see Lynn, Faith, Julie around a table. I gesticulate. They let me in.

We’ve got Norwalk virus. I left a message on your phone. We’ve shut ourselves to all visitors. Paula you’ve got to go. Now!

But Morna. I can’t leave her. I can’t leave her like this.

It’ll be okay. She’ll be okay. Honestly, it lasts around twenty-four hours. Now go.
No, you mustn’t go into her room. There’s hand wash. Leave.

This is the hardest thing I’ve done. I leave. Don’t let her be taken like this. Please.


the first wind flower or wood anemone 


Apologies for being absent – my lurgy morphed wildly and weirdly. It became a huge swollen head, or that’s what it felt like, with severe shocks waves running from hip to ankle.

“Aha” said Olly “that’s because you’ve given up tea”. Read the rest of this entry »

Damn, blast and bugger…I’ve succumbed. Yup, I’ve caught, completely and with no mistake, the ‘thing’ deftly between my two ears and a little between my ribs too. The ubiquitous, the compulsory, the obligatory, the very one…yes – the seasonal lergy.

Well, what could I expect?  I have been shut in a house for the past two weeks with most of the family coughing, sneezing and snorting so I guess the good old immune system was a bit fed-up with being Mr Strong-and-Aloof, therefore deciding to step down off his pedestal and join in the general furore.  The problem is that they’ve all gone and I’m left coughing and spluttering on my own (apart from husband and Olly). Read the rest of this entry »

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.



The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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