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Woom! Bang-Boom! Smash! Splinter, crack, shatter.  Debris crashes around me in a confusion of noise.  The bobcat seesaws violently and comes to rest as another spear-sharp section of concrete roof panelling hits, exploding into razor shards. I freeze. Heart stopping shocked.  For a moment I have no idea what’s happened.

Everyone’s away this weekend. Robert’s on a hoverfly identification course near Shrewsbury and Olly at some friends’ house-warming party.

I check on the cows at around eleven-thirty yesterday evening. Desiree is restless and her udder is full.  I decide to pen her in case she calves. Desiree is the only one of my cows who is unpredictable and protective  at calving. I  make sure everything is as safe as possible in case I have to intervene.  I check on her again in the early hours of the morning. Nothing doing – though by the time I go out to do the morning chores she is well into labour.

Feeling very pleased she chosen such a sensible time I get on with mucking out, scraping down and feeding the main herd. As I’m scraping a large heap of dung breaks away and deposits itself outside Desiree’s pen. I make a mental note to miss it when I reverse back in.

Reversing back up into the cow palace I turn to avoid the dumped heap, and  out of the corner of my eye see Desiree beginning to heave. For a split second my attention slips, the bobcat hits the pile of dung; it’s thrown off balance, pitches forward and lurches backwards, my foot instinctively slams down (but bobcats don’t have breaks, they have hydraulic control pedals), the hydraulic arms and scraper fly into the air catching the high door lintel, with another violent seesaw the arms break down through the lintel and smash up through the roof. The whole incident is over in seconds.

a day in the life...wrecked cow palace!

a day in the life...wrecked cow palace!

Eventually the bobcat stabilises. I get out shakily and survey the wreckage. I feel weak. Miraculously Olly arrives on queue – he’s come home to give me a hand with the animals. No one has ever been more welcome!

oh deary, deary me

oh deary, deary me

Despite the noise, chaos and ruins, Desiree quietly and purposefully carried on giving birth to a large healthy bull calf – with brains. Just as well, as after my debacle I sure didn’t feel like risking life and limb getting a calf onto the teat of a volatile cow!

I arrived at my mother’s home and found her, her body a poor old jumble of bones, crookedly crumpled on the bed.

“Mummy I hear you’ve had a fall?”

“Oh yes darling, I think I must have.”

“Where do you think you’ve hurt, sweetie? Can you tell me where the soreness is?”

“Oh yes, it’s up along there.” She indicates the ceiling with her index finger.

Dementia is an unkind and horrid thing, for both the sufferer and the carer. Normal things like pain, hunger, thirst become extraordinarily difficult for the sufferer to communicate or pinpoint. Usually I’m lucky enough to be able to interpret my mother’s needs, though when she’s overly anxious, agitated or distressed it becomes much more difficult.

I gently stroke her head. “Mummy, I wonder if you can do something with me. I need to find out where you hurt so I can make it better. I’m going to feel all the bones – little and big – in your body. When I touch one that feels different, do you think you can tell me?”

“Of course I can. Don’t be silly. Why are you asking me that?”

I continue to talk gently to her, telling her exactly what I’m doing. The first thing that knocks me backward is the smell – I’m sure she had a massive UTI (urinary tract infection), which would explain the series of falls. Funny the doctor hasn’t mentioned this. She’s hot to touch, her skin papery dry. She has a fever. I carry on, asking her to grasp my arms as I move her shoulder – no pain here. I gently work through each of her ribs, her shoulder blades, her spine and yes, there is a definite tenderness down her left side. I reach round for the softness of her kidneys…

“Ooh, ooh that’s sore.” This confirms my suspicion of an UTI.

I move along her pelvic girdle, her femur – no pain or soreness at all. And then I see it – it’s glaringly obvious, her left knee – it’s huge, weird, completely out of shape, and hot. Gently I cradle it with both hands and apply pressure…

“Oww, oww, oww . Don’t, don’t do that! Oh owww. Oh no.” She’s deeply distressed and in agony. It’s isn’t her hip, it’s her knee.

I phone the doctor. I explain that I’m desperately worried about her going in an ambulance to Derriford, Plymouth’s main hospital, on New Year’s Eve. She’s too frail and ill. He agrees. I explain about the UTI and the knee and ask if I can pick up antibiotics and painkillers. We also agree that she should be x-rayed in Tavistock, just a few miles down the road, first thing on Friday.

I hurtle into Tavistock to pick up prescriptions, hurtle back. Another problem has arisen, her skin is breaking down and she’s developing pressure sores on her heels and feet. Julie has coped brilliantly creaming and wrapping her feet in sheepskin as well locating a ripple mattress that can be delivered tomorrow; she’d also tested her pad for infection and found her urine contained large quantities of blood…no wonder she was so hot.

At last I leave and dash home – it’s dark, late, I’ve animals to see to, bales to move, hopefully Ben is coping with the cooking and Robert will be back with our French family. I’m exhausted, feverish and developing a hacking cough. I’m worried about what tomorrow will bring and if I’ve made the right decision in keeping my mother away from hospitals for the next twenty-four hours (often in the case of elderly, demented patients it’s NHS policy to treat ‘conservatively’ i.e. do nothing). I’m beginning to doubt my own judgement, it’s clear that everyone else believes it to be her hip. There are a million thoughts spinning around and around in my head.  I’m not concentrating properly and don’t see the ice, black, thick and shiny smooth over the whole lane. I touch the brakes, the wheels lock and I’m powerless, a telegraph pole is racing towards me at an alarming rate. ‘Please. Please, please,’ I pray, ‘if anyone is out there, just don’t let me hit the pole. Ditch, ruts anything, but not the pole, please, not tonight.’ I brace myself for the impact…

rushes in heavy frost - cow moor

rushes in heavy frost - cow moor

I was falling gently into a misty drifting twilight world between sleep and wakefulness. Robert was already asleep; soft, warm-slow breaths on the back of my neck. A noise startled, pulling me away from that place. I desperately wanted to resist it.
“Errh…phone” I mumbled into the pillow “phone”

“Whassat? Whaa?” slurred Robert

We’d got back late for a Thursday evening. We’d been over to see some friends after supper; it must have been around twelve by the time we got into bed.

“Phone!” I stagger unsteadily out of bed, bumping into the chest and slipping on the rug.
“Light on?” murmured Robert from the depths of the duvet “Didn’t hear. Sure?”

We once tried to have a phone in our bedroom, but because of thick cob walls and a dodgy connection that was ungetatable we gave up. Sometimes we hear the phone at night and I guess sometimes we don’t. Often it’s a misdialled number or a hoax.

I drunkenly stumbled the stairs to the study, fumbled for the light, but missed the call. It had gone onto answerphone. No message. I dialled 1471 but my brain hadn’t hooked up yet and the numbers meant nothing. Shaking my head and slapping my face to reawaken the blood supply I was about to redial when the phone went again.
“Oll – what’s happened?”

None of those things that are meant to happen happened. My heart didn’t stop. My stomach didn’t plummet. I didn’t feel sick. I didn’t turn to ice.
“I’ve crashed.”
“Are you okay?”

Those words – so futile – are you okay? Are you broken? Are you bleeding to death? Has your head, your body or any of your limbs been scrunched, torn, flung across the countryside? Is anyone else hurt, maimed, dead? Are you going to live? You are my child. I bleed when you do. Every one of your hurts hurts me…more. I love you.

“Are you okay?”
“I think so. Yes, I think so.”

He had also, unusually for a Thursday, been over to see some friends too. He’d decided to come home via a different route. They’ve been resurfacing all the small back roads and as he rounded a bend he hit a thick layer of new gravel and went into a skid; the wheels locked, he careered up a short elevated track to a field entrance, which flipped the car over bouncing it on a salt/gravel box, throwing it onto its roof and rolling it over again down the hill. It came to rest on the driver’s side in the middle of the road. He managed to crawl out of the passenger door.
Seeing it there, bottom side up across the road, a broken, skewed crushed metal box spewing forth glass, fuel and radiator fluid started the icy fingers of shock moving through my body. How he came out of it unscathed I don’t know. That no one else was involved – another miracle.

We managed to turn the car upright and tow it with the truck to a safe place near by. The next day in the light we would deal with it. Now back home, sweet tea and bed.

Robert and I felt peculiar yesterday – strange, disorientated and off-kilter. Olly, who I thought might be battered and bruised once the initial shock wore off was, still, miraculously, completely unscathed.

not olly’s car

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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