Jan 11 2005

Raining Sideways


New Years Day 2005 came in on the heals of the wind. Dogs and I walked up to the highest fields and watched the clouds scudding across an angry sky. The wind blew so hard I could lean back against it without falling. Th

e sheep cowered in the hedgerows cleverly picking the most sheltered spot. Rain filled the valley below me masking distant Dartmoor. It raced along the rivers’ way like a huge sideways curtain. Devon rain doesn’t ever seem to be vertical but lashes horizontally through the hills and valleys wrapping everything in it’s path. The wind changed and the rain caught up with us. As I struggled on down to the farm yard below the rain slammed into my face leaving my back almost dry as I threw myself forward into the wet wind. Dogs put their heads down and their ears back and scurried at my feet.

MinMin, the aging, delinquent Cairn, looked even smaller than usual, half drowned in the torrent but enthusiasm quite unequalled. The smallest, fastest and deadliest of the ratting team, very little dampens her spirit. To her enormous annoyance, she stays on a lead a lot of the time being quite unable to give up on a scent, once sniffed. I have spent hours crawling through woodland, brambles, gorse, riverbank, water in pursuit of her. I‘ve pulled her by her tail, unceremoniously from badgers‘ sets, watched as she struggled with a determination unequalled across a two acre field dragging her prey, on this occasion a very large, unfortunate rabbit. It took her two hours to bring her trophy to the farmyard. Once on the trail nothing detracts her. At home she is the sweetest, gentlest little dog, adored and adoring of the children. A real little Jeckell and Hyde.

Rain continues to fall. The Devon sideways rain is usually steady and relentless, not like a thunder storm, not like a summer storm. It just fills the valley like that huge sideways moving curtain. But on Christmas Eve 1999 it took a different guise. At eleven o’clock that night we fell exhausted into bed, the last Christmas turkey despatched and delivered, animals safely housed and fed. All last minute preparations completed for guests and festivities in the morning. Sleep at last, then two a.m. the phone rang, I put out a sleepy hand to the receiver, my father in the little Barn by our gate, “We seem to be flooded”. The phone cut off.

“I’m coming, Dad” We fell out of bed , pulled on clothes and raced into the garden only to be met by a raging torrent. Down the valley from the yard the water roared carrying everything in it’s way. We struggled along the higher ground, hearts in mouths, towards the yard. Chickens floated on their straw, the goose house was so full old Humphrey bumped his head on the roof. Paul waded foolishly through the water, grabbed him and threw him in with the donkeys whose stables stand on slightly higher ground.

Paul jumped into the big old Lamborghini tractor and started off towards my parents cottage. Hopeless, the water was so deep in the lane that the great beast slewed sideways and he reversed nervously into the yard. What now we thought. We ran back through the garden and I struggled, water waist high, across the bridge over the stream towards their cottage. Paul climbed into the land rover and drove through the crater appearing at our gate. The stream, usually underground here, had burst through. Down he went and up and bounced out into the lane. As he turned up the hill to their front door water was breaking over the bonnet. Soaked and frightened, I met him at the door. The Barn is upside down, bedrooms downstairs sitting room upstairs. Downstairs water poured in over the windowsills, upstairs the water seeped steadily under the door. There they sat, two tiny little old people, wet and confused. By now two and a half hours had passed since their phone call.

Dad, 90, stood in his vest and pants complaining his socks were wet, mother in her little negligee and curlers looked confused. They were very, very cold. Together Paul and I lifted them into the soaked Discovery. I fought my way back through the water, over the bridge and he, holding breath, risked the crater which had been our drive. Down he went, up he came again. We lifted the two very small, very old , cold frightened people up the steps into our house and into a dry, safe bed. We fed them sweet tea and calmed their fears. The rain stopped, at five o’clock we went to bed. The next day they remembered nothing.

But we faced the devastation. The Mill pond outside the gate was gone, it was full of the tarmac from the lane, even the white lines lay crumpled like tissue paper where the water had been. The trees had gone, the stone wall had gone, our drive had gone. And mud everywhere, thick red Devon mud filled the Barn and surrounded it..

Our friends arrived for Christmas, they put on their boots and begun to dig through the rubble and mess. The weather turned, the ground froze. Dad fell on the ice trying to asses the damage to his home. A friend came up in rashes on her face from chemicals washed off the hills in the mud. A neighbour offered my parents somewhere to live. The whole farmyard except the donkeys’ stables was under water. Miraculously chickens subsided on their straw and survived, just one little sheep got caught in the brambles in the worst part of the torrent and was lost. The others fled up hill. We surveyed the damage. It took twelve months to restore and repair. We were lucky we lost no one and we were insured.

I tell this now because it is so small in the light of the tsunami, it was so huge for us and it is nothing to this global tragedy. We lost no one, only one little sheep and material things. How huge it seemed then, how small it feels now.

There was no turkey chorus in the farmyard this year. No ringing phone ,no order book, no worry that Mrs so and so has forgotten to order or worse still thinks she doesn’t have too because “I always get my bird from you……..“ I’m not bad at mind reading but not that good! .The farmyard was eerily quiet for the time of year. No turkeys or table birds for the first time in ten years. Last year we closed the turkey shed for ever on Christmas Eve. All killed, all drawn, all trussed all packed and , hoorah, all delivered for the last time. “Where will we get out bird from this year” I’m asked over and over again. It is so nice to be missed but so much nicer to have a turkey free holiday.

It all started because I couldn’t find really nice chickens, free range, fat ones raised without masses of chemicals. When our neighbour retired and sold us his land the supply of wonderful chickens dried up. What was his secret I wondered, “well, lets have a go” said Paul and we bought our first few turkey poults little knowing where it would take us. We raised them in one of the barns and processed then in a shed. We had no idea how or if we would sell them, We just offered them to our friends and enjoyed one ourselves.

“Can we have a turkey next year too?”. We bought more poults, then day old chicks. We raised the table birds and fed them to our friends when they came to supper. Gradually people began to ask for them and the whole thing took off. Next thing I knew we were rebuilding the shed and learning all the regulations. We had a specialised unit, visits from Environmental Health, Trading Standards, MAFF, (DEFRA now) Meat Hygiene. Paul went on training courses to get his Slaughtermans’ License and I delved into my past to remember ho w to draw and truss birds. Our little refrigerated van buzzed round the lanes to all our wonderful loyal customers. I never knew that such a world existed. But finally ten years on we decided to call it a day.

Twelfth Night has passed now and the Christmas tree is on the bonfire. The decorations are packed away till next year and all the names inside the cards listed with care. Santa has been and gone. Presents, bought with such anxiety and love, have been opened and enjoyed or disguarded. The turkey, bought from someone else this year, was cooked and eaten on Christmas Day then in the usual tradition turned into a myriad of leftover creations. The pud, steamed and set alight, disappeared very fast as children tucked in for the first time. The most important thing about Christmas is that it is always the same. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, stockings from Santa in the morning. Christmas Day Church, a huge traditional lunch, “the Queen“, a walk regardless of weather, tea and cake, more presents, a large glass of wine and collapse exhausted. Tradition and ritual rule the holiday. Then just as normality threatens to return, it’s New Years Eve and festivities begin all over again. With the extra Bank Holidays this year I had a sneaking feeling half the nation, reeling from days of celebrations, was delighted to finally return to work at last!


The rain has stopped and this morning I found a little clump of snowdrops nodding in the wind. That’s why I like January, if I look carefully amongst the twigs little flowers begin to appear. The evenings get slowly lighter as the days lengthen towards spring.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Raining Sideways”

  1. Tanon 25 Jan 2005 at 12:00 am

    Who’s a very clever girl!!!!! I love it! It is now bookmarked for regular tune-in’s!

    Love and biggest hugs,
    Tan and the gang xoxox

  2. A+Ron 01 Feb 2005 at 6:32 pm

    Wonderfull, a real tonic to read, arn’t we the luckly ones.

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