Friday, 2 May 2008

I hear voices!

Living as we do in a rural idyll we notice the change of pace of life once we retreat up our lane and transform form 9-5 office workers to country bumpkins.

What strikes us sometimes is no matter how busy people are in our valley they always have time for us and always take the time to talk about about things, how the weather is, has been will be, how we are, they are, they've been, how much work they've done, about to do or that there is to do and so on. They also speak to us as if we have lived here for centuries and know everyone and everything. Its a very nice way to be treated, we had half expected to have to work for years to be accepted as one of the locals, but the locals have embraced us and our mental animals and the predicaments we get ourselves in with enthusiasm.

As a result we have learned to reciprocate, we take the time to tell them what we are doing, to ask their advice, to help whenever a neighbour needs it. We've helped look for missing dogs, moved tons of wood after sawing up a tree that had fallen in a neighbours farm yard, baked cakes, given eggs, given lifts, dog sat, lent tools and so on.

However, here in the borders the accent is sometimes hard to follow, when spoken by a true local its fast, furious, gets high pitched if the speaker gets excited and once your ears are used to this verbal assault its a joy to follow.

We have had some extraordinary conversations though, ones where you walk away from them and wonder what on earth was being spoken about. I was compiling a list of favourites, saving them for a rainy day, but today I was party to a conversation that beats all the other examples by far.

Take the time I was talking to a neighbour about nothing in particular, but what was interesting was watching his dog stood on the stone steps of the barn opposite. Every time a House Martin flew into the barn through the door over the dogs head the mutt leapt into the air in a desperate bid to catch it. It always missed, it always sat back in the same spot and it always tried again when the bird returned. I commented on this, "Yes said my neighbour, he always tries, always, he never catches one though the daft bugger. He keeps on don't you Ben." The dog was performing another aeriel sortie and landed without acknowledging its owner.

"Look at him" Ben's owner continued, "I don't know what I'd do if he caught one." He lent towards me and said knowingly, "My Mother always said, never touch a Swallow" He lent back nodding at me like he had passed on something profound. There was a moments silence between us and he must have seen the expression of confusion on my face as I wondered to what possible harm could you come to touching a small bird. He took his cap off and scratched his head thoughtfully looking at the floor before looking back at me shaking his head, then he said "Come to think of it, I don't know why she said that either" and he turned and went back into the farmhouse without saying another word.

Until today that was my favourite, it beats the conversation over a missing dog with Mad Keith the hermit. I wandered up his track and found him busy moving rocks, I asked if he had seen the missing sheep dog whilst surreptitiously taking a peek at the pile of bones of his previous meals to see if any new ones had been added that looked dog like.

He shook his head, "No, who's dog is it?" He asked.

"Chris's" I said.

He looked at me and stepped closer, "Chris you say" he said,

"Yes" I said stepping back,

"Chris?" he repeated,

"Chris?" he asked

"Yes Chris" I answered getting ready to run,

"Chris" he said shaking his head "What does he do?" he asked,

"He's a farmer",

"Is he!?" he nodded thoughtfully "Chris." He said again, "Oh! Chris, hes a farmer, I know him." he nodded, "Well they all are round here I spose" he added before walking back into his shack and closing the door.

It also beat the conversation about the above conversation, when I explained I had had a close encounter with Mad Keith and my eager listener asked simply "Why is he called Keith?"

Today's also beat the time a farmer in a huge red 4x4 came sliding down the track from the ridge towards me and the Rock Pack plus goat out for a stroll. He hung out of the drivers window, "Oright? Nice looking dogs." he said, "That's a nice un, what sorts that" he pointed at Maggie.

Maggie looked up at me, I looked at her, we both looked at the farmer, "Its a goat" I replied. "Yes, it is" he said as he drove off.

So today I was busy and a conversation went off around me, I wasn't particularly paying attention I have to admit, I could hear voices but no one was at home to listen. Eventually it became very obvious the voices were directed at me and needed responding to, my internal tape recorder replayed bits back as I tried to catch up. The speaker was a little old granny figure, grey hair framing her friendly wrinkled face as she peered up at me over the top of her glasses. I couldn't get up to speed with the conversation and delayed for time hoping someone else would answer for me. She started talking again and my brain latched on to the thread but not the context of what she was asking " all depends how long they are, I mean how big is yours Tony" she asked in a very insistent tone that demanded an answer.

I looked at her. There was only one answer.


I left them to their confusion by the gate.

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