Friday, March 25, 2011

THE RAM

What do I know of the ram in that field? I want to think a little bit more about him, standing far off in the shadows when Rozzie spotted him. “There he is!”

“No!” said Walter.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s a ram.”

He was minding his own business in a field to himself. But he was in solitary confinement. He was a dark impression with horns curled on either side of his head - not menacing from the distance. In fact, his horns reminding me of platted hair, and German country girls.

He was there because of sexual urges he couldn’t keep to himself. That was why, after we came over the crest of the hill and passed through fields of wooly sheep, gormless in their new spring coats – that was why he was in the bottom field, excommunicated. He wasn’t to mingle with the sheep in the field because he put them at risk. You stay put. You aren’t fit company. Or rather, we suspect you aren’t fit, we don’t quite know - but we don’t want to take any chances. That was he, the ram, by himself at the far borders of his field – feeling put out to be left there – taking himself to a far corner because of it.

But the sheep we passed in the upper field, were not as harmless as they appeared. Andy Goldsworthy, in the documentary Rivers and Tides, reminds us of their rugged power, which flies in the face of all our myths about sheep. We imagine them as gentle tender and harmless but in fact it is they who are responsible for the landscape of Scotland – for the Lake District, for that barren quality of the hillside – because in grazing, they have altered forever the shape and nature of the landscape. Nothing can grow now but grass.

And I wonder about grass as well. Is it so very humble? The Bible would have us believe that the grass is meekness itself – and yet it can grow, and does grow, when everything else is stripped away. I might have got this wrong, but I have the feeling that grass is pretty powerful stuff – sprouting up wherever you don’t want it.

What I am getting at here is, that perhaps the ram had been maligned. He wasn’t as dangerous as all of that. Sure, he had his urges, don’t we all. It was because he was alone in those urges that they’d singled him out – put him out to pasture by himself. And now he was standing at the far end of the field, barely visible, in a kind of Coventry. He’d been put in his place and felt put upon because of it. Sulking in the corner of the field.

I’d like to say he noticed us as we passed, but he didn’t. Rozzie insisted that he might notice if we were to cross in his field, but Walter said they couldn’t just put a ram in a field where there was a public footpath without any warning to the public, if in fact he was dangerous. Then Rozzie said he wasn’t technically on the path, but in a private field, in which case the farmers had every right to leave him there. If he attacked trespassers, that would be their look out and their misfortune.

So we passed by. We left him there. We had no interaction. But there is still something about the impression of him that interests me. The semblance of freedom, while actually being penned in – his sulky face in the shadows, believing itself to be unobserved. I can’t get him out of my mind.

THE MCCARTNEY WALK

We would take the McCartney walk, said Walter. We found some pairs of Wellington boots in the mudroom. Extra socks made no difference to their enormous size. Clownish, I flapped up the laneway. Rozzie and Walter laughed. “Are you sure I’ll need them,” I asked.

It’s the country side,” said Walter. “So yes, of course you’ll need them,” as he pushed on ahead. We didn’t need mittens and Rozzie didn’t need her beret – so I stuffed it into one of my pockets. Walter had an earache and had just come back from the doctor’s.

“Don’t you think it’s strange that you have a bad ear,” said Rozzie. “considering you’ve just finished A Flea in Her Ear?” Walter is an actor and he’d just finished a run in that play at the Old Vic.

“My goodness,” he laughed. “How extraordinary!”

I flapped up the lane with Rozzie and Walter in my outsized Wellingtons. I felt like a hobbit on a glorious day. The daffodils, in the few days I’d been in England had exploded in patches of yellow, and the snowdrops were out in clumps. The air was heating up with the smell of earth and countryside, of things about to sprout. The grey trees and brown hedges emitted a mossy veil, hinting of impending leaf. The sky was blowsy with clouds and sunshine.

We crossed the laneway and up a muddy track. The ground was viscous. The prints our boots made had little or no impact on the muck itself, or on our progress. It was heavy going, and this went on for several yards.

“Walter is bringing us this way,” I said, “to justify the Wellington boots.”\

“Yes,” he said. “But it won't be like this for long.”

And sure enough we were soon able to walk in the dried path opening up to a wide horizon and a fields of lambs.

“Did I tell you about my experience with the charging horse?” Rozzie asked we passed through the sheep meadow.

“She was charged by a horse,” I put in. “It was terrifying.”

“Really,” said Walter.

“Yes. In Shropshire our friend Freddy took us for a walk – and this horse – I don’t know what happened, but it got spooked and we were in the corner of the pasture and it reared up– missing us by inches. Then it went on rearing and charging at us for about five minutes – before we escaped one by one through the fence.

“I’m not kidding,” she said. “You don’t expect a horse to behave like that. You have this notion of horses being domesticated. And after that – as well as another disturbing experience – I find myself nervous around farm animals.”

“I’m not surprised,” said Walter.

“Now, for instance,” Rozzie continued, as we crossed the lumpy grass, the fields spreading in all directions– “right now, my heart is really pounding.”

“Do you want me to hold your hand,” I asked.

She shook her head. “I have to get over it, I suppose.”

We were on the top of a wonderful hill – with fields on all sides – sloping away from us – and the big March sky. “It sounds like that story, Walter,” I reminded him, breathless with the climb, “the one we always loved – The Rain Horse by Ted Hughes."

“Ah yes,” he said. But I had the feeling his mind was on something else. Perhaps his earache or the days stretching in front of him, now that he’d finished “A Flea In Her Ear”.

“It also happened with a herd of cows,” said Rozzie. “I was charged by cows, if you can believe it. Somebody came into the field on the opposite side of us, with dogs, and the cows began behaving unnaturally. I looked it up on line later and discovered that this is in fact how cows sometimes behave when they are frightened. So that what seemed to be an unreasonable fear of cows was in fact justified.” Her laughter was nervous. “It’s alarming when you realize that an unreasonable fear is actually perfectly reasonable.”

We reached a little wood, and crossed through a thicket of trees. The ground was dry and covered in leaves. “I think we had better go the other way,” Walter said at length. There was another field a bigger field and it appeared to be empty – until Rozzie noticed the ram.

We looked across the distance and at the far border of the field, some three hundred yards away, a ram came into focus. I saw his indifferent face in the shadows. “They are keeping him away from the sheep,” said Rozzie.

“Rams can be dangerous,” I said by way of comfort. But actually I was thinking about how as a child, on holiday in Norfolk we had been warned away from a field of heifers. This ram was only a speck of a guy out across the field and seemed unaware of our approach.

But Walter took Rozzie’s warning to heart and instead of cutting through that field – we climbed over a lower part of the fence and up the hill to a rickety old style that led across another field.

Here we could see Paul McCartney’s house – with a couple of silos off on the side which Walter said were the recording studio.

“It looks quite a small house,” Rozzie said.

“Not that small. But you’re right, there’s nothing ostentatious about it.”

We wondered if that album cover – Ram– was filmed here. I remembered the feeling of those warmer days so very far away – when albums had covers and the covers were beautiful and the timelessness of this field or a field just like it offered a golden glow, suggesting the simple purity of family life – of Paul McCartney, his tow headed children and lovely wife.

We passed before the house. “They have a lovely kitchen,” Walter said wistfully. He’d been there years ago with Anthony at a Boxing Day party. “It’s very warm and inviting inside,” he said.

We crossed the field. The air was light and and blue and the spring was very young. The trees down below – across the dip we had climbed were still bare – then,
“Oh my goodness!” There’s the cottage,” Walter said as we neared another style.

“I’ve never seen it from here before because of all the trees. Doesn’t it look lovely?”

And it did. That tiny cottage across the fields looked just as it must have for years and years.

Later on we saw a fox, furtively trotting across the bottom of the hill. We also encountered a pheasant, who flew up in front of us with a great flap of its wings, before the footpath took another turn – forcing us back to Walter’s cottage via the end part of McCartney’s driveway. The broad sweep of road was lined with apple trees not yet in bloom.

And when we reached the bottom of the road near a gate, a Rolls Royce passed like a royal carriage. We couldn’t see who was in it – and didn’t particularly care – but it might have been McCartney or it might have been a guest of his. In any case we were just three walkers in Wellington boots at the foot of the driveway. And we climbed up the hill – and greeted the security guard and said what a lovely day it had turned out to be and soon we were heading back towards Eggshole cottages.

In front of Walter’s cottage we ran into his neighbor Stephanie, cleaning down her little car. It was a red citron –painted with circles and bubbles. The floor inside it was lined with Astroturf –

"How's the goose," Walter asked.

"Better," she said. “Recovering in the shed – A mink got it. Didn’t Walter tell you?"

"Yes," I said, "He did."

"They’re vicious, you know," she told us. "This mink stole the goose's egg – and the egg was very big. It's amazing he managed to make off with it." And then he had come back, she explained, and attacked the goose herself – and the goose had to be taken by Stephanie to the vet where they stitched her up.

So now the goose was in the shed, recovering from the ordeal. We wondered if she’d make it.

NOT A THING WITH FEATHERS

I’ve decided that hope is not a thing with feathers. And what it asks of me is more than a crumb. It asks me to stay in place, locked in a kind of never never land of dreamy expectation, unable to move forward.

Hope is irrelevant. It makes no difference what we hope for. Does this sound cynical? For me this realization brings a new kind of comfort. The world doesn’t care what we hope for really. What it cares about is how we get on with things.

So often life can pass us by, while we’re stuck hoping for something that isn’t going to happen. And that’s not to say that it’s hopeless. It’s just to say that sure – hope and dream if you want to on occasion, but don’t get stuck on the hoping. Move past into faith and action! Live your life in the now.

This morning, for instance, now that I’ve given up hope, it felt like Christmas morning. I woke up alive in my bed, aware of the pre dawn, the smell of toast, and the sound of Ben grinding coffee downstairs. There was a splash of sunlight on the wall, and the curtains looked tall in our bedroom and the window onto the garden was blue. Hope has a kind of desperation. An uncertainty. It may work out. It may not. That's hope for you. Without hope, you must make your peace with the moment.