Book Of The Month May, 2007
A Country WifeLucy Pinney
Twenty years ago a young Londoner named Lucy arrived in the Dorset countryside as a rather bemused bride. She knew nothing of the great outdoors and blithely agreed to spend her honeymoon harvesting. Her rural education was to be a fast and frantic one. This is the story of a woman who began rural life in romance, raised a family in the farmyard, was left by her husband just as her name was being made as a columnist for the countryside, and found a whole new life for herself in the hills and valleys she had come to love. Inspired by Lucy Pinney’s popular columns for The Times , this bewitching bucolic romp is a glorious combination of Bridget Jones , I Don’t Know How She Does It and Gervase Phinn. She became a farmer’s wife for love of the farmer, but can Lucy’s relationship with the countryside survive two decades, divorce and more mud than she ever dreamed possible?
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Lucy Pinney on her book A Country Wife:
Since writing A Country Wife I have gradually settled in to living with my new partner, Ian, a former tenant farmer who had to give up growing wheat for financial reasons. He’s retrained as an Aga serviceman. The chief problem with his new profession is other people’s pets, as he has to spend hours on his knees, peering into ovens and fire-boxes. Kittens scamper up his back, puppies run off with his tools, and yesterday an African Grey parrot kept telling him to bugger off.
We’re gradually returning to farming. We’re making hay this year, and have planted out a wood, an orchard, and a huge vegetable garden. But it is a bit hard to think of a way of making money out of animals. (Nearly all the farmers round here make a loss due to falling prices.) Maybe we will rear a few beef cows, in a co-operative venture with some neighbouring smallholders. A year ago we kept a sow co-operatively, and it was highly enjoyable. She was called Cornflake (name chosen by committee) and lived off leftover quiche, potato peelings, acorns, and unbelievably expensive organic pig-nuts. In the mornings she would lie frostily in bed with her best friend (a semi-bald runaway chicken from the egg farm next door) and have to be woken up by shouting. She hated brussels sprouts, just like us – and enjoyed basking in the heat of a bonfire. When it was time for her to become sausages and neat rolled joints of pork we gave her a last supper of scones and clotted cream and enticed her up the ramp of a trailer with a line of chocolate chip cookies. (Incidentally, one of the nicest things about keeping a pig is the way that you feel so happy when it puts on weight. Such a change from climbing on the bathroom scales in the mornings and feeling despair. And, of course, you can feed the pig all the biscuits and cakes you shouldn’t eat.)
Apart from the pig we have kept a pet lamb which died mysteriously and horribly aged six weeks – reminding me of all the reasons why I gave up farming in the first place – and a vast assortment of poultry. At the moment we are hand-rearing two Greylag goslings. The eggs were given to me by my sister, who lives on a houseboat on the Thames. We’ve kept the little dark-green goslings in the kitchen ever since they hatched. They snuggle up to the warm stove at night, making a harmonic whistling noise, and the rest of the time make a noise exactly like a dog’s squeaky toy. They climb on our feet affectionately when we sit down, and follow us when we walk, their enormous leathery brown feet slapping on the lino. Their presence severely annoys the dog and the cats.
The village is still very much the same as when I wrote the book. Marty the postman still delivers the mail and helps out with furniture removals and intimate advice. Mike the sub-postmaster still sits behind his counter telling enthralling rural tales. (My favourite is about the squirrel that stole his fruit last summer. It would carry a plum in each paw, and tuck more under its armpits.) But an awful lot more of the local farms have sold up. Nowadays when I walk my little son, Nat, to primary school we don’t pass a single working farmyard. When my other kids went to the same school there were three thriving dairies on the way.
My ex-husband has moved away from Scotland with his girlfriend to a farm in the South. He seems happy, and keeps mules and goats. He rarely speaks to me when we meet, which is generally at a motorway service-station in the holidays, to hand Nat over to each other. My older children still won’t meet him. Their feelings about him can be deduced from their reaction when Nat opened a letter from his father asking if he would like to think of names for his girlfriend’s four puppies. Sam suggested Chastity, Fidelity, Loyalty and Monogamy. And Kathy (even less forgiving) Gonorrhoea, Syphilis, Crabs and Herpes.
It would be a bit difficult to write a follow-up to A Country Wife until a few more dramatic things have happened to me. So in the meanwhile I’m researching and writing a modern love story set in the countryside.