Wednesday 22 May 2019

Reasons to preserve more than blackcurrant jam

Lay of the Land

Fiona O'Connell

THE commuter belt continues to extend its tarmacadam tentacles. But sometimes rural folk themselves don't preserve their way of life. Nearby, a pretty road of cottages bordered by stone walls now faces a sprawling, unfinished housing estate. Further up, they're bulldozing meadows to build a suburbia of supersized houses, complete with automated gates.

"Fair play to him," one local says, about the farmer who did well selling off the land. But my faith in country people who cherish their heritage was rewarded when I happened upon a farm shop last week.

It was a beautiful afternoon, so I took time off. Deep in the countryside, I spotted the shop sign beside a wooden shed. The door was wide open. There were free-range eggs, beetroot, onions, and jars of blackcurrant jam. An old tin full of money acted as a self-service cash register.

I was considering my selection, when a tiny dynamo of dog came bounding up the yard. He stopped at a distance, leaning down on one foreleg and wagging his tail so ferociously that his entire barrel-shaped body shook. Finally he threw his head back and howled.

A man emerged from the house and waved. Then he ambled up the yard, blue eyes crinkled in an easy smile and his skin flushed with good health. Pat Croke has lived around these parts all his life. And it's where he intends to stay.

"I couldn't bear to live in a town," he said.

The Jack Russell rolled over for pets as Pat told me about the new venture farm shop. It also sells produce from neighbours. So it's a bit of a country co-op.

"That's Glenn," Pat pointed to a collie loitering down by his house. "He's probably 16 now."

Glenn ignored all calls and whistles to join us. But when Pat's son arrived back with another collie, Glenn approached to show me his lovely, greying face. He was nearly at my side, when I unhooked my sunglasses. Immediately, Glenn did an about-turn.

"He thought your sunglasses were a camera," Pat explained. "Glenn hates having his photo taken."

I was digesting this when a potato landed at my feet. The younger collie was crouched in position.

"Ah yes," Pat laughed. "Alan loves playing potato."

So I ended up throwing an increasingly saliva-drenched spud, which Alan mostly caught with his mouth. Inevitably, the potato split in two. At which point, it's fair to say that it was a game of two halves.

There was a reminder of 21st Century rural life when Pat used his mobile to check on the cattle. When his son led a mother and her calf into a neighbouring field to join the rest of their herd, I realised that we had talked till the cows came home.

So I wound my way back down the country roads to do the same.

Sunday Independent

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