Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Living on a farm involves a lot of mishaps with fire, apparently.

Having grown up on a farm, I had loads of experiences that my peers didn't. Of course, I'd go through the whole summer not seeing anyone that I didn't share genes with or who wasn't employed by my grandfather, and any time someone got lost and ended up driving up to the house, my cousins, sister and I would go running to see the 'strangers, from the outside' (sometimes even with an 'oooooooh'.) One time, when giving a car full of such strangers directions, my grandmother told them that when they reached a fork, they should "...fork off to the left...", which earned her a rather interesting set of looks. The extended hours of family time also meant that I got the pleasure of explaining to my grandmother what a lesbian is. It's only now that I realise that she probably heard the word because that would have been around the time that the rumour that I am one began circulating amongst my nearest and dearest. I came out as straight to one of my cousins, but we both decided to go along with it for the entertainment value. I have mentioned that I didn't get out much when at home, yes? My father had also stopped threatening that when I brought my first boyfriend home he would line up spent shotgun cartridges (with a different male name on each) atop the mantelpiece and either; be holding a new cartridge and marker pen when being introduced, or, be sat in his chair stroking his shotgun and dribbling out of the left side of his mouth (as dribbling out of the right side of his mouth would have made him appear too common). My cousin and I kept the in joke going for years while my family tried several different ways to get me to come out to them whilst I played dumb, then one day I slipped in front of my aunt when speaking with my cousin about my crush on Hot Guy With A Band. My aunt immediately jumped on this and advised me to get my knickers off and my legs in the air. Needless to say I didn't take this advice, although my reasoning for this at the time was my exam on the following day when the opportunity arose, and the next time I saw him outside of our seminars he had his tongue down another girl's throat so it didn't seem appropriate to remove my underwear and drag him into the disabled toilet of the nightclub at the time.

Coming out as straight is becoming something more and more common for University students it seems. Not only do I have many friends who have been assumed to be gay as they've been to embarrassed by their families to introduce them to their love interests, but I also have friends who have been assumed to be gay/lesbian because they're too 'different' from their less educated family members. I have one friend who, after she had her Facebook relationship status changed to show her to be in a relationship with her housemate by a mutual friend of the two of them, invited the same housemate to visit her over one holiday. During this visit she discovered that following her relationship status change, her family had all called one another to discuss how they would ensure that she felt that her sexuality was accepted by everyone, and how relieved they were that she'd finally come out. The truth came out over dinner when the family thought they were being introduced to the girlfriend. Some parents actually have the Eddie-from-Ab-Fab-esque want of a gay child so that they can be kept away from beige and blue rinses in their old age (some of these have a wish-list of children including a plumber,  lawyer, and accountant, and a Hollywood kid to pay for it all. They generally don't mind which one's gay but assume it will be Hollywood kid). Unfortunately I also have many friends who are too afraid to come out as gay to families that I know would be accepting, and other friends who have been driven out of their homes by their families and neighbours after coming out.

Anyway, being constantly in close quarters with my extended family meant that I missed out on some of the experiences my friends were having at 15 such as having sex with men in alleyways by the bin whilst having conversations with my other drunken friends who were fine with this as 'they'd seen it all before', then having to go to the school nurse the next day for the morning after pill. These experiences, such as the pub where the landlord knew our ages and encouraged us to go there and dance and would stick lollipops down our bras if we danced well, made us feel cool at the time. Now, they creep the bejeesus out of me. However there were plenty of good things about growing up in the middle of nowhere.

Apart from: -
  1. driving a tractor when I was tall enough to reach the peddles, and steer before that; 
  2. driving a quad bike at high speeds over banks and humps to see how far I could fly well before I'd hit double figures; 
  3. rowing a boat across the pond (which was more lake-like than pond-like and doesn't mean I've rowed a boat across the Atlantic) whenever I was bored with all other forms of entertainment; 
  4. playing with various kinds of animals, including one time where I went missing as a dummy-sucking toddler only to be found walking a bull by its nose ring up to the house by adults who were apparently terrified of approaching me as the bull could turn on me any second, however had enough time to get photographic evidence; 
  5. learning to shoot a shot gun and rifle in my early teens (and almost getting one of the cats by accident); 
  6. having my helium balloon rescued from a tree by an employee my grandfather had get into the front bucket of a JCB that was quickly filling with rain water because I was sick and needed cheering up; 
  7. and the various climbing and exploring opportunities that come from growing up in a 400 year old house with multiple changes and additions made over the years (making it slightly Burrow-esque if the Burrow had to obey the laws of physics), which was built on the site of an ancient Celtic site complete with chieftain's burial ground behind the house, and in an area integral to the war effort meaning the farm hosted loads of relics of the preparations for the possibility that the Nazis might make it to Britain such as tunnels and hiding places. We also heard stories about the balloons the farm hosted to prevent Nazi aircraft from getting through. Whilst in the back fields there were concrete blocks in the ground with huge metal rings to which the balloons had been tied, as the front fields were used for crop a van had been placed in one with a balloon tied to the top. One day the man in the van fell asleep and the van was lifted by the balloon and carried across several fields. The guy received a medal for getting the van back down, although he admitted to my family that it wouldn't have happened in the first place if he'd been awake.
I also had many other experiences that could only come from the combination of unlimited land and my family. A few of these came from our method of waste disposal. Because of our location, getting waste collected was an issue, so as much as possible was burnt. I would put the bin bags in two separate piles, one for burning and one for the dump. My father rarely listened to this but luckily my grandfather or grandmother usually dealt with the waste. Shortly after my school had taken the girls out of lessons to give us the period talk, (When we were 15/16, which was too late for every single person in the room.) I put the free tampon samples in with the bathroom waste as I had been unsuccessful in my attempt to use them. The bathroom waste also contained an empty can of deodorant, so was put in the landfill pile. Unfortunately my father decided to take charge of the burning that week. As he was walking away from the bonfire he'd created there was an explosion, and tampons began raining down over the field.

Another fire story involves my father's hoarding. Whenever I tried throwing things away, I'd get in huge amounts of trouble. But at the beginning of each new relationship he'd be on his best behaviour and would pretend to be a decent human being, so every new girlfriend would decide to help the poor, single guy by cleaning the house for him. I would obviously have to have a preclean leaving the house at just the right level to be 'poor, useless bachelor' without being disgusting. One girlfriend came across something she couldn't identify when cleaning, so decided to just throw it in the burn bag. When my father put it on the bonfire, he and my aunt were talking, when suddenly they heard a shot and something flew past them. My aunt, father, and cousin were all sent running for cover from an armed bonfire.

These weren't the first examples of my father's incompetence with fire. Gorse would be burnt on the farm to stop it taking over, however the bushes would get to impressive sizes before being dealt with. During one burning session, my father decided to cover a bush with an entire gallon of petrol before putting a match to it. Family lore dictates that the bush went up so quickly that he lost his eyebrows and had to back away quickly.

Although my grandmother wasn't much better. One day she decided to be spontaneous and burn rubbish somewhere other than the burning spot that had been used for generations. She chose a spot behind the house. Next to some blackberry bushes. Which were about 10 feet from the house. And 20 feet tall. The fire was noticed when my father went outside to see why a fire engine had arrived and to give them directions to the next farm, where he was certain the real fire must have been...until he realised that his back was unusually warm.

My grandmother betrayed me in another way involving a blackberry bush. Every year we went to pick blackberries from the bushes dotted around the farm so that she could make jam for the world and her dog. One year I was trying to reach a berry from near the top of a bush, and kept inching forward into the bush to try and get it. Suddenly my foot slipped, and I ended up up to my chest in a rabbit hole, unable to get out. My grandmother was laughing too much to rescue me, luckily we were near the house and my grandfather heard the dogs doing their Lassie impersonations.

The dogs rescued my sister, cousins and I a few times. Once, my special needs sister went missing, and every single one of us was searching the house and fields looking for her. Suddenly, those of us in the area nearest the house saw her being marched back over the hill with a German Sheppard on either side.

As we are talking about a farm, there are far too many animal stories to go into right now. So I'll save some of those for another post.

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