Monday, April 16, 2007

The Farmer Part I

This is the true story of a man who smells of pigs.

If the truth be told, he also smells of cows but that’s hardly pertinent to the story I’m about to tell. Nor does the news that he shares a close working relationship with sheep have any bearing on what follows. It would be as well if I hadn’t mentioned any of this at all as the only thing that should concern you as you read my account of the last few days is that the odour of the pig clings to the man. He goes nowhere without it.

The man’s full name is Randy Lewis Dale but we all call him The Farmer. That alone should tell you so much about him. My cousin is a man stuck somewhere at the tail end of his thirties and deep in his farmyard ways. He keeps pigs, sheep, and cows down there on the south east coast, though I’ve never been too sure where you should look for his estate. I haven’t been inclined to ask. He’s the sort of person who wouldn’t be satisfied if he merely told you his address. He’d have to invite you over for a few days among the hooves and horns and that’s something you’d be best advised to avoid. The Farmer is an odd man. He’s the oddest man ever to have churned milk into butter or chew a straw in a vaguely thoughtful way.

He arrived on my doorstep on Wednesday evening. I can’t say I was surprised. We’d had enough of an advance warning.

Half-way though Emmerdale, the breeze had shifted and had begun to blow from the direction of the station. That’s when Gabby mentioned a strange smell. I naturally checked all the usual suspects. I went to the fridge and tested the milk. I poked the goldfish to make sure it wasn’t gills up to the ceiling. Then I looked down the back of the sofa to see if any stray thongs had been abandoned there, as they so often are. Finally, I caught a touch of that fateful breeze and immediately recognised the smell of pigs. That’s when I knew my cousin was in town.

Having hid the booze and removed my priceless collection of posing pouches from the spare room, I was just about ready when Gabby mentioned that the smell had got so much stronger. That’s when the doorbell rang.

I opened the door to find The Farmer looking and smelling like a true rural Dale. Even I was a little taken aback by the sheer scale of my English relative. He’s a big haystack of a man; rosy cheeked, calloused hands, coarse hair piled up like bails of well seasoned straw. I welcomed him in and introduced him to Gabby who was good enough to ignore the odours of the countryside and give him a welcoming peck on the cheek. Only, no sooner had these pleasantries been delivered than my normally hearty relative collapsed on the sofa and began to weep big rolling puddles of tears. They were tears so big you could dip sheep in them.

‘Oh Chip!’ wailed The Farmer through the sobs that sounded like an aspirating diesel engine, ‘I’m a man left broken my the buxom brigade! The world of the nubiles has deserted me. No longer will I roll in the hay with Glenda! The days of trysts in my tractor have come to an end! She’s left me, Chip. She’s left me for another man!’

That’s how he talks. Full of buxom wenches and assignations in barns. It made it even harder to know what to say. Instinctively I knew that his wife could only have left him for a man who didn’t smell of so many harvests and that could only be a good thing. Not that I thought it sensible to share this conclusion with The Farmer. In the maelstrom of his tears, he’d begun to gnaw at the arm of the sofa and, as you know, that’s a delicate emotional state for both man and chair.

‘What am I to do Chip?’ he asked after he spat out a mouthful of stuffing. ‘Am I to ever tend again to a nymph on a bail of hay? Is the land of totty beyond me forever?’

‘Have you tried boxes of chocolates?’ I offered.

‘Chocolates!’ spat Gabby. ‘You! she said, prodding The Farmer. ‘Chip’s cousin! Are you man or mouse? Have you tried punching man? You tell him leave woman or you put him in thresher.’

The Farmer patted her hand kindly. ‘If only it was as easy as a simple case of violence,’ he said. ‘She left me so suddenly I don’t even know where she’s gone.’

‘But surely you had some signs,’ I noted. ‘You must have seen that the romance had gone off the boil.’

‘Signs?’ sighed The Farmer. ‘I suppose I should have known it was all over when she refused to help me birth Gloria.’

‘Gloria?’ asked Gabby who was clearly in touch with this rustic tale. I admit that I was casually indifferent to any answer he could possibly give. Once you’ve seen a man try to chew a sofa’s fabric, you tend not to hold out much hope for what he has to say.

‘Gloria is a sow!’ he answered. ‘She’s the most glorious sow in existence. Took top prize at the Hartford Country Fair last year. Specially commended by the judges for having the best teats they’d ever seen.’

I’ve done some odd things as a stripper but I had to admit that I’d yet to judge a sow by its teats. Somehow, once you’ve been enlightened to the fact that grown men run competitions for that sort of thing, you tend to look at the world a little differently. You really do. However, rather than press the teat issue, I thought it best to get to the nub of the matrimonial dispute. In that direction, at least, I knew I might find an explanation for The Farmer’s arrival in Bangor.

‘So, you’re saying that Glenda left you because you asked her to act as a midwife to your pigs?’

‘You make it sound strange,’ said The Farmer. ‘You make it sound unreasonable.’

Personally, I thought ‘unreasonable’ sounded like a word that summed up the whole affair. I’d begun to feel in absolute agreement with the poor woman’s predicament. To be sure, if The Chipster’s ever found in the room with a heavily pregnant sow, you can bet your last dollar that the sow will have to tend to her own needs, and I care little that my well oiled arms are so suitably fit for birthing.

The Farmer’s cheeks billowed out as though he reminded himself of the irrational fear his wife had towards a pig in labour.

‘She said it made her feel ill,’ he sighed and indignantly rubbed the back of his hand across his nose. In the process he picked up something sleek and long. Images of Gloria birthing came to mind.

‘It is unfortunately hard to understand the female mind,’ I agreed, casting a quick glance at Gabby who was listening with a scowl draped like a velvet curtain across the blank recess of her features . ‘They have the oddest dislikes and some of the strangest moods.’

It was the wrong thing to say. Gabby is ever alert to even the slightest criticism. As soon as she felt my eyes on her, she responded like Romanian air defences.

‘Nothing odd or strange,’ she protested. ‘I help birth animals many times in old country.’ And with that, she was up from her chair. ‘I show you,’ she said. ’I show you. I have photo in room of me with hands up a…’

‘Thank you, Gabby,’ I quickly interjected. ‘We can do without the instruction manual.’

But it was too late. My Romanian princess was off to search her albums for the photo of her elbow deep into some animal.

‘Good woman you’ve got there,’ said my cousin with a fixed smile. ‘She reminds me of Glenda in so many ways.’ And just like that, The Farmer opened act two of his story of marital woe. ‘It’s a shame I can’t find a woman as good as that,’ he said. ‘If only I could find somebody to love me. Some place where I can stay for just a few days…’

I knew he was fishing for an invite but I wanted to see how far his lure ran.

‘If only there was somebody who could help me. Some member of the family who believes that a family must stick together. If only I knew generous relative in Wales who wouldn’t see me without a roof over my head…’ He looked at me with his eyes welling up with more tears. ‘Oh, don’t make me ask, Chip,’ he gasped. ‘I had nowhere else to go. You just have to say I can stay a few days. Just until I get my act together.’

‘But what about the farm?’ I asked. ‘What about the animals?’

‘All gone,’ he said. ‘I’ve sold everything.’



‘But what about Gloria and her prizewinning teats?’

‘She’s gone too. They’re now the property of to Tesco. That’s if she’s still around... She’s probably in a hotdog right now.’

This was all a bit too much to stomach. I looked uncomfortably towards the kitchen and my deep freeze. I buy all my hotdogs from Tesco. The wouldn’t taste any better knowing about teats.

‘When exactly did Glenda leave you?’ I asked, trying to regain a grip on the situation and find a reasonable excuse for denying my cousin sanctuary in my home.

‘Last June,’ he said. ‘It’s been a horrible few months.’

‘Months? But that’s nearly a year ago,’ I said, as sharp as that and mentally twice as quick. ‘Why come bothering us now?’

He fell back into his seat and turned his eyes to the ceiling. ‘Let me think… She left me in June. The divorce was finalised in November. I had to sell up in February. I finally moved out today. Only I have nowhere else to go. At least, not until the accountants sort out our finances. Divide the money…’

‘Yes,’ I spluttered, searching for a way out. ‘But, but… Haven’t you even organised yourself a new home?’

He never had chance to answer. Gabby was suddenly back in the room. In her hand she held a colour blow up you really don’t want me to describe.

‘Of course you can stay here, Chippy’s cousin,’ she said. ‘You welcome here. Chip will give you room. You sort out troubles. Stay as long as you want.’

And with that the issue was decided.

We chatted some more and Gabby forced me to inspect the photograph for a second and third time before I managed to calm the situation. The Farmer went off with Gabby to help tend her chickens and as soon as they’d left the apartment, Gabby’s photograph mysteriously had an accident with the paper shredder in my office. A man never needs to be reminded of the many places in the world where he never wishes to see his girlfriend’s elbows. And I’m sure it’s a sentiment I share with the world’s population of donkeys.

All this happened on Thursday evening but it was only later that night that the full extent of The Farmer’s problems came to light.

I began to suspect things when he began to ready himself for bed.

‘Anybody using the bathroom?’ he asked about ten thirty.

‘No, no,’ I replied, halfway through another of my Japanese films on DVD. ‘We don’t go to bed until late.’ I might have muttered something about his taking his time and running a bath but I really can’t remember. Gabby gave me a sharp look and I carried on watching Beat Takashi gazing enigmatically out to sea as a woman danced on the beach with a football.

‘Fair enough,’ said The Farmer and I heard the bathroom door close. As I’ve said before: the whole thing had passed beyond my caring. I was too intrigued in my film to thing about my cousin until about ten minutes later when I heard the bathroom door open.

‘Goodnight all,’ said The Farmer.

‘Night,’ I replied, my eyes still fixed on the TV screen.

And that’s when I heard Gabby gasp and I had to look up.

Nothing in my life had prepared me to see what I saw that night. Even as I sit here, the sun cooking my flesh on this pleasant Saturday afternoon with Bangor feeling like an enormously generous place to be, I cannot begin to understand the inner workings of my cousin’s mind. I like to think I’m about as liberal as liberals get, accepting all sorts in this world of ours. But never have I felt so utterly lost for words as when I looked up and saw my cousin standing there.

I didn’t so much mind that he had crammed the wild growth that covered his head into a hair net. What I found distracting was the rest of his body squeezed into a pink lace nightie. It was tied with pink ribbons over pinker nipples that gleamed with pinkness through the thin pink fabric. They resembled pink door fittings on a pink door. There was absolutely nothing prize winning about these teats.

‘What you looking at?’ he asked as I continued to stare at him.

‘What you’re wearing,’ I finally said, suddenly overcome with honesty.

‘Oh this,’ he smiled and ran a finger down the transparent pink gown. ‘It’s one of Glenda’s old favourites. It always reminds me of her.’ And with that, he waved a self-conscious goodbye and disappeared into the spare bedroom.

Even the TV had fallen into silence – a heavily subtitled Japanese silence at that – and I just sat staring at the closed bedroom door. Finally, with her typical resilience, Gabby came around from the shock the first.

‘Your cousin is a very very very odd man,’ she said slowly before she picked up the remote control and flicked the TV over to the Romanian News channel on satellite. ‘We have words for men like that but I don’t say them because I try to be English lady.’

Which was perceptive, in its way, as that appeared to be the problem with my cousin: he too was trying to act like an English lady. However, that was a problem for another time. I left Gabby watching an hour long special on the Romanian grain harvest. Sleep might not hold all the solutions but I knew that I'd had enough agriculture for one day.

1 comment:

Ms Baroque said...

By the way, Chippy, I think you should know why you had no comments on this: people were dazzled. They were amazed at how you could absorb this experience, process all the emotions it must have brought up in you, negotiate the delicate situation in your relationships with both Gabby and your cousin, expose your pig-farming kinfolk to the glare of the thong, I mean the blog-reading throng - yes, not only do all that but then sit down and commit the entire experience to the screen, so that we could be there with you.

But I'm sure you knew that already!