Authors: Susie Martyn
Nola and Julia
added a touch of class to the surroundings. Their Eliza Doolittle and Liza Minelli rather stood out amongst the camp lunacy of the outrageous queens, and the boys fell completely in love with them.
‘Aren’t they just
heavenly?’ gushed Darius, gazing at them with wonder. ‘Flower, you have the most blissful friends…’
And it was mutual
. ‘You have such good friends around you, Lizzie,’ Nola said to Lizzie, taking her hand as she looked around. ‘Just look at them. They love you - don’t you see how you belong?’ Which Lizzie found strangely moving.
half crossed her mind that the handsome stranger from the Goat might be here, but she didn’t see him though she did meet one or two of the boys’ neighbours, who having failed to get any sense out of Tilly, asked her if she’d look at their gardens.
psychedelic sunsets at the same rate she usually got through wine, Antonia was already three sheets to the wind and her tiara had slipped over one eye when Lizzie found her telling a girl she’d never met before, all about the shenanigans with the rat-runners.
‘Darling! Meet S
loozie! Golly, must have another one of these drinkies… Seem to be awfully thirsty this evening…’
As she tripped off to find one,
the girl grinned at Lizzie. More sober than Antonia, she was striking looking, with long black hair and sharp, lively eyes.
‘This is all in your honour is it?
I’m Susie! The garden’s amazing. Tell me, how did you come to meet the girls?’ she nodded at Darius and Angel.
Lizzie said ruefully. ‘I was a runaway, just passing through. I wasn’t planning to stay but my car broke down. And I’m still here… How about you?’
‘Ma and Pa live round the corner,’ she indicated vaguely. ‘
I just visit at weekends now and then. Do tell me – is this thing about moving livestock doing any good?’
‘It’s hard to say – I should think a few of the drivers have given up and avoided it by now.’
‘God! Only in Littleton! Daddy has a few cows, though I can’t imagine he’d get involved… What did you run away from anyway - if you don’t mind me asking?’
‘Um, a fiancé, a wedding and a job that was destroying my soul
?’ Lizzie offered.
Susie looked impressed. ‘Well jolly good for you for doing it. That’s quite brave.
Oh, I’ve just got engaged actually…’ She flashed a ring that was almost as big as Lizzie’s had been.
before Lizzie could ask her about her wedding, Antonia rejoined them, bumping into Lizzie and spilling the contents of her glass down her front.
‘Good thing you’re wearing those
scruffy old things,’ she exclaimed, before muttering, ‘Blast, have to go and get another one.’
It was all oddly surreal, with Lizzie in her work clothes and everyone else in fancy dress.
And all the while, out of the corner of her eye, Lizzie watched Katie. Who’d have thought it – the city slicker and the country vet? She watched, as Katie played with Tim, luring him ever closer like a tigress seducing her prey. Someone really should have told him - his fate was sealed.
‘Sorry this is such a rush,’ said Antonia, who was looking extremely smart in a tailored suit and high heels – except for the dog hairs, that was.
But I thought it would be best if you were secretary. I’ve put your address on the schedules and your phone number too. Then you just need to keep a note of who is entered for what. Now, you’ll probably have trouble with Mrs Harper. She’ll absolutely insist on you telling her who her daughter will be competing against and who the judge is and you absolutely mustn’t. It’s highly confidential and none of her business and she’s a total pain in the arse. Anyway, I’ll help you, don’t worry. Golly, got to go. THANKS!’
As Antonia rushed out before Lizzie could protest, she glanced at the schedule her friend had left behind for the Littleton Charity Horse Show and Gymkhana. Being secretary wouldn’t be too bad, would it? Proceeds to Hethecote Farm, she read. She’d have to ask Antonia where that was.
Lizzie’s new surroundings were better than any therapy. Hard at work on her garden, she uncovered plants long lost under a blanket of weeds and tended the roses that had been left so long. And as she dug and pruned and cut and planted, she started to find a place in her head for the events of the last year, until gradually a kind of acceptance infiltrated where before there’d been the worst kind of emptiness and she could begin to look forward to the future. Even she could see that slowly but surely, this place was working its magic.
and his wife, Molly lived just one field away up the lane. Lizzie had fallen in love with Molly, who was small and wide and lived in an old-fashioned floral pinny. She was frequently to be seen pegging out impossibly white underpants neatly and precisely end to end on her washing line and if she saw Lizzie she’d invariably wave and call ‘yoo-hoo Lizzie! Come and have a cuppa!’ Lizzie couldn’t quite believe those pants - they really were straight out of the packet white too - no grey ones to be seen.
Molly’s homely kitchen always smelt of cooking and made Lizzie imagine hordes of pink-cheeked grandchildren grabbing handfuls of homemade biscuits and scoffing them as fast as they could, before tearing off outside again.
Sit yourself down, duck,’ she always said, while she warmed the cups and made a proper pot of tea. Inevitably Darren would accompany her, curling up on a chair as he kept an eye on proceedings.
If Molly had an opinion on the moving of the sheep and cows in rush hour, she kept it to herself.
‘It’ll bring nought but trouble, you’ll see,’ was all she said on the matter.
Work wasn’t as forthcoming as Lizzie had hoped. There were plenty of smaller jobs and she was managing to get by, but only just, and she didn’t want to dip into her savings unless she had to.
‘What you need is a nice rich man,’ Antonia
had told her bluntly. ‘Ideally one that’s in town all week and only comes home for weekends…’
‘With a big garden…’
dreamed Lizzie, briefly fantasising about a rambling old farmhouse and a big walled garden of her own.
?’ Antonia looked horrified. ‘No, no Lizzie. A big
. Much more fun than a garden! It’s a frightful bore when the funds get low. Actually, I could do with a little extra myself…’ She looked thoughtful. ‘I was thinking about taking some liveries. You know, I think that would be rather splendid! I could charge loads of dosh round here for a stable, especially when the hunting season starts! And if they do all the mucking out themselves, it’ll be easy… you know, I really think I’m onto something!’
But it didn’t help solve Lizzie’s problem. Darius and Angel had been full of suggestions.
‘Oh darling, you should have said… Leave it to us! We’ll spread the word, tell everyone how perfectly
Driving back from the boys’ barn
that afternoon, Lizzie had been deep in thought about work and taken the wrong road. Cursing that there was nowhere to turn her car and with a sense of déjà vu, carried on to the first driveway she came to and pulling in, noticed the sign.
it read and the penny dropped. This was the farm that the horse show was raising funds for. Underneath was a smaller notice.
‘Open Tuesday to Saturday 1200 – 6pm’.
Stuck on the bottom with what looked like sellotape was a scrappy piece of paper on which someone had scrawled, ‘
Casual workers wanted for weekends and holidays. Also gardener. Apply within
A gardener. Why not her? On the spur of the moment, Lizzi
e followed the drive between two fields, one with half a dozen small ponies in and the other a group of alpacas that watched her with beady eyes. At the top beside a five bar gate was a small car park, where Lizzie stopped her car and got out.
A woman in dungarees was sweeping a huge stable yard
which looked deserted. ‘Terribly sorry, we’re closed on Mondays!’ she shouted, until Lizzie tried to open the gate, when she came over.
Sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you, but actually, it was about your advert. At the bottom of the drive!’ Lizzie added, as the woman was looking vague.
Understanding dawned on the woman’s face. ‘For weekenders! Oh, you should have said! Come on in…’ She
held the gate.
‘It’s rather an assortment of animals, I’m afraid.
I hope you like horses… To think it all started with two Shetland ponies and an orphan lamb…after too many gins, no doubt. Would you like to look around, or shall I take you through the job?’
‘Animals?’ Lizzie frowned. ‘I thought you wanted a gardener!’
‘Ohhh. That… Well, we do. I think. It depends, you see. I kind of put that sign up without thinking it through...’
after too many gins,
‘…and well, I have this idea. Let me tell you about it. I’m Miriam, by the way. Pleased to meet you…’
Miriam Kirby led Lizzie around her farm, explaining what she had in mind. The whole idea about opening the farm to the public had come about when her husband died and left her with a struggling farm, too many animals, and three children who were still at school.
‘Nightmare, it was,’ she said ruefully. ‘I had to
either do something quickly or sell up, which I couldn’t face doing. And we had all these outgrown ponies that the children couldn’t bear to part with which was when I thought. You see, even living in the country, there are so many children who don’t have a pet, and never get to spend time with animals. So, for an entrance fee, their parents can bring them here and they can take a dog for a walk in the fields, or groom a pony and lead it round the paddock. No riding - we’re not a riding school. I did think about it at one stage, but the insurance was unbelievable. So there you are. I’m not sure what you’d call us…’
Lizzie looked over the stable door to where two donkeys were pulling hay from a manger
. One instantly turned its furry rump on her and farted.
‘Oh that’s Sid,’ said Miriam. ‘Take no notice
– his manners are appalling. The other one’s Johnny and he’s not much better. Anyway, as you can imagine we get quite a few disabled children coming here, and it really seems to benefit them. Heartbreaking stuff I can tell you. We had a lovely little girl called Hannah who used to visit. So shy, she was - like a mouse, and so self-conscious about her poor, bald little head. Well, the first day, I took her in to see Arrow. He’s a Welsh mountain pony – very small and long in the tooth and a bit of a know-all. We shave his mane because he gets sweet-itch. Anyway, it was love at first sight. Arrow fell in love with her and she with him, and she was a different child after that. Lived for her visits, her parents said.’
‘How often does she come here?
Miriam turned away. ‘She died, I’m afraid. Leukaemia. Tragic.’ Her voice wavered.
‘Oh! I’m so sorry,’ Lizzie
was shocked. ‘That’s
problem is,’ said Miriam, recovering her composure, ‘that we don’t make anything like enough money, but how could we possibly close?’
‘There’s the horse show, isn’t there?’ said Lizzie. ‘A friend has asked me to help.’
‘Antonia? She’s a marvel,’ said Miriam. ‘But when you’ve this many animals, it’s a drop in the ocean. Which leads on to my idea about the garden...’
They walked across the stable yard to
wards a wall with ivy growing up it. Halfway along was an old wooden door which Miriam opened and following her in, Lizzie found herself in the biggest kitchen garden she’d ever seen. This was far more her scene than the stable yard.
‘This is yours?’ she asked
incredulously. ‘It’s fabulous!’
‘Well, it used to be.
Before I ran the animal centre, I grew all our vegetables and used to sell them locally. Now it’s just a worry. It’s going to rack and ruin because no-one has time to tend to it. Shall I tell you my idea?’
Miriam outlined how she wanted to open it to the public. Ideally she’d have restored
it to its former glory and charge people to come and see it, but she couldn’t possibly afford either the time or money to get it done.
‘What I need to do is somehow get
outside people involved. I’m pretty sure that once it got off the ground, it would be just as popular as the animals! I’m just not sure where to start…’
just a tidy-up would be good. Those roses need pruning, and the vegetable beds need weeding and rotavating…Simple stuff, there’s just a lot of it! You could do with an army of teenagers to come and work here. Do you know any?’
‘I had thought,’ said Miriam slowly, ‘about renting it out as allotments. To families, who could bring their children here and have reduced entry to the farm or something… What do you think?’
‘Maybe,’ said Lizzie. ‘But mightn’t it work better if you could get some huge community project up and running? We featured one once in the magazine I used to work for. They got young offenders in and actually, most of them really got something out of it. They got to grow their own vegetables and enter flower shows. There was only the odd problem - but it worked…’
They agreed they’d both give it some thought. It wasn’t exactly the job that Lizzie had been hoping for, but it
had fired her imagination. The question was how to make it pay.
It was still very much on her mind when she went to Antonia’s that evening, where Tim had just finished giving Halla a check up.
‘He’s been a little off colour,’ explained Antonia. ‘Cassie wants to
compete him next weekend. Now, Timmy darling, I really do think it’s time Lizzie learnt to ride. Owly’s simply wonderful, he’s a doting aunt with novices. Safe as houses…’
unfortunately named Owly had grey spectacles on his large, brown head and an air of immense wisdom. His bottom lip flapped comically and as far as Lizzie had ever seen, he never ventured faster than an amble.
‘I haven’t come to talk about horses, Antonia. I met Miriam. We were looking at how to make money from her garden. Like allotments…’
She stepped back as Owly reached for her pockets.
Allotments? Sounds a bit crackers if you ask me! Old Miriam’s a good sort. Has this rather bold hunter. Jumps anything…’ sounding envious, her mind still fixated on horses.
not as daft as it sounds,’ said Tim, rubbing the brown head in front of him. Owly closed his eyes in bliss, his lip wobbling. ‘Let’s face it, that place is hugely popular. And animals are a lot nicer than most people. Present company excepted of course,’ he added hastily. ‘It’s no wonder that kids are so drawn to them. It must cost her a fortune though. But the garden… maybe she should contact some schools and see if they want to get involved? For a fee? She could rent them each an allotment and hold a contest for the most original garden…’
‘Like Chelsea flower show, you mean…’ butted in Antonia.
‘She could get the press to feature her, promote the farm…’ he went on.
‘I say darling
, you are clever…’
‘And there must be grants she could apply for…’
‘And don’t forget fundraising, darling… Golly! I know I do the horse show, but I always fancied organising a ball! You know, a really posh one in a stately home or something… Be awfully good fun, don’t you think?’
‘You’re completely brilliant, both of you!’ declared Lizzie, her eyes shining with admiration
at all these possibilities they’d come up with. She couldn’t wait to go and tell Miriam.