“OH BOG OFF!’’- It’s an exclamation often heard from my parents’ mouths. It’s one version of the same message, almost always to someone unknown to them who remains happily oblivious. A certain television presenter, Hilary Clinton with her American accent, Ed Balls announcing compulsory sex education for everyone over 6 (a bit more than a bog for him, I’m afraid), road-users with time on their hands. Strangely, my parents never shout at each other, just joke and giggle a lot and use a strange little code they’ve developed, such as when something ironic happens, they look at each other and say in unison, in matching weird voices, “Ironical….”
Anyway, they use it most when talking about the lady from the Council. Just to put you in the picture, a public footpath runs through our land. It caused no problems when it was properly fenced with post and rails and discreet rounded-off stiles which worked for man and beast. A new person, hailing no doubt from a city centre, was then put in charge of the footpaths, and nothing makes my parents swear quite as much as her. She is adamant that nice wide gates which open easily and won’t slam shut, are just the ticket for the pleasant country walks up steep hills she and her friends with their hip replacements enjoy. When my father dragged his heels in replacing the stock-proof stiles with easy-open gates, she took it upon herself to send three yellow-coated men (one to work and two to watch) to take out the stiles and leave gaping gaps in the fence.
“That’s it!” My father shouts, “I’m phoning that wretched hag! I’ll give her a right royal roasting!” It is rather surprising when moments later, when he’s talking to her in person, he’s as good as gold, as sweet as an angel and politeness itself. We then hear him saying what a good idea it is to have huge gates and footpaths across all our paddocks. At this bizarre point, my mother transforms herself to become a policewoman directing traffic out of Aintree - making extraordinary gestures, pointing in an exaggerated fashion out of the window and miming NO and DEFINITLY NOT! When he finally put the phone down, red faced and insisting that he was unable to listen to two people at once, my father shouted, “Right, I’m electrifying the lot of them!” And he did.
A week later he was using his teacher’s pet voice again on the telephone as Mrs Footpaths From The Council gave him the telling off he had been hoping to give her. He was positively whimpering by the time he promised to remove the electric fencing, but as soon as he’d put down the ‘phone he roared through clenched teeth, “Right, I’m getting a bull!” And he did.
Unfortunately, the bull was no scarier than a mouse to anyone except the footpaths’ woman and, make no mistake, she was the only one that mattered. A week later, there was a repeat conversation, and as usual, my father came off worse. The bull was sold.
You remember Thelma and Louise? Two rather gorgeous, quite mad, free-spirited girls with their own film, who make a dash for freedom. Thelma and Louise were my father’s last resort. A pair of yearlings, one flat-bred and one national hunt, their only job until they break records on the racecourse was to scare off unwanted, yet maddeningly legal trespassers and to prove to the Council that nobody wanted to walk across the paddock so that we could offer a more user-friendly route. There was no doubting their spirit – only this winter in the deep snow, Thelma had launched herself over the nearest thing she could find to a cliff, a thick 6 foot hedge with a vast drop onto the lane behind. You could almost hear her shout WIPPEE as she flew. My father was sure the walkers would be no match for these two feisty girls!
He was wrong. Thelma and Louise were so proud of their new responsibilities that they took to escorting the walkers like a pair of charming usherettes at the theatre. Instead of scaring people away, they gathered them. Time and again, a walker arrives and is immediately greeted by Thelma and Louise. They all walk together across the field making polite conversation, to where the footpath crosses into the next field. Here, the kind walker might “tip” them with a treat they shouldn’t have. Meanwhile, there are two deranged figures at the kitchen window, who have given up laughing when they weirdly mutter “ironical”.
To my parents’ dismay, the word has spread. This footpath must now be the most popular one in the county. Not only can we offer a beautiful view, excellent going and gates which open at the touch of a horse’s muzzle, we can guarantee the warmest welcome, and your very own tour guides. The sooner those two fillies go into training, the better. My father plans to start breeding goats!
Please note: in case you are the nice lady from the Council, this is all purely fictitious.