More haste, less speed

Posted August 2nd, 2006 by Penny Wise

Fiona and Matt have arrived in NZ, ‘the land of the long white cloud’, although ‘land of the big, grey raincloud’ is probably a more accurate description. Our chilly Kiwi weather must have come as a shock to the system after sunny California! It’s lovely to catch up with them again and they have been learning first-hand how quirky and chaotic our household really is. There we were on Day One out surveying the Wise domain while the sun was shining for a change and talking about what a peaceful and picturesque spot we live in, when I was appalled to see Ella saunter across the newly mown lawn and proudly deposit a huge placenta (as you do) in the middle of it. One of the neighbours’ cows had recently calved and Ella had gone and helped herself to its afterbirth as a take-home prize. How delightful. I did laughingly confess to Fiona that having so many animals around does result in a lot of extra work, but I had forgotten just how much until the following day…

I got up bleary-eyed the next morning to find that the cats had brought a rather large bird in through the cat door and festooned the laundry with feathers. No time to clean it up now, had to get Liam ready for school. I was calmly making sandwiches for his lunchbox when Noel came in and said ‘Our calves have all disappeared!’ We had acquired six beautiful Angus calves just a few days before and Noel and the boys were very proud of them. It’s a nice little earner for the boys – we buy them at four days old and the boys help feed and rear them and then sell them on once they’re weaned at a nice wee profit, which goes into their bank. Mum was staying with us and the three of us hunted high and low and drove all around the neighbourhood but they had simply vanished off the face of the earth. The heavy rain in the night had washed away any tracks and after a lengthy search we had to resign ourselves to the fact that they had been stolen. Not a good start to the week and we were all very despondent to think that we had been the target of such a mean trick, but unfortunately it does happen to many farmers at this time of year and there’s not a lot that can be done about it.

‘Ah well, I had better head off to work, you call the police and report them stolen’ sighed Noel, which I duly did. Not ten minutes later, the phone rang and our neighbour from next door’s voice said ‘I’ve got two black calves walking up my drive, could they be yours?’ I rushed around to check (still in my penguin polar fleece pyjamas and bright red slippers) and with the help of Mum and Liam managed to steer them back in the direction of home. ‘Hooray! Two down!’ said Liam. ‘You’d better call the police back and tell them they haven’t been stolen’ said Mum as she too headed off to work. ‘I haven’t found the rest yet though’, I reasoned. However it wasn’t long before another neighbour appeared and told me she had seen a black calf wearing a ‘coat’ sitting in the paddock of a farm along the main road. Eek, how far had they gone! I decided if I was going to drive all over the countryside I had better change out of my pyjamas and rang the school to tell them Liam was going to be late as I needed his help. Sure enough a few minutes later we found Liam’s favourite calf in the aforementioned field, who had happily found himself a surrogate Mum in the form of a real cow. ‘Hmm, well he’s not going to be interested in me waving a bottle under his nose then, let’s keep going – at least we know where he is’, I said, turning into the next driveway. ‘Look, there they are!’ shouted the boys excitedly and there they were indeed, three little black dots in the distance. I drove down to meet them and being rather late for their breakfast by now they were very happy to see us. ‘Great, that’s the lot of them located! Now we just have to get them home’, I told the boys. This seemed to prove pretty easy as they were all hungry and happy to follow us. I was a little worried about trying to get them and the boys safely across the busy road but this ended up not being an issue as before we could get there the farmer’s two Golden Retrievers lumbered out barking and the calves took off as fast as their legs would carry them back the way we had just come.

Knowing those dogs of old, I realised that there was no way we were going to get the calves past them on foot, but there was nobody around for miles and I couldn’t leave them there; they could have ended up anywhere. Actually, that wasn’t quite true about nobody being around for miles – the taciturn owner of the farm AND his worker had driven past three times already and not even turned a head in our direction. How they thought I was going to get the animals off their place by myself I don’t know, but I had given up hope of them being of any use – there was only one thing left I could do. ‘Right boys,’ I said matter-of-factly, we’re just going to have to put them in the car’. ‘What?! No way!’ cried the boys incredulously. ‘Well how the heck else are we going to get them home? Come on, help me round them up’ I said, gently maneuvering Ali’s favourite one rather bewilderedly into the back seat. ‘But Mum, Joe’s got the trots, you can’t put him in there!’ Ali said horrified. But by now I was well beyond all sense of reason ‘JUST HELP ME’ I growled, shoving the next one in and slamming the door. We were fast running out of room and there was no alternative but to put the last one in the boot – I just had to get him there, as there was the small issue of him not being as friendly and keen to comply as the others. The air was turning blue as I tried every trick in the book to gently cajole the uncooperative animal towards my car. Finally all out of patience I grabbed him by the tail and lugged him as well as I could up as far as the car boot – but at around 40-odd kilos I couldn’t lift him in. Looking back it must have looked absolutely hilarious – a grown woman in floods of angry tears yelling abuse at the unhelpful farmer as she shoved a small bovine in her boot, but I finally got there and with great difficulty managed to close the boot on top of the poor animal.

By this time, Joe the first calf had made his way over to the front seat, there were muddy hoof-prints throughout and the second calmly weed all over the back seat as he pressed himself up against the back windscreen. ‘Right, get in’ I instructed the boys – at which point Liam burst into tears. ‘I don’t want to, I’m walking home’ he wailed miserably. ‘GET IN!’ I yelled, opening the door, pushing him in and depositing Ali on his lap before hurriedly slamming the door shut again before our four-legged friends could escape. I jumped in and quickly went to put the car into ‘drive’ but found I couldn’t because Joe was standing on the gear stick. Liam was still complaining loudly as small, sharp hooves trampled over his legs, but somehow we finally got there and miraculously made the journey home without any of them leaving a ‘calling card’ in the car – particularly our friend Joe! We quickly bundled the first two out of the back seat but it took a little more persuasion to get the third out of the boot – I think he was worried what on earth this mad woman was going to try to do to him next. But, we got there in the end and they were soon fed and happy. I rang the police to tell them sheepishly that the calves had not been stolen, but simply had gone AWOL and called the school again to tell them that Liam was going to be later still has he now needed a bath. While the boys were in the bath, I got ready to tackle the next job – cleaning the inside of my car. Luckily with a family as naturally messy as mine I did have the presence of mind to have seat covers on both the front and back seats but there was still the problem of cleaning the mud and other unmentionables off the doors and ‘wipeable’ areas – not to mention getting rid of the smell! I was resigned to the fact it would probably need costly professional cleaning but quickly jumped online and checked the Vault for some likely hints. All it took was a bucket of soapy water and some bicarb soda and the car was soon clean and smelling sweet again – who would have guessed there had been three calves riding in it just a few minutes before!

Car clean and kids clean, it was time to finally get Liam to school – it was 11.00am by this time. Then it was time to go home and clean up before whizzing Ali to the hospital for his post-op check-up. The floors needed washing because I had been running in and out with my dirty gumboots still on and I still needed to rid the laundry of bird feathers. There was no time to muck around, so I got out the beloved Dyson to vacuum up the feathers, but after only a few moments it started making strange noises and would refuse to suck anything up. By now the air was turning a very dark shade of blue – I thought Dyson’s weren’t supposed to block up? Further investigation showed that among the feathers I had hastily sucked up was something else I hadn’t spotted – a bird’s foot. Which was attached to a bird’s leg. Marvellous – my so-called unblockable Dyson had been successfully blocked by a dismembered starling. I spent the next ten minutes trying to wrangle it out and once I had managed to grab a decent hold of the foot, the rest of the leg came out relatively easily. I continued upon my merry way and by this time was considerably merrier as I couldn’t help laughing to myself about my comment to Fiona the day before about animals making extra work. Me and my big mouth! Mind you, I didn’t laugh as much as Noel did when I regaled the events of the morning to him. He was very glad to have his calves back and while he couldn’t believe I had actually resorted to stuffing the calves in my car in order to get them home, I think he was quite proud of his crazy wife! ‘Ah well, you’ll have heaps to write about in your blog dear!’ he chuckled. Fiona asked me in last week’s radio show if everything that happens in my blog is real – after witnessing first hand over the past few days, I think she is left in no doubt!

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