9   +   10   =  

We are leaving the farm, leaving two daughters behind, to volunteer in Africa. For three years. One manages a weak smile, “We’ll be looking at the same moon.” But they are both university students, almost finished; no need for qualms. Independent, surely, and with offers from friends and cousins?

It’s a white glare day in Namibia; the sun yellows for a few minutes at dawn and then turns hostile. We hunker down in our shabby office hoping the aircon will sustain its coughing until we leave at five. We are training five local teachers to become university lecturers for our project which is a foundation science course and to do this we need to be teaching, writing material, supervising, advising, counselling students, and negotiating our way around. We feel like hurdle jumpers or kids on an obstacle course. At lunchtime I curl up under my desk and sleep. My five am run in the sandy wasteland feels long ago. Start work at six, leave at six. Hope for some evening daylight.

The phone rings and her faded distant voice says, “Mum, did we ever do anything organic on our farm?” What??? Did this daughter not grow up planting potatoes, grooming goats, being terrified of the geese? Her voice crackles. We are several galaxies away. “I have a job interview to be a buyer of things organic…” I tell her I will write. And I list all the things we did on Large Bottom Farm.

Four hives of bees, up at the top of the orchard. Sixteen mostly white goats, either mothers or lunatic kids careering around the fields. One calm and lazy Jersey house cow, producing terrifying buckets of full cream milk twice a day. A flock of ducks. A great many hens, when the fox keeps away. Guinea fowl, noisy. A vegetable plot with broad beans, runner beans, lettuce, rocket, spinach, sweetcorn, carrots, beetroot, leeks…. Manure. Fruit trees. Soft fruit.

And she was out there alongside us, demanding beakers of warm milk, or scooping up orphan goats to bottle feed, peeling away shell from new hatchling chicks, weeding. She was born to the sound of bleating on the hillside.

It astonishes me that she had been oblivious and when we come back to yet another spectacular lifestyle change, where I find myself on a sailing boat for half of the year, out between islands in Greece, I start to write their story. It comes in little fragments, a narrative which scorches the inside of my skull as I haul up the mainsail or struggle with the winches. In the cabin below, at anchor, is an outpouring of tales from the good life. Tales from a Cornish Farm. Growing Goats and Girls.

Growing Goats and Girls by Rosanne Hodin is published by Coronet, out now.

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