DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. 01273 603766 - EMAIL [email protected] - www.fulltable.com/fj
text and images throughout copyright
Down on the Farm
do you dream? I mean, those sort of dreams where you don’t know which is real and which isn’t? I mean the
sort of dreams that, when you try to remember them, they gat
all mixed up with real things into a kind of mush? Did that really
happen, or did I think it happened?
‘Yes, I’m from Taiwan. From China’.
I looked at Li-chao. She looked back at me. ‘Don’t worry, I’m used to strange things’. she said, shyly. Certainly more than me, I thought.
‘Do…do my aunt and uncle know that you can speak to us?’ I asked, trying to keep my voice calm.
The billygoat laughed. ‘’Course they do. We all get along here. It’s a special place here. No problems ‘twixt humans and animals. We all talk to each other. Speaking of which, ‘ere’s a lot that talk too much’, and his head nodded towards a cluster of hens, brown and white, that were all scrambling out of the big hen-coop over to the right of the house. ‘I warn you’, said Billygoat. ‘they are right proper gossips’.
Sure enough, they were, and both Li-chao and I could understand them so clearly!
‘I tells you, that there Nutmeg knows something!’
‘No, I don’t!’
‘Yes, you do! Come on, you tells us!’
‘I don’t know nothing! I were just talking in me sleep!’
‘You were squawking and clucking all night long! I ‘eard you!’
‘So what! Anyway the way you carry on wiv’ that Rooster!’
‘That’s none of your business!’
‘Watch out! ‘e’s coming!’
The hens all fell silent. Out stepped a large male rooster, his feathers shining and glistening. On top of his head was a gleaming red head-dress. His tail-feathers waved elegantly in the sun. He walked mincingly towards the pond, further on to the right. Over his left wing, he carried a small bath-towel. ‘Good morning, ladies!’ he cried, grandly. ‘It is time for my morning bath! You may join me!’
They all trooped off after him, sighing.
‘What a bighead!’ said Li-chao, when she had stopped giggling.
‘Definitely!’ I said.
‘Amen to that!’ cried Billygoat, and laughed again.
This story-dream had now become strange. Both of us now
just accepted that animals could speak, and that they were like us.
But, there were other surprises in store, not all of them so funny.
‘Get in line, you ‘orrible lot! Now! Right now! Pull yourself to attention! You’re on parade! In front of posh people! Get in line! At once! Do it!’
The sheep didn’t take any notice at all. They continued to amble around, chattering to each other.
‘No talking in the ranks! I’ll have you for insubordination!’
“insub… what, ossifer?’ asked one of the sheep, grinning all over her face.
Ooooh, ‘e’s getting a bit cross!’
‘That makes a change, don’t it?’
Lots of laughter and giggles from the sheep. The dog looked as if he was about to explode with rage.
One of the sheep sidled over. ‘Here, Adolf, my mate Maisie over there fancies you something rotten. Why don’t you go over and give her a big kiss? Make her day, that would’. Maisie, one of the smaller sheep giggled and simpered.
‘Or would you like someone like me? Bit more meat on me bones? Oh, come on, you’re ever so cute really. Specially when you’re being so masterful…’ She fluttered her eyelashes at him, or seemed to.
The dog’s eyes rolled in fury. He started to splutter, then turned and stormed off, pausing to glare us and Billygoat.
‘Bye-bye, Honeybunch! Come back soon, loveboat! Make us swoon with your tender looks and fond caresses!
They all just fell about laughing, one or two of them
lying on their backs and kicking their legs in the air.
I looked at her in surprise. Li-chao was normally quite shy. But she looked sad and anxious.
‘Failed it, of course. Never got over it’.
Billygoat said no more for a while. As we walked back to the farmyard, he suddenly said, ‘Best you talk to the pigs now’. Now, I am a curious person, and I like to know what’s going on. So I asked the right question.
Billygoat stopped. ‘Why? because you pair have come down to do an…in..vestig…ation, haven’t you? He lowered his voice. ‘There’s summat going on here. None of us knows as yet, but there’s a strange feeling around’.
He looked around, as if to as if to make sure no-one was listening.
‘Nowt definite, like. But something’s up. Best you talk to the pigs. Sharp as nails, they are. Nothing gets past them. The best in their class. Sharp minds and brilliant detectives. What they don’t know ain’t worth knowing’.
led the way to a filthy old pigsty, which I hadn’t
noticed, down by the other side of the farm. ‘Ay, up lads, got
them fancy detectives down from town to see you. Wake up, then!’ Li-chao
and I peered in. Two very large and muddy lumps lay in the middle.
One of them stirred, and opened an eye. ‘Whassup?’ it grunted. ‘Detectives!’ shouted
Billygoat. “Come from city to help with your enquiries!’ The
other lump stirred. ‘Oh, ay? In middle of the night?’ The
first lump prodded the second with his hind leg. ‘It’s
‘Well, they’re not at their best at the moment,’ said Billygoat hastily. ‘That one there’, indicating the first lump, ‘is Detective Chandler, and the other’, pointing to the second, ‘is his mate, Detective Marlowe. Just wait till you see them in action’.
‘Goodbye detectives’, I said. ‘good work’.
The only sound in return was a gentle snoring. We were
way! This is a crime scene!’
‘Kerosene’. said Chandler briefly. ‘White paraffin. Thrown or squirted all over the wall of the ‘enhouse’.
‘No tracks’, added Marlowe. ‘Ground’s
too ‘ard’. ‘But’, he added again, ‘I
found four old burnt matches nearby’.
Everybody gasped and looked very shifty, apart from one young sheep, who loudly asked another, ‘Ay, do you think if I give her the wool, me mam’d knit me an alibi?’
‘Oooh, you woolly jumper, you!’
The sheep fell apart, screaming with laughter. Both pigs groaned, and my uncle, Li-chao and I decided it was time for bed. As we moved towards the house, we brushed up against Adolf the dog.
’Indiscipline! That’s what causes these things! Bah!’
He turned and trotted off back to the other group of
animals, all clustered around the detectives.
‘How’s the case going, detective?’
‘Case? Oh, the case. We are pursuing our enquiries, as you speak’.
It was the next night that it all really happened. Li-chao and I woke up to a flapping and squawking outside the bedroom door. We rushed to the door and threw it open. There was a small bedraggled hen standing there.
“Quick, quick! Fire! Another one! Barn! Horse! Come quick!’
We decided we were needed, urgently. Li-chao and I threw
on some clothes and shoes and ran out after the hen, who was pattering
away in front of us. We came round the corner of the house and saw
what was happening.
‘Chandler and Marlowe reckon that Jack went into the barn to sleep for the night. But the key in the barn door had been turned, and he’d been locked in. I didn’t realise at first when I got him out. But someone, or something, had turned the key from the outside. It’s a real mystery’.
‘Dave’, called out Chandler, ‘where’s Adolf?’
‘Right here’. said a dog’s voice from behind us.
We all turned. There was Adolf,
without his cap, and looking rather grubby. “I’ve been
here all night’. he snapped. Chandler and Marlowe stared at him,
then Chandler finally said ‘That’s all right then. Because
if there was anyone missing, we might know who did it’. ‘Well,
I was’. growled Adolf, and turned and began to trot away. As
he passed one of the piles of embers, a spark from it seemed to catch
on his nose. It made him sneeze suddenly.
‘So, my lad, it was you, wasn’t it?’
Adolf just stood there, staring at them. Then his mouth opened into what I can only describe as the most vicious snarl I have ever seen on a dog’s face.
‘You fat porkers! You over -bloated swine! I wish I could have got rid of you too, as well as that rickety old horse over there, who kicked me! And these stupid humans who turned me down for the army! But no! I ended up here on this run-down old farm, trying to turn this cretinous set of morons here’, jerking his head at the sheep, ‘ into some sort of disciplined order! And getting no thanks for it, oh no! All I got was a lot of insults from those stupid old tarts!’
‘Here, you…’ shouted one of the sheep.
‘Shut up! I’ve had enough of all of you! I’m leaving!’
He leapt back, turned and streaked off into the darkness.
No-one moved. We were all too tired to run after him, though I thought
I did see a flash of black and white running across a field. But we
simply went back into the house and went to bed.
‘I had some bad news this morning. Old Brewster, who has the farm next to me, woke up just before dawn, and saw what he thought was a fox worrying his sheep. It was snapping and snarling at them, he said. So he took his old gun out and shot it.
‘Then he realised that it was Adolf’.
‘Is…is he dead?’ This was from Li-chao.
‘I’m afraid so. Yes’.
We all did the washing-up in silence. Then I went out
to find Billygoat.
‘When someone has a big vision for themselves’, he began, ‘and when it all goes wrong, then you have two choices. Either you get on with something else, or you let it grow inside you, and start taking it out on others around you. That’s what happened with Adolf. I can’t blame him for that, but I can blame him for trying to do away with Jack, who only put him in his place sometimes, for trying to bully the sheep. He started the fires, by finding cans of kerosene, which were only blocked up by paper, screwed up, carrying them out in his teeth, and tipping them over by the hen-coop and the barn’.
He paused for a minute or two, then continued.
‘Then he had a problem lighting it. He tried matches at first, but they wouldn’t light. Remember he had to do everything with his teeth. Then he had the idea of turning up a lantern as far as it would go, swallow a bit of kerosene, get as close as he could to the flame so it would light, and breathe fire onto the kerosene. Dave has lamps that go out when they’re knocked over, but if you do get close to a flame, you can set it off by blowing it out, like fire-eaters do. The detectives found a kerosene lamp next to the barn, and the hen-coop, too. But it was still on his breath, so when a spark came close, off it went. That was the proof’.
‘But’, I said. ‘How was Jack locked in?’
‘Easy. Adolf simply stood up against the door,
and turned the lock with his teeth. And that’s the part I can’t
forgive. Perhaps he didn’t want a witness, or maybe he had a
grudge against Jack, and likely everyone else. But that was attempted
murder, not just fire-raising to get back at everybody. It was lucky
that we all got there in time. It’s sad, but there it is’.
‘Oh, yes, they knew, But they didn’t have any evidence, at least not until last night. And a confession, if you can call it that. I told you they were smart. One more thing, though’. He looked hard at me. ‘This is a special place. No-one knows that we animals and you humans can talk to each other. We need to keep it that way. Folks round here know it, but they keep it to themselves. Don’t ever tell anybody else about it. It’s a secret, for you and your friend’.
I nodded, and this is why I have called this a dream-story.
‘Huh!’ he said disdainfully, against a background of ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Aaahs’ from the hens who all gazed at him as if they were love-struck young girls (Whoops. Wrong thing to say). It took ages for everybody to settle down. The hens kept falling off the benches, and had to be pulled back up again, with lots of clucking and squawking. The sheep were all jostling and pushing each other, trying to be at the front.
‘Mind you get my best side!’ shouted one of them to Veronica who was going to take the photograph.
‘What best side? You haven’t got one!’ shouted another.
‘Oh, shut up, you! Just because you’re as ugly as sin!’
‘How dare you……..!’
‘Silence! All of you! And sit still!’ It was Billygoat.
Finally, everyone was settled. Veronica looked down at her little box camera, one of those that you hold against your stomach to see the picture.
‘Right, arms folded! And nice smiles!’ called Veronica.
All the sheep and hens tried desperately to fold their front legs or wings in front of them. Veronica peered down into the camera. Goodness knows what she saw. The two detective pigs were reclining, or, I would say, lying at our feet, but they at least raised their heads and looked at the camera.
Click, and the photograph was taken.
‘Goodbye’, I said, ‘good work’.
Chandler opened one eye. ‘You off, then? No problem. Case over’. He prodded Marlowe with his foot. ‘Oi! Big city detectives are off!’
Marlowe stirred, then lifted his hind leg and broke wind with an enormous snort. Li-chao and I staggered back. ‘That smell! It’s awful!’ she cried.
‘Aye, that’s the trouble these days’, grunted Chandler. ‘Can’t get the staff any more’. He smiled a pig-like smile. ‘See ya’ around, babes’. And that was that.
There is just one more surprise
for you, reader. Just as we were getting into the car to go home, Veronica
came running up to us. She looked very agitated. ‘I’ve
just realised! There was no film in the camera! So, there’s no
photograph!’ Li-chao and I just looked at each other. ‘It
doesn’t matter’. I said. ‘Well, these things do happen!’ my
dad laughed cheerfully. ‘Never mind’. We didn’t talk
all the way home.
Frank Jackson (2/03/09)