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Out in the slush and downpour, pared by a bitter wind.

Here’s a foretaste of the winter coming – darkling day; the crunch and split of turnips in the teeth of cattle.

And boring jobs which roll inevitably into my hands. Muck out the sty and cart the old straw to the midden. Split sticks ‘n’ stack ’em. Cut shaws from the turnips and build the clamp until there’s a mound of purple flesh like odd spawn in the yard.

Pals come; neighbours from across the river when the sky’s dull and the air is filled with chattering fieldfares. They don’t want their work either, so we waste time and fill the byre with cigarette smoke and stories we’ve heard before and the rain drums on the tin roof and dribbles through a crack in the skylight. I find a dog’s nose in the palm of my hand. I become a whisker-tickler, and the collie wags and pleads and shivers. He’s called Good Lad Mac.

Tales to tell, and the slight adjustment of footing. The grey rain comes down in veils, and “if you believe that, you’ll believe anything”. I wonder if I do want to buy a front-end loader for my tractor, and I wonder if it’s really for sale. Maybe we’re just talking. We lean deeper on the wooden stalls, and I tell them again about the rats which have come to wrap their tails around the rake handles.

I trapped a rat at Hallowe’en, but the steel bars crushed him wrong. He lived to scream for a moment or two, and the sound brought the rafters down upon me. All across the world, families strove to fleg themselves with plastic skulls and fuzzy spiders. But try a screaming rat to turn your blood cold; simple things work best.

Then it’s almost night again and we can hardly postpone for another moment. I watch their van away down the close with brake lights red as sickened eyes. Then I cart the turnips up to the cattle and find woodcock waddling in the verges as I go. The radio says something about sun-seeking holidays in Sardinia. Soil coils around my ankle like a hand.


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