Do you know I have developed a little soft spot for cows? I know, I know,they don’t appear to have that much going for them. Less cute than a sheep, less graceful than a horse, less quirky than a pot-bellied pig. But they have an accepting placidity about them that makes me want them to know they are loved all the same.
I live slap bang in the middle of two farms. The farmer to the left maintains a cow from the other side attacked him earlier this year and tossed him into the air but that hasn’t put me off. One has to wonder what his business was in someone else’s field. No witnesses either, beyond the largely silent ones who are saying nothing. Just an occasional moo.
Anyway, the school run involves a fifteen minute drive along empty country roads and the school adjoins a large dairy farm with around 200 cows. I know the number because they take a very long slow walk from the milking sheds to the fields, then back, at least twice a day.
To do this, their path takes them across the lane that leads up past the lake and the swans to the back of the school. And often, if my journey coincides with theirs, I have to sit and watch a very very long line of them slowly make their way in one direction or the other. One is always looking for a gap in the cows, much like looking for the gap in the traffic in any urban rush hour – just without the ‘rush’ bit.
Friday, however I suffered my first incident of bovine rage – only this bovine had two legs.
Interestingly enough, I had just been remarking earlier in the week that I was a bit unclear on country etiquette, with particular reference to cows. I kind of know to drive past horses at a snail’s pace in order not to have a jumpy racehorse-in-training getting frightened and crashing into the car; and when a herd of cows is being moved from one field to another there is always a friendly farmer directing them and acknowledging our patience.
But the Rockwell cows seem to be on their own, self-motivated. I’ve sometimes seen a tractor chugging along, bringing up the rear but to be honest, the line of cows is so long, I’ve not seen him for months.
So Friday, as I’m driving down the lane (3.30pm rather than our usual 8pm as it’s a boarders’ weekend) I see the cows coming and I’m hoping if I put my foot down I’ll reach the junction before they do. But Daisy out in front has a green field of fresh grass in her sights and she’s focussed on her goal. I’m not going to get in her way.
I slow down and let her pass across, her sisters following behind. I’m guessing there’ll soon be a gap and I’ll be able to edge across and out of their way. Did I mention I enjoy this scene anyway? They are (I think) black and white Holsteins, the only cows I like.
After a few minutes I see something in my peripheral vision, check the rear-view and it’s a smart 4×4 with a grim looking bird behind the wheel. Shame to have such a nice car and look so cross. Wonder what her problem is. Perhaps she’s broken a nail.
She is edging closer and gesticulating. "Go on" she’s telling me. She reminds me of an ambitious parent, poolside, bullying her 4 year old – who knows you can drown in 6 inches – to jump in the shallow end.
"Go on, keep driving" she yells. Chastened, I inch forward. The cows are appalled and glare at me.
"We’re crossing and you shan’t stop us". If I get any closer I’ll have a cow’s backside in my face. If I carry on, I’ll be pushing them onto the cattle grid. What then? Do they topple over? Will I then have to leave the safety of the car and try and pull them up? Will I have to go and confess to tractor-man that I’ve knocked over his prize cows?
Dilemma. Check the rear view again. She is red in the face? What’s more frightening – 200 lovely cows or the old cow in the car behind?
No contest. I close my eyes, grit my teeth and edge forward till finally one cow relents and stops to let me through.
I drive sedately up to the school, making the Witch drive slowly behind me. As I pull up and park, I get out and march towards where she has pulled in. She thinks I’m going to say something. She signals a kid to jump in (not even sure it’s her own but she can return him after the weekend if needs be) and she puts her foot on the accelerator. I carry on, into reception to pick up a letter, and chuckle to know at least I worried her for a moment.
Perhaps she thought that not content with telling her not to be such a cross-pot, I’d pull her from her car and grapple with her while other mums looked on cheering and capturing the fight on their Iphones.
I am in fact a pacifist. It’s a long time since I hit a woman, 1979 I think. But she didn’t know that and I’m quite glad.
No, I may have to research my subject, do a search on Amazon. Surely someone has written a guide for country-dwelling urbanites or at least the beginners’ guide to bovine etiquette. I’ll let you know when I find it.