Real life

This was not your usual entitled Surrey trespasser

26 September 2020

9:00 AM

26 September 2020

9:00 AM

The Volkswagen Passat was parked next to my field gate, sticking out into the lane, blocking larger vehicles from getting round. The farrier was due in an hour. I looked around and saw a lady picking blackberries a little way down the lane.

‘Excuse me? Hello!’ I called, walking up to her thinking: here we go again; more lockdown torment. I geared myself up for conflict with another bad-mannered Surrey rambler. This one was slumped against a bush, reaching upwards, almost swallowed by branches, apparently not hearing me but no doubt pretending, as they do, that I didn’t exist. ‘Excuse me?’ I insisted.

As she pulled herself out of the bush, I could see that she was in her sixties and casually dressed in pale blue crumpled trousers and shapeless sweater. The plastic container she was clutching was half full with barely edible, late-season berries. Of course, I thought, there are no decent berries any more. How odd. ‘Yes?’ she said, and her eyes fixed on me with an intensity that seemed unwarranted.

‘The car outside my field gate, is it yours?’ The lady looked for some seconds as though she was struggling with this question: ‘Yes?’ she said finally, as if I might know the answer better than she.

‘The thing is, I’m waiting for the farrier and his truck won’t be able to get round.’

The lady was still staring at me, yet it seemed to me now that her expression wasn’t quite right, as if she were looking at me but seeing someone else.

‘Your car,’ I began again, then thought better of it. ‘Are you going to be long?’ I asked as politely as I could. At that, she became quite animated: ‘Oo yes. It’s slim pickings.’ And she turned back to the gnarled, half-rotten blackberries.

As luck would have it, when the farrier arrived he wasn’t in his truck, which I now remembered had all but exploded the last time he was here. He was in a BMW 4×4 which just about squeezed round the Passat to drive through the gate and down to the barn.

It took him about two hours to trim and shoe my two and a friend’s horse and after that we made our way back up the track to the field opposite where he was to trim another two horses belonging to two other friends.

I followed him on foot as he stopped awkwardly in the gateway.

I could see the woman, with a male companion now, further up the lane laboriously prising withered berries from the brambles.

I called to her: ‘Are you going to be much longer? Only the farrier could do with somewhere to park while he does a couple of horses in this field.’

She looked up, her rosy cheeks making her face look childlike as she smiled but said nothing. ‘Blacksmith,’ I said, thinking of her age. But that didn’t seem to help. She carried on wrestling with the brambles, as did the more elderly man I supposed to be her husband or possibly father.

We had to walk across the field to catch the two horses due for trimming as they were at the farthest corner. When they were done, we walked back to the lane to find the lady and her companion had disappeared to the top end, their car still resolutely blocking the way. A local millionaire in a gleaming white Porsche with the top down slowed at the obstacle, then screamed angrily past.

With the farrier gone, I spent another hour with the horses. By the time I was driving back out, I calculated the couple had been picking over the almost barren blackberry bushes for the best part of the day.

I took the three cones I keep in front of the electric tape of my top paddock to ward off picnickers and placed them by their car to make a point, then decided that was churlish. If the old boy tried to move them he would do himself a mischief.

Besides, on closer inspection the VW revealed itself to have no National Trust stickers. These were definitely not your usual entitled Surrey trespassers.

I pulled up beside them as I reached the top of the lane and wound my window down. ‘I’m going now,’ I said, as the lady turned towards me, cradling her Tupperware bowl of tiny, wizened fruits. ‘Oh, that’s right,’ she said, with a faraway expression, as though I had reminded her of something else.

Then she turned for reassurance to her companion who looked, if possible, more puzzled than she. So I smiled at her and later, still preoccupied by the incident, I realised I had been kind, hoping that if someone finds me wandering down a lane 20 years from now they will be kind to me.

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