Our move to the countryside two years ago hit our daughter the hardest. She was 13, the age of urban loitering, and being suddenly dragged to the middle of nowhere has been hard for her. I know it’s hard for her because she tells me thrice daily about how much she hates it here.
But last week there was finally a sign that she might be settling in, when she suddenly announced she was going to the ploughing. Granted, she didn’t know where Tullamore was (‘it’s only an hour away’ she informed us, leading us to wonder if they had managed to hire Vin Diesel to drive the bus), or that the ploughing actually involved ploughing (‘what, like digging holes?’), but she would not be swayed, even when I told her that it was really like Electric Picnic for Blueshirts, with diesel instead of pints and the only dealers there are selling farm insurance.
Sadly, she didn’t listen to us, and headed off on the bus, dressed in pyjamas, as one does. I tried to explain that as country folk we traditionally would have the breakfast the night before and sleep, fully dressed, in the car, because living in the sticks is all about preparedness: You keep a blackthorn rod next to the bed because every couple of months you wake the a herd of cattle have taken the bold move of going free range by wandering into your garden, and you need to chase them out before one of them falls through the septic tank. Preparedness is the same reason you have a tanker of diesel in the shed, along with three generators and enough gritting salt to melt the ice caps.
I regale my kids with stories about camping stoves being used to cook Christmas dinner after the storms in 1996, and they react as though it was a lecture on the horrors of medieval times. But I would like them to understand that the countryside, and not the supermarket, is where food comes from. Last thing at night I can hear the farmer working, and first thing in the morning he is out there too. Gone are the days when you’d dispatch your daughter to the ploughing to find a fella with a few hundred acres and road frontage, my firstborn was sent off with strict instructions not to talk to any young farmers, no matter how many fluffy lambs they brandished at her, and whatever she did do not go near Macra, that place is Tinder with wellies. Life on a farm is hard, where humans work with, against and for nature, and sometimes nature just turns around and bites them on the rear, as happened to the ploughing on the day my daughter tried to attend. Storm Ali shut the site, and the bus had to turn around, to much groaning and gnashing of teeth from the teen townies on board.
The tailbacks on the way back from the site mean that the busload of giggling teenage girls had to call to houses along the roadside and ask to use their bathrooms. It’s hard to imagine what the homeowners thought when they opened the door to fake-baked oompa loompas hopping from foot to foot in wellies and a full face of makeup, asking to use the toilet, but nobody turned them away, and some even offered them tea and biscuits. My daughter expressed her surprise at this – everyone was so nice, even the bus driver who brought them to Thurles Shopping Centre so they could swarm around the place desperately seeking a Penneys or Costa.
Eventually she made it home, with wellies gleaming, clothes clean, and a general sense of disappointment – ‘I had double art today, I could have gone to school’ she moaned. This was the first mention that her little jolly to Tully was in fact not a school geography trip but an unsanctioned bit of hooky. However, as the first sign that she might be vaguely interested in country life, I am willing to sacrifice her career as an artist so that she learns that rural life means hard work, strange odours and occasionally letting complete strangers use your toilet.