All days are strange, but some are more strange than others

To misquote George Orwell, “All days are strange, but some are more strange than others”

Clement in Bluebell Wood

It started with no dog.

Apart from a short holiday a few weeks ago I don’t remember the last time I wasn’t greeted by a wagging tail and a bursting bladder first thing in the morning. Clement is my constant companion. He comes to work with me and we go everywhere together. He’s there by my side almost all of the time, he’s ready to listen if I want to moan about life in general. I can tell him anything and often I do, we’ve been together for almost five years and so far he’s not repeated a word to a living soul. As I don’t like to leave him alone for too long, and we would be out for most of the day, Clement had a sleep over last night with DJ, a very nice German shepherd who lives with my daughter and her husband. He stayed with them for most of the day.

At nine I went to my office in Basildon for a couple of hours, just to make sure they remembered what I look like you understand; I’ve not been there much recently so I felt I should show my face and see who was around. All the usual suspects were in attendance, and with very little prompting they mostly remembered my name.

Because it’s a design and printing business, it’s natural I would spend the morning working on a Basic Payment Scheme claim form required by the rural payments agency. There are few industries further removed from printing than farming. I’m involved with both and wouldn’t have it any other way. While printing is besieged by the rise of digital media, the iPad and limitless internet access, farmers just work four hundred hours a month, producing food for an ungrateful public who think we are trying to poison them. 

 As well as feeding the nation we are guardians of the countryside. Most farms are signed up to one scheme or another which pays them for looking after aspects of the environment and I’m no different. Our Countryside Stewardship Scheme has been running since January 2016 and has one more year to go. During its time we have seen an increase in the skylark population, we have more brown hares and red squirrels can be found on the farm for the fist time in forty five years.

Who knows what will replace CSS, not Natural England nor the Environment Agency, or if they do they’re not telling the farmers yet. When, and if, the UK disentangles itself from Europe there will still need to be some sort of support for farmers who use their land for the preservation of nature, right now it’s unclear what form that support will take. 

Government schemes come with forms and paperwork, although they’re mostly online these days. Whilst I accept the rural payments agency have tried to keep the admin to a minimum and they can’t just hand out tax payers money willy-nilly, calculating a field’s size to four decimal places is considered overkill by many farmers who, at this time of year, are busy planting spring crops or lambing.

Back to my day.  After completing everything I needed to in Basildon I went home, changed into a dark suite, white shirt and black tie. Then Liesl  and I made our way to the crematorium in Chelmsford for an event I’ve been dreading. My oldest friend died on April the first, a wonderful lady who I grew up with and who I loved dearly.  At the age of six weeks I put into a pram with Sharon who was five months my senior. I’m told that she let me suck her toes and, true or not, that day was the beginning of our life-long friendship. I only wish it had been a longer life and a longer friendship. She died suddenly, surrounded by her family. 

Life will be strange without Sharon at the other end of the phone or putting on the kettle and digging out the hobnobs when I drop in for a chat. She could always see through the bluster and bull shit, she got to the heart of a person and more often than not she’d tell me to grow a pair, stop whining and count my blessings. The only time she got violent was when I convinced her to wrap her own present one Christmas. She gave me slap which I fully deserved, and as I didn’t spend the night in A&E I think she pulled her punch at the last moment.

After the service there was only one thing to do. We collected Clement and I dropped Liesl at home. The dog and I drove to Portsmouth and caught a ferry to the island. I’ll have a couple of days at the farm where I cam work on a short story and when I run out of ideas or inspiration we’ll walk the beaches and swear at the waves. I’ll shout my frustration at God for the loss of my friend and rant at Him for taking our son six years ago this month. He’s big and he can take it. I’m sure they are with Him now, reunited with Sharon’s father who passed away a few years ago and my mother who’s been gone for thirteen years. In heaven your body is fixed, Skyler’s injuries are healed and mum’s cancer is gone. Sharon will ride her horse all day, free from pain and moving as one with her beloved fella. I can hear the music to white horses in my mind as I write, it was one of her favourites, her ring tone and played at her funeral today.

Together they will look down and laugh at us. Our lives are so small, we worry about stuff that seem so big but in the greater scheme of things it’s nothing. We run around for reasons that seem so urgent but we’ll have forgotten all about it in a month; they sit on their clouds and have eternity to contemplate. 

I’m sad that Sharon is gone. Her time with us was too short but I was blessed to know her. 

I said it had been a strange day and, if it’s all right with you, I’d rather not have another quite like it for a while.