Q: What do you get when you cross a field with a load of aggro horses and cows?
A: I don't know, because I didn't.
Here's the thing; I don't like cows. Well, lets be truthful and precise, I am scared of them. Shit scared. I don't know why. I love the countryside - I am a bit of a seasoned rambler-type you know: Muddy boots, cow-pat stains on my arse form ill advised picnic spots, leaky Gore Tex jacket, penchant for Thermos flasks filled with rancid tea, I do it all, me. Sometimes to within spitting distance of “the max”. But if I am in a field and a cow shows the slightest bit of interest in me I am out of there like a five-legged rabbit.
Today Al, Louise and I fancied a walk to the pub. The Queen Victoria to be exact; an impossibly posh but cosy boozer in the impossibly posh but cosy village of Gayton, near Northampton. (They do ace food by the way but not one decent draught cider.) Being the cagoule-wearing types we are, we decided to eschew the towpath/country lane route and go cross country. It was all going wonderfully well, Alan's woolly jester hat was bouncing in the bracing breeze, Lou was forging ahead – all five feet of her – like a fun-sized Sherpa and my boots were happily caking themselves in sheep-shit. We came to a footpath sign telling us to go diagonally across a field. These are my favourite type of sign; they invite you to do something that feels a bit risqué (take it from me, if you have a lot of waterproof items in your wardrobe, it does not take much to make you feel you are being a bit racy); when I were a lad* at school in Birmingham, you were taught that if you ever went into this fabled Narnia called “The Countryside” you must never EVER walk through the middle of a field, else Farmer Giles would come at you with a sawn off shotgun, or scythe, or similar. You were to go around the edge, always. I have since found that this occasionally presents the walker with a problem; if the sign you are looking at points diagonally, it just indicating the way out of the other end of the field (handy if the aforementioned Mr Giles is there and in a bad mood) or is it specifying exactly the way you should go? On this occasion we decided that the field was crop-less and that the pub would be calling last orders soon, so we went through the middle.
At the other end of the field was a wooden bridge-cum-stile thing, exactly the sort of structure you expect a goat to come trip-trapping over whilst keeping a wary eye out for the local gang of trolls. We trooped across it and, lo and behold, we came to my least favourite type of field; one with cows in it. There were some horses in the field too, but I was quite reassured by them. I like horses; we used to go riding as a treat when we were kids at a place near Birmingham airport. Why do I dislike cows so much, then? Lets examine the evidence. Cows are big. There's no two ways about it. Take the average cow: there's a lot of it isn't there? Some of them have horns. Their hooves are sharp and there are four of them. These hooves are also very heavy, what with there being a whole load of cow above them. And don't get me started on their eyes. They are big and blink very slowly – almost malevolently slow – and seem to harbour a great and grave secret, some dark purpose perhaps, or the entire contents of your conscience. Whatever it is, they know things. In Ireland a few years ago me and my mum were charged at by a load of cows. It was twilight and we were obviously on their turf. There were about twenty of them and they began trotting, then running towards us in a great heaving stampede. It was especially unfair as we had only gone into that field to avoid a dog that had tired to bloody attack us outside a farmhouse on the road. I remember the thud of hooves, the panicky reassurances of my mother and the prickliness of the hawthorn bush we both forced ourselves through. We both lost a bit of weight that night. I felt a bit of a twit afterwards, but I have since heard tales of people being chased by bulls and heifers, including one bloke in the paper recently whose ribs were broken in some kind of cow-attack. It was not to be the last time I would be confronted aggressively by a herd of belligerent bovines either.
So today, when three horses from a neighbouring paddock broke through the adjoining gate into this field we were about to bravely walk through (my teeth were gritted, everything else was clenched) and began to engage in chasing and kicking activities with the other horses, my fragile wall of confidence began seriously to teeter. Al was all for forging ahead regardless – no slave to the cows, he – Lou was nervous of the horses. “They won't hurt you, it's the cows you've got to watch” I told her, somewhat irrationally she must have thought since, to her left, three horses were kicking the shit out of each other while the cows chewed grass nonchalantly. At the top end of the field two cagouled figures stood behind the stile, looking at the situation as we were, weighing up the odds. “Come on, lets go” said Al. The horses had calmed down a bit. Lou muttered assent and set off behind him. I shot a look at the cows that I hoped would look like a confident, stern warning and trotted after. At the top of the field, the two figures caught a whiff of our confidence on the breeze and forged ahead also.
Not ten paces in, one of the horses decided it had not yet kicked enough arse. Suddenly four or five of them were cantering like billy-o around the field and it was clear that they were seriously exasperating the cows. They began grunting. Not moo-ing, or lowing, grunting. Then they started moving. From their general trajectory and their gathering speed it became clear that the cows were not about to risk a confrontation with the horses. They were pissed off, yes, but they were going to take it out on the three smaller animals in the field; the three short, two legged animals in waterproof attire. They began – and I exaggerate not – to run towards us.
Obviously I had no trouble persuading my companions; calmly, with reasoned argument and only one or two nervously spoken swear words; to exit the field. In the distance, the two figures saw our retreat, halted briefly, and turned back themselves.
We took the road the rest of the way.
Now, don't get me wrong, I do challenge my fear of cows by walking through fields containing the big buggers. I do it quite often, in fact. But even then, even when they are not being roused into annoyance by a load of cheesed off horses I cannot shake the feeling, the very real and primitive feeling that they don't like me. I mean really don't like me........
I don't even eat beef.
* I am not a lad. Sadly, I am no longer a girl either. I may not be a lady, but I'm all woman....er, etc.