Snow drove hard against the windows all last night. The wind has slackened by morning with a few farewell gusts to shake the house as if in warning. The cattle are gathered at the gate, quietly expectant. I am surprised by a white van parked in the yard – broken down maybe and pulled off the road. It has seen better days, ex fleet but tidy, signwritten with the details of Joe’s joinery, Gateshead. I scoosh calf nuts into a bucket for the little girls and then fill the scoop with chooky corn and head across to the shed.
I have become used to Holly mugging me with little horns as soon as I enter the gate, but today she and Alice are waiting inside the shed gathered at the hay rack.
I am shocked to find people inside, a young couple, seated by the hay bale half picked apart for the girls. They have collected a couple of Ikea chairs from the loft and are sitting comfortably against walls of hay. A small camping gas stove perches on the bed of one of the machines I moved up from the workshop yesterday. The chooks watch from the roof.
I like to welcome visitors to the farm, however unusual, especially at this time of the year when strangers bring good luck.
Hello I say as naturally as I can manage.
Oh hello there she says, pretty, young, dark hair.
You broken down?
No- the pub was shut.
Oh yes, the owners closed it last month – for good
Ah we wondered – this from him, bearded, neat, a tradesman.
She again – We needed somewhere in a hurry – she gestures to the pen.
I look over to where the calves are standing, close by the rack but not feeding. There is a bloody guddle in the bedding: the sort I am used to from calving, but I know the heifers are too young. I spot a bundle of fabric half-hidden in the rack, and move over to inspect.
Oh my goodness – but it’s a -a baby, and turning to her – last night?She nods.
Are you okay?
We’re fine he says, really, don’t worry. We’ll just rest awhile if that’s okay and then we’ll be on our way. We want to register him at home, you see- the year of the independence referendum, it matters somehow.
Anything I can do, porridge at the house maybe?
No thanks, he nods towards the stove where the water was boiling, we found a couple of eggs, hope that’s okay.
Laying at this time of the year, that’s a miracle – I laugh.
A gift from the chickens he says seriously.
If you like, I say slightly riled, I’ll get on now. Mind the stove near the hay eh?
She nods and holds my eye: Thank you.
I feel obscurely blessed pouring the feed into the trough as Holly and Alice appear to wake from a trance as the nuts rattle against the metal, and amble over.
Leaving the pen to recross the yard I find another vehicle, a larger van, parked outside the gate. Three Asian guys are sitting in the cab, resting from their journey with a steaming thermos. The driver winds down the window.
I try not to sound territorial:
He shakes his head ; No we meant to be here.
On Christmas day? he laughs and gestures at the back of the van – but if you’re looking for a nice wool carpet?- offcuts from fitting out a luxury hotel in Aberdeen. Free gifts.
No thanks – but why are you here? – not to sell me carpets, surely.
We came to see the child.
What in the shed – but it was only born last night, how..?
Oh there was a voice – he laughs again- we followed the star.
Aye – Satnav.
He puts on a tinny robotic voice:
Take the A86, turn left at the first roundabout – etc etc
But satnav doesn’t work here – it lands you on Balgowan 3 miles away- I say suspiciously
That’s okay he says – we saw the light on in the shed, took a chance.
He grins at me. I’m ready to take offence at being mocked but I find his smile kind, inclusive. Whatever this is, he appears to suggest, we are in it together. I decide to accept his version of this strange day.
I smile in return- leave you to it- whatever it is-and turn back to my chores with a wave to his companions.
There is a pale gleam of winter sun lighting the underside of white cloud as I finish feeding the remaining animals and head back to the house. Rounding the bend heading up towards the garage, I realise I have heard nothing from Lesley whose cussing and swearing normally accompanies his attempts to set out feed for his unruly ewes in the field below.
He’s in a good mood today I think – maybe it’s catching – I feel glad at being part of this morning’s story.