When I was a little girl I spent my time in the cow shed, I felt really at home with those steaming beasts and they with me, after all — they were dairy cows and their calves were taken from them at birth and I was a tiny creature struggling up and down the gallery behind their stalls carrying a galvanised bucket of oats, half as big as me. All amidst that yearning maternal love, they nuzzled their pig-tailed attendant — but not all of them.
I soon learned that personality was not solely a human trait – there were cows with great empathy, kind cows and ones you had to watch – grumpy, irritable cows who would swing their heads and knock me flying but the more you knew them – the more you understood.
I was allowed to name cows – a great privilege, and I named them according to their personalities, after people of whom they reminded me.
There was Eve the scrawny, vociferous brown cow who mooed her demands at me but never ever knocked me over but watched me carefully, following me with her eyes – Eve was the name of the farmer’s wife.
Grace was a slim and youthful, clean and crisply marked black and white cow with sad, moist, longing eyes – she was named after my mother.
My names for the animals used to amuse the farmer and his lad, I liked them and I liked making them laugh, they were my friends.
As I grew up I found that the world my parents inhabited, for they were not farmers, was a lot more complicated and that people had to be judged according to peculiar criteria which made no sense at all – you were not supposed to choose your friends from the people you liked but from designated groups selected by age and gender and social class – more particularly by the way they talked (and in rural Lancashire the Queen’s English was hard to come by) and where they lived and by something called table-manners (unless you were French) — I never could quite swallow this.
As I have got older I find (as with many things for I am unattractively opinionated) that I was right all along and when people talk about the University of Life, I think one should attend an elementary school of the farmyard – where what counts is not species (you can’t help your species) but character!
I have one or two friends who live their lives with people with whom they have nothing in common – different wavelengths completely – and I think to myself that they would be better off with a good dog.