My rites of passage on the family farm Eastacott were, by and large, private events. Learning to milk – the warm smell of cow as I pressed my head into her side. Driving Charlie the fat under-worked Shire horse, as he pulled the butt cart – the feeling of pride which was checked when I caught the gatepost a glancing blow a few weeks later. I failed to advance to working with the hay harvesting implements, sitting proudly on the iron seat of the Blackstone rake. "Best I do it." Dad said. "Don't want you falling under the prongs and ending up as part of the rick. Whatever would Aunt Nell say if you ended up as the cow's breakfast," he said with a chuckle.
Less private was taking Buttercup and Snowdrop to the bull in the enclosed yard – the chuckle, wink and nudge from a neighbouring farmer.
One rite was very public... For as far back as I can remember we'd played whist around the cellar table under the pale light of the Calor gas mantle, me partnering my aged maiden aunt against mum and dad. "And we're not playing for a row of houses, just for the fun of it," said my aunt.
I was taught how to hold my thirteen cards in the shape of a fan, sort them into suits, before arranging each suit into numerical order
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Warm, friendly games trumped with laughter where my errors were pointed out and I was allowed to rectify them. And then that fateful night when I went public.