When I was nineteen we moved from the farm to a five hundred year old thatched cottage. It was a beautiful place with low-slung ceiling beams that had once been ship's timbers, an ornate spiral staircase and an enormous inglenook fireplace big enough for several people to stand up in. It still had the medieval bread oven in it. I planted a herb garden in the rich dark soil at one side of the cottage and was told by one of the old farm workers who'd lived in the hamlet all his life that the reason the soil was so good there was because it had once been the deposit place for night soil. That was in the days before indoor plumbing!
There was a huge iron door knocker on the front door and our Burmese cat Matilda used to jump up and cling on to it, knocking it when she wanted to be let in. She had a particular knock so we always knew it was her rather than a human being.
We kept the ponies at a farm opposite the house and during the summer the land was dry enough to use one of the fields as a schooling area and I used to exercise PB (my sister's horse) there.
One particular evening my parents were getting ready to go out to a formal function being held by a colleague of my father. I was riding in the field enjoying the colour and warmth of the late sun and the steady drone of bees going about their business and birds twittering in the hedgerows all around me. It was very peaceful and the horse was working well; following a steady rhythmic pace, bending into his corners nicely and listening to what I was asking him to do.
I was concentrating so hard I didn't hear my mother come into the yard and lean on the gate to watch until she called out to me. I pulled up and rode over to her. She was all dressed up ready to go with a new outfit on, her makeup perfect, hair washed, dried and carefully sprayed with hairspray to hold it all in place.
"Don't come too close" I warned her, "you don't want to get horse's nose on your clothes." "No." She laughed, "I'll just come in and watch you do a bit of jumping for a few minutes." "Dad not ready yet?" I grinned and she pulled a face. "You know what your father's like- always leaves it till the last possible minute." She grinned and came in through the gate, looking slightly incongruous with her wellies on under her dress. "PB's working really well," I called over my shoulder to her as I turned the horse away towards the line of jumps. "Yes- he's looking good," she called back, "listening to you much better than last time".
She stopped to watch in the middle of the field. I circled PB towards the grid of fences, cantered him up the line and popped over them, four fences in total. Given that we'd jumped clear and he was, as we'd both said, improving, I was a little surprised therefore to hear my mother scream.
She is well-known for her screams when my sister and I are riding- the slightest buck or unexpected jump from a horse and she can't help herself, but there didn't seem to be anything untoward happening now.
Glancing over at her I was astonished to see her performing what can only be described as a particularly frantic version of the kind of war dances Indians used to do in old westerns. She was leaping about in a circle like a demented woman, head bent down towards the floor, beating repeatedly at her hair with both hands, screaming all the time.
"What is it?" I called out in alarm. "What on earth's happened?" I couldn't get any closer to help because the terrified horse was quite sensibly refusing to go anywhere near her. "IT'S A BEE!" she shrieked. "I've got a bee stuck in my hair! It's stuck in the hairspray! I can't get it out! What shall I do?!" She was hopping from one foot to the other like someone who has no shoes on and discovers the sand is particularly hot beneath their toes.
And then she spied the water trough.
It was a very old water trough. We didn't use it so it hadn't been cleaned in a very long time. It was full, although to call what was inside water would have been stretching credibility too far. Slime would be a good description for it: thick, gloopy, sticky, foetid green slime.
My mother ran towards it shrieking like a woman possessed, but not by rational thoughts, and when she reached it, grabbed both sides of the metal and without pause for further consideration, plunged her head into the disgusting stuff.
She emerged seconds later no longer screaming but with green slime all over her head. It framed her face, slid down her cheeks and dripped steadily onto her beautiful dress. Ironically, the only part of her that didn't have slime on was her wellies.
I collapsed with immediate and helpless laughter. I laughed so hard I was crying and had to lean on the horse's neck to prevent myself falling off. Luckily my mother has a well-developed sense of humour and she stood in the middle of the field, face and hair dripping with disgusting smelly slime and also cried with laughter. It was some minutes before either of us could speak and even then all we could manage was to gasp things like: "shall I just go out like this and tell everyone I've dyed my hair green?" and "just go home and ask dad why he's taking so long because you've been ready ages."
It was and is one of the funniest moments of my entire life. It makes me laugh even now, all these years later, remembering her standing in that field in her best clothes covered with green slime. And do you know what she said when we finally regained control of ourselves? "It worked- the bee has gone." Well done mum.