Over the stable door: Digger duty

Country Week columnist Jo Foster.  Picture by Tony Johnson.
Country Week columnist Jo Foster. Picture by Tony Johnson.
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Life is never dull at Brookleigh and bank holiday was no exception. We spent it re-surfacing my schooling pen. It seemed like one of the more straightforward jobs on the ‘to do’ list (which includes building a house, an outdoor school and draining ‘the bog’– a vast peat swamp which could swallow up a JCB overnight).

Dad, Tris and I set about clearing the sand from the pen I use to school the horses. After 10 loyal years it was in desperate need of a revamp. I had hired a digger which the boys silently agreed was their domain. (I bumped the tractor 19 years ago, so am not trusted handling any machinery of worth.)

My job was to collect the discarded sand in the trailer and drive it to the farm tip, which involved skirting ‘the bog’. Driving anywhere near ‘the bog’ is risky, the ground looks safe but wheels can sink and suddenly you are stuck. Tipping the trailer is no less hazardous. A maximum load in a limited space. Another job I wasn’t trusted with.

Day one went fine. The boys worked from dawn until dusk and what felt like an immense amount of sand looked a disappointingly small pile when it was eventually moved. On day two Tris returned to his day job with relief. I drove the final load of sand across to the farm tip which was by now pretty full. I watched as my father disappeared down the road in his Jeep. After a while waiting, I made an executive decision to tip the load myself. It couldn’t be that hard. Ten minutes later I was stood staring at the overturned trailer. Not quite the result I was hoping for. At that precise moment, I heard the jeep trundle back up the driveway. I groaned, preparing myself for the dressing down I fully deserved.

Dad swore quite a bit. Then he swore some more and was about to say something before he changed his mind. We pulled the trailer back out. I suspected I had got off lightly.

By day four my pen was finally finished without any further incident. The luxurious new surface is like cantering on velvet.

I later found out mine was not the first incident regarding the trailer that week. My father had to be towed out after sinking in the bog with his first load, the reason I had probably got off lightly.

However, I couldn’t have done the job without his incredible hard work. He will be celebrating his 70th birthday next week. I spent my youth trailing round the countryside in his footsteps, he is still the first person from whom I seek advice, tell my grievances or discuss a problem, mainly because he doesn’t really answer and usually forgets what I tell him.

I hope he has the birthday he deserves and treats himself to a day off.