Something strange comes over my voice when we have Wwoofers, a mixture of camp mother and documentary voice over. I hear myself do it. Maybe it’s the faltering English or the fresh faces that encourage me to think I have important knowledge to impart … I don’t … but I don’t let that get in my way.
Some years ago we had six Germans staying. It was calving season and a beautiful, curly, red-coated calf had been born the night before. He seemed lacklustre and unwell. My Wwoofer voice made itself welcome as I gathered the young people together, filled up a bottle with supplementary milk and led the gaggle down to the river. I straddled the calf both crooning to him and explaining to my attentive camera-carrying audience what I was doing, what I wasn’t doing and what I might do.
The calf seemed to be straining so I monotoned that he was clearly constipated, that I would now desist from trying to make him drink and instead give him a jolly good organic massage. I was right in my element. I was right in my element until I noticed that the calf didn’t have a bottom and then I wasn’t in my element anymore. I gasped. I peered, I peered again. It really was true. He didn’t have a bottom or as my grandson shrilled excitedly, “Grandy he doesn’t have a bum hole!”
It was five o’clock on a Friday night. The poor little thing was clearly in agony, an agony not particularly helped by my great Mrs Know It All self forcing milk down its throat. At that moment Peter pulled up in the car. I yelled the situation and he returned in minutes with a razor blade, disinfectant and cotton swabs. Before cameras had time to focus or Germans gasp, the job was done and we were all leaping sideways to avoid the spurting, brown gush. Poor wee thing. The miracle is that he lived and the vet gave Peter a thumbs up.
Last week, having still not learned to control my Wwoofer voice, I took the three wonderful Scottish boys down to my garden and picked up nine singular potatoes. I heard myself drift into an Irish accent as I said the word ‘potatoes’ but undeterred I droned on … and on.
“Take three potatoes each, place the potatoes in a planter bag, a third filled with compost, and cover the potatoes to the top of the bag with more compost.” I paused and wondered aloud if they knew what way the ‘eyes’ went. Robert twinkled ever so slightly and politely as he explained that he came from a farm in Scotland that planted five thousand tons of potatoes every year, supplying all Scottish Tesco’s. “Ah,” I said, “well carry on then …”
Our current Wwoofers have now dispersed. Soliane from France with her nose rings and braided hair has joined a music commune, German Corinna meets her parents and boyfriend in Christchurch, and the three och aye’s head to Auckland for some paid work.
Sarah from Yorkshire is last to go. I take this tall, extraordinary woman to the bus. Her laden backpack is heaved into the car. Sarah is thirty years old. She has taught eight times in Ghana. She has flown helicopters and jumped out of planes. She has collected, catalogued, and packaged container loads of textbooks donated to African schools. She has completed a master’s and embarks on her doctorate in the fall. She has roamed India and the Americas but she has never felt the warmth of an egg just laid.
While Sarah was with us I asked her if she would like to feed the chooks with me. I gave the offer nary a second thought so commonplace is it in my world but for Sarah it was a moment full of wonder and exclamation. Her face lit as the chooks bustled busily around her competing for the falling grain. I gave her a bowl and asked her to collect the eggs, she ducked her head and entered the chook house where the ten hay-filled nesting boxes waited with their bounty.
I have had chooks for forty years and I still get a thrill from the tumble of a nest fully laden. For Sarah that thrill was fresh and new. The smile was an ear-to-ear affair. You never know when you are going to encounter a ‘first’ moment, you never know how precious it will be, or that simplicity can be hard to beat.