Today is more fiction and I took a liberty with the topic set by the glorious Ruth Dawson – she asked for “Exploring the Outside in Facilitation” – I hope I get forgiven for shortening it & going in a different direction.
Riba steps forward cautiously. Her feet feel really odd. Her steps are clumpy, clumsy – she’s never worn clown shoes, but thinks this might be what it’s like. She frowns down at the strange objects on the end of her legs and sighs. Pink unicorn wellies from Primark – cheapest her Mum could find – the glitter on the toes has already started rubbing off and is all over her bag. Riba loved them in the shop… but here…. Well, here they look weird.
She eyes the rest of her classmates, also newly booted. Charlie’s gone for blue boots – plain, her leggings tucked in. Naade has gone for green – his long skinny legs poke out of the top – knees exposed, with smart shorts above. Honey’s wearing Pink too – hers have got pugs on them. She’s kind of rolled her jeans up over the top of them. Sadiq has black ones on with orange toes. Every single pair are brand new and everyone looks a bit mad.
Riba continues to experiment with walking, away from the crowd. She doesn’t like this place. She is grumpy.
Mrs Aston calls them over and introduces them to the Farmer. She’s younger than Riba expected and.. well.. a girl. Farmers are meant to be men and wear flat caps and have red cheeks and those tweed jacket things This one is in jeans and a t- shirt and a blue puffa jacket thing with no sleeves. Her wellies are also green – but flash ones, with a buckle.. scuffed and muddy. This adds to Riba’s sense of how stupid this all is. Nothing is as it’s supposed to be. Everything is new and strange. It smells weird – like poo and the park when the grass has been cut and the florist shop on the high street, all combined. It’s really quiet – she can hear birds and the wind in the trees – no cars at all. And now the farmer’s not even a proper farmer. This place is strange. She hangs at the back of the group, feeling sulky.
They begin with a walk in the orchard – the farmer lady explains the apple- trees and pear trees and what the Farm does with the fruit. Riba can’t listen because THERE. ARE.CHICKENS. Riba has never seen a live chicken before in real life. They are massive. She thought chickens would be the same size as a pigeon. And these ones aren’t just brown like you see in the Supermarket Ads – these ones are grey or white.. with a couple of brown ones scratching over there. They have beady eyes and weird wobbly jelly things on their heads & under their chins. Riba feels sick looking at them. Gross. She keeps them in her sightline in case they attack, breathing steadily – ready to run. Can she run in these wellies? She’d give it a go.
The farmer-lady starts talking about chickens and the eggs they produce. Naade whispers to Riba that they poo out eggs and she giggles.. but then worries that eggs are chicken poo. Has she been eating chicken poo? She feels sick again. She gets past the chickens as quickly as she can.
On from the orchard, they do a woodland walk. 20 kids in pairs, Mrs Aston ushering them along, the new teaching assistant making sure no-one gets left behind. It’s muddy. Really muddy. Her pink boots sinking in brown, soggy, sloppy goo. The goo is messing up her new wellies. Riba wants to wash it off. She feels stressed and horrible – how much longer does this go on for?
The Farmer has stopped. She is talking about the trees and saying trees can talk to each other, through their roots underground. Riba looks at her classmates and sees most of them are listening – how stupid are they? Trees obviously do not talk. And how could you have an underground conversation in the dark? She’ll not tell Mum this when she gets home, because her mum might think the trip was a waste of the £3 she paid toward the bus. This place is stupid. This Farmer woman is Stupid. Riba wants to get back to town.
Now everyone has to help plant a tree. The ground has been mostly dug-up, but Gary-the- favourite volunteers to dig, when asked and he and Honey help scrape out mud and dirt and put a little twig thing with a white bag on it in the ground. Honey’s pink pug boots are covered in mud, Riba notes. Even more than her own. And thatisn’t a tree. It’s a stick. They are planting sticks. What is happening?
They walk on to to see some sheep. The Farmer explains it is spring, so there will be lambs. Riba is cheered by this. Lambs are cute. She’s saw some at the City Farm last year with her Uncle and Cousins. She subtly tries to get more mud off her boots on the grass. The farmer explains that some of the sheep are still pregnant and the class might see a lamb get born. This doesn’t sound appealing to Riba – shouldn’t the mum-sheep go to vet hospital or something?
The lambs are surprisingly noisy in the barn – the farmer explains they stay in doors for a few days, then they will go out. Each lamb has a tag on its ear so the farmer can track them and stuff sprayed on their bellies so a cord doesn’t get dirty or something. The farmer has some brand new lambs – born this morning – which need to be tagged. Do the class want to see? Riba opens her mouth to say “no” but the rest of the class say “yeaaaaasssss”. Riba tries again to get mud off her boots. She feels hot and cross.
The Farmer is talking about lambs and spring or something. Riba can’t tune in properly. The Farmer takes the lamb, which is making a really really loud noise, and holds it between her knees. The Farmer takes a tool in her hands and pulls the lambs ear out. Oh my God what is she going to do to the lamb? She’s piercing lamb- ears in front of everyone? Riba feels hotter and can’t breathe properly. There is a “clunk” and the lamb shakes its head, unsteady, big tag attached to it’s ear. Riba looks uncomprehendingly at what has just been done. They pierced a lamb. They….
“Mrs Ashton?” Sadiq says “ I think Riba’s fainted, Miss”
I wanted to do an anti-nature thing. I am a huge fan and advocate of being outdoors, of the country and all that nature can offer, but there are a lot of kids who grow up in urban spaces that are, understandably, completely freaked out in a rural environment. I wanted to write about a bit of that. The freakishness of being taken out of a familiar place, particularly when everyone else seems to be getting on with it and not seeing how weird it is.
I grew up on farms and we regularly had schools in (obviously I never saw them..because I was at school) and one day a kid did faint.. so I’m reimagining that. I like Riba and her grumpiness, her utter refusal to just go with the crowd….