It's a tricky thing, living in the country as an ex-townie. I think you're always considered to be one, however long you stay in the sticks. You can, nevertheless, do things to help your case. For instance, it really doesn't help to be scared of cows. Personally, I'm not scared of cows. In fact, I laugh at them with their big sad eyes and awkward, waddling walk. They often appear to be some kind of genetic joke – neither fierce nor cuddly, just there for the milk. My wife, however, is scared of cows. To be fair, she's not scared of cows over a fence – she's scared of "killer cows". She read about the recent tragic death of a vet who was trampled by cows and she is now convinced all bovines are waiting to attack. The kids have absorbed this fear and are also full of "killer cow" facts. "Dad, some cows can move up to eight miles an hour..." or "Dad, cows can work out a pattern to corner you before moving in..."
What is surprising is that Stacey is no townie – she was raised on a farm in Ontario. When questioned, she is vague but feels cows "have changed somehow". She is convinced that, given the chance, cows will stampede and crush us all to death.
Now, it is true that the herd in the field behind our house are a curious bunch and will often wander over towards us when we are on a walk. I would hardly describe it as a stampede however – more of a gentle amble to see if anybody has some food. The moment they approach, Stacey will pick up the children and sprint for the nearest gate while I, rather cruelly, dissolve into fits of giggles. It's become an issue in our marriage as, whenever I have a couple of sherberts, I bring up the story of Stacey being scared of "killer cows" and she gets really angry. To my astonishment, however, other mums invariably sympathise and agree with her. They come up with facts about "cow kills" and unfortunate Buttercup accidents. Obviously, there has been the odd tragedy, but I firmly believe that most cows are good-natured dolts – there might be the occasional rogue cow but the chances of being trampled by one has to be fairly minimal.
The mothers, however, are having none of it. "Of course, cows are dangerous," says one. "I know somebody who was nearly killed in Shropshire," says another. Is there some sinister "cow kill" epidemic going on? Have I missed a meeting when I was in North Korea? Has the Government diverted its efforts to avoid financial meltdown to tackle the killer cow issue? I don't think so. Maybe the cows have registered that I've gone vegetarian for a year? Maybe they sense I am no longer a threat? The kids and Stacey are partial to the occasional steak and maybe this angers the Asbo cows that lie in wait behind our house?
Personally, I'm a little afraid of swans, as they seem to dislike me and often get out of the river to chase me away. I'm nervous because I, like everyone else, have heard that they can "break a man's arm with their wings". Is this true? If anyone knows of a swan arm-breaking incident, then do let me know. There's no question that it's a dangerous existence down here – you townies don't know how easy you've got it – guns, drugs, car thefts... big deal. We've got killer cows and GBH swans and I haven't even got started on geese attacks...