I light up a cigarette next to Shakin’ Stevens (the other side of an eight foot, 10 bar reinforced, galvanized steel gate). Wanking off a bull isn’t as bad as I thought. It’s worse. Much worse.
I realise the magnitude of the task when two burly men turn up to help from local farms. Because Limousin cattle aren’t like your chilled Highland coos or your huggable Herefords they are insane in the brain. Probably uptight because they are French. Although, according to Simon, all continental cattle are psychotic.
I’m in overalls and rubber boots trying to see through my bleary eyes after two hours sleep and a six-hour journey from London here, via Wilshire to drop off Sienna with Granny and Roge. I’m hoping this isn’t going to take long (as with many other assignations in my life) because I have to catch a flight from Heathrow to Naples at 18.30 and it’s a long drive from Mid-Devon.
I lean against the steel cattle crush where the heifer on heat is waiting to receive Shakin’ Stevens. My diminutive father-in-law, Edwin, calmly leads the gigantic ginger bull to the heifer, he snorts in anticipation (the bull), having had the smell of her up his nostrils most of the morning.
I have the semen collector ready. The bull is brought into the entrance of the steel pen containing – I didn’t catch her name but let’s call her Cindy Lauper to keep with the 80s theme. She stirs with a swish of her tail and bam Shakin’ Stevens raises himself onto his hind legs in a display of tremendous power. I try to get the container onto his astonishingly small penis, given his leviathan proportions, but it slips off. He dismounts and gets into a better position using the back of the poor Cyndi to steady himself. I plug into his willy and that’s when he goes nuts, rearing, snarling and backing into the burly men. One has his foot trodden on; all the men wince. But not for his foot, for the bull’s willy. Apparently, I need to be more gentle.
When the bull is calmer he wants to try again. This time I slip the collector onto his sheath and he beefily blows his load into the tube. Cyndi who seemed up for a bit of action can’t understand what is going on. “Is it in yet?” She moos. Mercifully I get my arm and container out of the way as a ton and a half of meat crashes back down onto four legs on the concrete floor.
Edwin takes the container, screws on the top tightly and hands it to his lab. man who places it into a cool box containing liquid nitrogen, ready to take back to the laboratory to be stored. Mercifully they took samples from Adam Ant and Boy George last week, “Or you’d have more work to do,” says Edwin seriously.
“Boy George?” I say barely stifling a snigger.
Edwin: “Aye Boy George, he’s my best bull. It’s Adam Ant firing the blanks.”
Back at the farmhouse, Edwin has a lot of knowledge he wants to impart and if I’m not writing it down he isn’t happy. I assure him I have all I need for a 900-word column but Edwin thinks he’s commissioned a weighty tome on his life and Limousins.
“Note it down,” he says telling me about the history of the breed. We have another cup of tea; the third. But I really need to go because I’m still in Devon at lunchtime and I need to get to Heathrow.
Penny offers me a ham and cheese sandwich, I eat it hurriedly. “I really will have to go after this.”
Edwin: “But I haven’t shown you the new pastures.”
Me: “No I don’t.”
Edwin: “Nonsense, if you do a job, do it properly,.” He narrows his eyes at me. He thinks I am one of those slack Alices – whoever she was, poor girl – who just fannies around the edges of things. Well, that maybe be true but fannying around the edges is very important, underrated occupation.
Edwin sits back in his vast oak chair at the head of the table, as Penny brings yet another pot of tea to the table. How much tea do these people drink? And I can tell Edwin intends to take his time over lunch. I look at the clock. I have to leave now in order to be there two hours before my flight. I am going to stand up to him and be firm.
An hour later I am in his Land Rover doing a tour of the fields so he can show me how he’s under-sewn his pastures with a clover and herb mix to give his stock the best conditioning possible, which is commendable and interesting BUT I HAVE TO GO.
He finally drives me back to the farmhouse by which time it’s quarter past two. I kiss Vita and hug Penny, running through my lists with her: “Car seat, dummies, bottles…”
Penny: “Yes, got all of those.”
Me: “Everything is on the ‘baby manual’ (I have created separate child operating manuals for each Granny). Call me if any problems.”
I awkwardly shake hands with Edwin. “Thank you for looking after Vita.”
Edwin: “Don’t thank me.”
Me: “Okay, I’m not.”
Edwin: “Not good with babies.”
Me: (bravely) “Or people in general?”
Edwin: “Animals never let you down.”
Me: “I really need to go! Oh, but now I don’t want to leave my baby!” I shower Vita in kisses. Oh god, all I’ve done is fantasized about leaving my children and now I want to take Vita with me. And Sienna, I miss her so much already. I well up.
Edwin: “Stop dithering, girl!”
I suppress the urge to punch him, jump in the car and drive off, waving madly at my baby.
It’s now 14.25. F*ck! As I return up the valley to the digital world my phone starts pinging with texts from Simon wondering where I am. I put Heathrow into the sat-nav and, Jesus, it’s going to take me three hours. I’m never going to make my flight.
I dump my car at Purple Parking and it feels like I have held my breath the entire way. I certainly have held my bladder. I take the minibus shuttle to terminal three, we get stuck in traffic for 15 minutes, I finally get there, run into the airport with my wheelie and backpack, I drop my bag at the check-in (with no queue because I’m so late), go straight through to security, shamelessly queue jump my way through pretending I’m looking for a small child, have my water and perfume confiscated, manage not to set off any alarm bells (they once thought I had an Improvised Explosive Device in America because I’d chucked phone chargers and laptop cables on top of my SLR camera, packed it with books and a mirror, which on screen made it look like a text book IED. Alarms sounded, glass safety doors closed and I was taken aside by the Head of Airport Security and grilled about what was in my bag so hard I wasn’t even sure if it was my bag anymore.)
I burst onto the duty-free concourse and shout ‘Simon’ across it. People stare but don’t care how bonkers I look because I am not going to miss this flight. Si waves and points in the direction we need to go. We run side by side but my bladder’s sloshing to bursting, after three hours on the road and all that bloody tea. “I need the loo,” I shout.
“No time,” he says, which is rich coming from someone with a toddler’s bladder.
Me: “Simon, stop!”
I run into the Ladies, dive into a cubicle and pee for Britain. Our flight is called. “Last call for flight BA329 to Naples.” It’s okay, I think, I’m going to make it. We are going to have our Italian holiday, with loads of fun and sex and spaghetti. I take a big breath and relax. Then I look down and see the crimson water.
Not now. Not bloody now!
I wipe, stuff my knickers with half a loo roll and walk out like John Wayne.
Me: “I need to go to Boots.”
Si: “No, you don’t. Look,” he says showing me a bumper pack of condoms in a plastic bag.
Me: “Keep the receipt.” I say, already mincing over to the pharmacy.
We are the last passengers on the plane. Si stares out of the window, silently mourning his sex life, while I sit *tight* until we are up in the air and I can go and spend some quality time in the restroom. I sit on the loo and am about to cry because everything is ruined until I realise, we have made it. We have made it. No kids. Just the two of us. For five days. In Italy.
I return to my seat, where Si has already ordered G & Ts.
Si: “We did it.”