For most of his working life Grandpa Eric practiced as a vet, starting out on farms. Picture James Herriot in action & I suspect you’re not far from the truth, although thinking back to the BBC adaptation of ‘All Creatures Great & Small’, Eric was rather more like Siegfried Farnon in character than James. Indeed, they even look a little alike.
Later on he led research into vaccination for foot & mouth disease. A little research of my own on the Defra web site reveals that there was a virulent outbreak in 1967 so it must have been around that period that he was involved. It was particularly frustrating for him to witness large areas of the countryside again ravaged by the disease in 2001. Over 2,000 animals were destroyed that year.
I once made the mistake of asking ‘Grandpa Eric, when you were a vet …’. He immediately jumped in with the correction ‘My dear boy, I am a vet’. It’s a profession of course, a vocation, a calling even – not simply a job. He was a card-carrying member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons up until his death. He had also amassed a huge collection of The Veterinary Journal although, as Lucy once bravely pointed out to him, they remained mostly unread, piled up, still in their plastic envelopes. (‘You’re not supposed to notice that!’).
I’m a little sceptical as to whether one is permitted to carry professional credentials into the afterlife, but I guess unless I want a good haunting, it’s safest for me to say aye, of course, my dear Grandpa Eric, you are still a vet.
Anyway, that meaty preamble was created in order that I may feel entitled to publish photos of my new animal buddies down here on the farm, in particular Cal the Cob & Morgan the Mule. There’s also a rather decrepit but charming sheep called Wewak (named after the capital of the East Sepik province of Papua New Guinea, where Max spent some of his childhood). Wewak sometimes walks around on the turf-covered roof of the studio which is pretty surreal. I don’t think I’ve ever been under a sheep before.
I’ve been feeding Cal & Morgan vegetable trimmings & horse feed as a way of getting to know them. It has been strange handling & smelling horse feed again – it takes me straight back to 1975-ish. As kids my brother Toby, sister Polly & I spent several months living with Grandpa Eric, Grandma Joan & Auntie Esther in Iford (near Lewes). I’m not entirely sure of the full details but our parents were separating & that’s where we ended up.
Up on the Downs were kept a large white horse called Bridget & a donkey called Lady Jane (!). I remember the smell of the feed distinctly, not just because we fed the animals with it (‘Keep your hand flat, Matty!’), but rather owing to the fact that we used to dare one another to eat it. It tastes quite nice, actually – Nick tells me it is full of molasses. We’re lucky we didn’t grow up with teeth like the ‘Bardy One’ (see previous post).
Cal & Morgan are quite a pair. Cal is very dominating, particularly when food is on offer. He comes thundering over & literally body-blocks Morgan from the action. If you attempt to bring Morgan into the picture (‘Be fair, Cal!’) then the mighty muddy white one (with weeny on hoofs) lunges for his mulish companion.
Morgan’s response is hilarious. He flips round 180˚ so that he ends up looking in completely the opposite direction, as if to say ‘Whatever. I’m like, so not interested. I’m not even looking. Kiss my ass!’.
It took me a few days to realise that this maneuver is in fact the prologue to a mule kick, with Cal the (probably deserving) recipient. Unless I happen to find myself between them at the time of the strike, that is. Morgan’s fair share of the tidbits I now usually deliver to him over Cal’s back ie, well out of Cal’s field of vision.
Anyway, my daily commitment to this feeding-ritual-come-line-dance-come-therapy-session has been in order that they will trust me enough to shoot some film with them, footage which might well end up in Follow The Master – enabling Wooda to merge naturally with the picture.
I’m glad to say that Nick & I managed successfully to shoot a roll of Super 8mm with Morgan & Cal. I would have preferred to have got to know them even better before shooting, but the processing time for Super 8mm means we just had to get on with it.
On set I wore Grandpa Eric’s bowler hat, coat tails, dress shirt, bow tie, white kid gloves & brandished a stethoscope (as you do). My four-legged co-stars remained unperturbed by my antics, although the two tree surgeons who were working on the farm that day did seem a little concerned.
Later that day, no doubt inspired by the costume & the fact that my ukulele appears rather frequently in the 14 hours of unedited video footage, Nick started singing George Formby’s somewhat irritating song Grandad’s Flannelette Nightshirt.
It dawned on us that we could easily download the song; I could perhaps learn it & perform it in the film. However when we tried to play the downloaded track, the Mac threw up this hilarious message – that one up above ↑. Presumably because it has all the liberalism of a catholic with a protestant heart (see previous post).
Just in case you thought this residency was all about horses & mules, Nick writes:
Today was first proper day of editing – been doing it for 7 hours so far and will prob do another 5 I reckon – good to finally do the work rather than the preparation.
Matt’s just gone off to make Quorn Spag Bol.
By day we work in a glass box with landscape all around. The same glass box at night is like a goldfish bowl, with 192928348 animals all watching your every move throuh the cross hairs of a sniper’s rifle it feels like. Creepy?