I hadn’t seen cousin Claire for five years. She was as lovely and as enthusiastic as ever as she welcomed me into her barn, where she was throwing a party for her mother and father’s golden wedding anniversary. She clocked the tie — the White Park Cattle Association tie — immediately. White cattle heads on a navy blue background. ‘I recognise that tie!’ she exclaimed, clasping her hands together and buckling at the knees with surprise. She’d kept several specimens of this ancient breed as a hobby for several years, but gave them up, or was persuaded to give them up, because they can be a bit touchy and she had young children around. ‘I’m on the committee,’ I said. ‘Vice-chairman.’ She almost fell over backwards. ‘No!’ she said. ‘I am,’ I said. ‘Seeing yours ten years ago got me interested in the breed and I became involved, and last year I was elected to the committee.’ She gaped as if it was the most astonishing thing she’d heard for a long time. Except it wasn’t remotely true. Before she could regain the power of speech I came clean and admitted that I’d borrowed the tie from her father, to whom she’d given it many years before as a birthday present. The power in Claire’s punching arm was impressive.
Most of the guests had already arrived. These days I only get to see my country cousins at weddings and funerals. But I virtually grew up with them on my uncle’s pig farm in Essex and there is a great sentimental attachment. Claire’s husband is mainly in arable. The three brothers are in pigs and free-range eggs. My uncle has exchanged pigs for ornamental fowl. Of the four cousins, I’m closest in age and affection to Robin, whom I also hadn’t seen for many years.