The Volkswagen Passat was parked next to my field gate, sticking out into the lane, blocking larger vehicles from getting round. The farrier was due in an hour. I looked around and saw a lady picking blackberries a little way down the lane.
‘Excuse me? Hello!’ I called, walking up to her thinking: here we go again; more lockdown torment. I geared myself up for conflict with another bad-mannered Surrey rambler. This one was slumped against a bush, reaching upwards, almost swallowed by branches, apparently not hearing me but no doubt pretending, as they do, that I didn’t exist. ‘Excuse me?’ I insisted.
As she pulled herself out of the bush, I could see that she was in her sixties and casually dressed in pale blue crumpled trousers and shapeless sweater. The plastic container she was clutching was half full with barely edible, late-season berries. Of course, I thought, there are no decent berries any more. How odd. ‘Yes?’ she said, and her eyes fixed on me with an intensity that seemed unwarranted.
‘The car outside my field gate, is it yours?’ The lady looked for some seconds as though she was struggling with this question: ‘Yes?’ she said finally, as if I might know the answer better than she.
‘The thing is, I’m waiting for the farrier and his truck won’t be able to get round.’
The lady was still staring at me, yet it seemed to me now that her expression wasn’t quite right, as if she were looking at me but seeing someone else.
‘Your car,’ I began again, then thought better of it. ‘Are you going to be long?’ I asked as politely as I could. At that, she became quite animated: ‘Oo yes. It’s slim pickings.’ And she turned back to the gnarled, half-rotten blackberries.