It was strawberry time. The sun was high in the sky and the birds were singing up a storm. Iona and Hamish sauntered down to the fruit cage to “test” a few. When they got to the strawberry patch Mum was already there filling a big bowl.
“Are those for Lunch?” asked Iona optimistically.
“Not this time poopsie” said Mum “these are for Sweet Sue – she’s making a strawberry cake.”
Sweet Sue lived with Tractor Tom in the Keeper’s House at Butterlaw corner. Sue was sweet on two counts. Firstly, and in Iona’s mind most importantly, Sue was a baker of the most magnificent cakes. Secondly, Sue was a great big softie. Before she retired Sue had been a nurse and she couldn’t quite seem to kick the habit of looking after everyone and everything. From the poorly chicken moved from Sue’s henhouse to a comfy shopping basket in the sunny greenhouse, to the orphan lamb she hand reared, they were all still Sue’s patients, to be loved and fussed over.
Dad and Tractor Tom strolled over, Tom having been sent by Sue to collect the strawberries.
“And what do Strawberries mean?” asked Tom enthusiastically.
“Ice cream” declared Iona.
“Jam?” suggested Hamish.
“No, no no!” said Tom “why Tractors of course”
Hamish and Iona looked at one another and then at Tom. Clearly he had been in the sun for too long. Dad laughed and then took pity on Tom and explained.
“Every year there is a big tractor ride out and show in Yetholm, with a strawberry tea afterwards. Sue is making cakes for the strawberry tea. I expect Tom is taking one of his tractors to the show.”
“Not just one” said Tom. “I was thinking of entering a couple this year. If I can find someone to ride the little grey Fergie over, I’ll take my new Red Devil.” Tom looked meaningfully at Dad. “I came over on the Fergie if you fancy trying her out in the field….”
Now Tom was a great collector, of everything, from logs and bricks, to trailers, bikes and steam rollers; but most of all of tractors. It was Tom’s considered opinion that a man could not have too many tractors. This was not a view shared by Sweet Sue, who had to weave her way between Tom’s many pet tractors to get to her chicken coop.
“No more Tractors Tom” Sue had declared that very morning after stubbing her toe on the steam roller “or I swear that I will going on strike and there will be no more cakes.”
Tom had gone pale – this was a serious threat indeed! And, even worse, unbeknownst to Sue Tom had, just the evening before, shaken hands with Farmer Bob over the purchase of the new Red Devil. What to do, what to do?
“I’ve got it” thought Tom. “I’ll enter the Red Devil in the Yetholm show and when Sue sees it win first place she’ll be quite won over”. Tom could not imagine anyone resisting the Red Devil after he had her all polished up for the show. So all that was needed was someone to drive over the little grey Fergie. This was where Dad came in…..
Ten minutes later, Dad was bouncing round the field on the little tractor. The Coos were fascinated.
“Oh isn’t he wonderful” declared Catriona the 23rd who considered Dad quite the most dashing man she had ever seen. Shuna Spurtle, who was six months older and of a more sceptical disposition, sighed and continued munching the hedge.
“That’s the spirit” shouted Tom over the din of the tractor’s chugging. “You’ve taken to that like a duck to water”
Dad smiled a wobbly smile as he chugged past.
“So long as he doesn’t steer into the pond”…muttered Mum.
After a calming cup of tea and one of Mum’s lavender biscuits it was all settled. Tomorrow Dad would join the Tractor ride with Tom on the little grey Fergie and Sweet Sue would pick up Mum, Iona, Hamish and Lily and drive straight to the show bringing the all-important strawberry cake.
Tractor Tom hurried straight off to farmer Bob’s barn after drinking his tea. Oh dear, the Red Devil was looking distinctly dusty and there was a pigeon nesting in the cab. This was going to take quite a lot of polishing!
Next day, bright and early, Tom drove over with the little grey Fergie and Farmer Bob’s wife dropped off the, now gleaming, Red Devil. After a fortifying bacon roll and a safety lecture from Mum, Tom and Dad chugged off to the tractor ride. All the show tractors would drive over the bridge and form a long convoy before parading round the local farmsteads on the slow, windy road to Yetholm.
“I do hope he’ll be OK” said Mum to Sue when she arrived.
“Oh is Keith going on the ride” asked Sue looking confused “Has he bought a tractor at last?”
“No” said Mum slowly “he’s going on Tom’s Fergie.”
“No that can’t be right” said Sue shaking her head “Tom set off on the Fergie this morning – he was up late polishing her – I can’t think why he left it so late to start though, he didn’t appear at home till gone eight last night and he was filthy. I expect he was over helping Farmer Bob with his tractor.”
Mum stared at Sue, who was by now fussing with her cake boxes trying to fit them in the boot (where Lily would be unable to perform a taste test). The jigsaw pieces had started to fit into place. She didn’t have the whole picture yet, but the pattern was emerging. “Tom, Tom, Tom what are you up to…..?”
The children and Lily sat in the back of Sue’s little red car singing (or in Lily’s case yelping) along with the radio as they tootled along the twisty road to Yetholm. They were just passing through a shady glade when a young deer leaped over the wall at the side of the road and darted in front of the car. Sue slammed on the brakes. The car lurched and, hitting a pool of mud and tractor oil left by the tractors, which had passed along the road just half an hour earlier, swerved across the road. A horn blared and with a sinking heart Mum saw a giant grain lorry coming at them in the opposite direction.
Mum took a deep breath and then “did that thing again”.
The little red car rose in the air and flew, yes it distinctly flew, over the grain lorry and landed with a whump in a muddy puddle in the next field.
Sweet Sue sat completely stunned for a moment before turning shakily to the trio in the back seat. “I’m so sorry Children, and Lily dear, I have no idea how I did that, are you all OK?”
Iona and Hamish looked sternly at Mum.
“This sort of stuff just happens” said Hamish reassuringly. “Remember when Mum ended up on the top of a haystack trying to avoid a wounded owl?”
“well yes Tom did mention that” said Sue, still somewhat dazed.
“And the little deer got away safely” chipped in Iona.
“So that’s all fine then” declared Mum firmly. “I expect it was just, er, just the power steering”
“And no need to mention it to Dad” chorused the children merrily, quite familiar with the routine by now.
“I’ll give Tom a ring, I’m sure he’ll be able to get us on the road” declared Mum jumping out of the car and wandering a little way off. “Children, you look after Sue and check the cakes are OK.”
Ten minutes later Tom chugged up on the Red Devil. He gave Sue a cheery wave and in a trice Sue’s car was attached by chains to the lifting arm on the back of the Red Devil. There was a squeal and a clank as the chains took the weight of the little car. It hung in the air for a moment then, with another whump, it was back down on the road and pointing towards Yetholm.
“Good job you were able to borrow that big red tractor Tom” said Mum, “very handy.”
Tom smiled and nodded. “Yes, I’ve been thinking it might be sensible to get one of these, just for emergencies. What with” Tom hesitated and looked at Mum before continuing “power steering and such like.”
Sue nodded weakly.
Wandering around the tractor display later, munching on an only slightly squashed strawberry cake, Hamish pronounced this the best Tractor show ever.