The New Book - Excerpt

Mrs Baggitt is small, but she is sturdy, as broad across the shoulder and hip as she is deep between bosom-tip and buttock-cheek, with a low centre of gravity which keeps her firmly anchored, as immovable a feature of the village as the church. She drags a fifty-six pound sack of potatoes manfully across the worn chequerboard linoleum of the shop, opens the door and wedges it with a substantial thigh while she hefts the sack the rest of the way to the trestles she keeps for produce and wares across the shop-front. Already out there are some nice, dirty carrots, a string or two of onions and two flabby, paucey cabbages which, if they don’t sell today, will have to go to the pig. The weather, she notes, casting a shrewd, knowing eye at the sky, isn’t too bad for March; a keen, cold wind; high cloud moving well; weak, watery sunshine. They won’t have rain, not today.

It is 7.30am.

As though in sympathy with the weak-and-watery sun, her husband scampers into view from the depths of the corrugated barn. He tends to move in odd bursts, fits and starts, like a shy rodent. He stands for a few seconds with his back against the echoic metal building, as though gathering himself. Then, with a sudden dash, he is across the drive, through the gate and into the paddock. The hens flee, squawking. A quick fumble behind the kennel and he has untied Meg. She cringes against his leg, sitting almost on top of his wellingtoned foot as he presses himself against the dry-stone wall. At last, at a half-run, semi-crouched, as though evading enemy fire, they dash back out into the exposed drive towards the yard gate.

‘Ars garn to check ewes,’ he mutters as he hurries past her.

‘Where’s your coat? You’ll catch your death!’ she calls. She means it as a demonstration of care and concern but her rough, abrasive voice makes every remark into a reproof and he waves her words away with an impatient hand as he crosses the yard and disappears into the back lonning.