When the relief of having survived another Christmas and the buzz of a Happy New Year subsides, we in the northern wilderness are still faced with at least four more months of unrelenting Yorkshire winter before it feels like time to haul the vacuum-packed storage bags of shorts and gauzy shirts out from under the beds. And even then, it’s just to look at them until the rain stops.
If I sound like Eyore it’s because I am a little susceptible to SAD, (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Occasional lapses from my studied focus on hygge, means that a glimpse of my pasty grey legs poking out from too short flannelette pyjamas and into fluffy bed socks can send me deep onto dark winter doldrums on a wet Sunday night in front of Countryfile. Accidentally dropping my gloves into a puddle outside the post office in a gale has the same effect, as does fearfully stepping outside on a freezing morning with grim images of a broken hip scuddingthrough my mind. But the one thing that remains constant, the one thing that most weighs me down, figuratively and physically, is mud.
Builders arrived on the 6th of January to begin digging the foundations for our not very grand Grand Designs project. It took them three weeks of churning up the back yard with a mini digger, 300 gallons of sweet white tea and only two instances of ruptured water mains before they were able to start laying the footings, which they did quite quickly in the end, but not before the whole house had became a repository for every loose bit of mud, clay, sand and gravel that the dogs, cat and husband could pick up on their feet.
Some days it seemed that, as part of our home improvements, we had opted for a trendy new flooring feature, harking back to a traditional scandi aesthetic, specifically known as the Viking style. Eventually I hung the mop up to dry, wondering if a gentle swish with a besom of birch twigs, to evenly distribute the unrelenting tidal wave of mud that persisted through the front and back doors on a daily basis, might make more sense. The paw of a giant ginger tom cat, and more notably that of a great hairy lolloping lurcher puppy can absorb and deposit a spectacular quantity of wet mud over an impressive area very quickly. The tiny tip-toe paws of a prissy Parson’s Jack Russell are less of a problem but when the prints of all three of these wayward untamed beasts are combined across floors, fabrics, fittings and furniture, it resembles the scene of an acid-fuelled kindergarten Messy Play session.
Mopping it up results in a bucketful of muddy grit, which, if tipped into the sink or loo would silt up the U–bends, so one has to schlep across the muddy driveway in order to slop out into the main drain. But of course one first has to put on a pair of wellies, which usually means hopping about in the newly cleaned hallway on one leg trying to wedge your jeans into the leg-hole while depositing a quantity of little pressed strips of dried mud that look like the discarded remnants of an Airfix kit. Except these Airfix pieces crumble to muddy dust the moment you attempt to pick them up.
Efforts to escape the stuff are futile. A simple walk up the garden to feed the chickens requires the aforementioned welly-dance and the core strength of a gymnast to stay upright on the treacherous path that, for a short time in summer is soft green grass, but in winter is evil slithering brown. As I return with a basket of eggs in one hand I am plagued with the premonition of me flinging them slingshot style into the air as one boot slips up in front of me. As such, the chickens are lucky if they see me three times a week, but I am impressed, if a little pissed off with how pristine they always manage to look despite the plague of mud that torments us all.
The door between the kitchen and the back door is so close-fitting, and the floor usually so thickly coated in a gritty layer of dried mud, that if you attempt to push it shut, there is an ungodly, tooth-rattling honking sound as it shudders to a halt and hits you in the face. Mud laughs at me.
Ironing a white king-size duvet cover last week I folded it in half to discover that some arsehole had managed to climb up into the clean laundry basket (which I had foolishly left in the sunroom) and made a cosy mud-nest in it. My first instinct was to order a line-up and forensically check the paw prints against each of the suspects, all the while devising a most gruesome punishment, but my heart wasn’t in it. Mud has broken me.
Our cars are perpetually in breach of highway laws, being so thoroughly powder coated in the mud that slicks the surrounding country lanes that their rear registration plates are not only illegible but completely indiscernible. On the bright side, I could, if I had to, evade a pursuant traffic cop without fear of traceability, but it is cold comfort. Especially when you arrive at a smart venue dolled up for an evening out to discover that there is a crusty brown door-sill print on the back of one of your calves (not baby cow, although it might as well be) from where you stepped out of the car. It is similar to the one you get across the front of your thighs after hauling the shopping out from the boot, in horizontal sleet.
I do however have a tender spot in my heart for the rough, hand daubed warning signs, sometimes looking like they’ve been painted using actual mud, that farmers prop out on the verges stating the bleeding obvious: MUD ON ROAD. In my head I hear them saying it out loud in the broadest of accents; “Múd on t’rooad” Thank you, dear farmer.
When dog walking on really wet days, the amusingly rude squelch of mud in the corners of fields can be a minor distraction, but when the clay slip actually squirts up your legs and leaves globules of mud and God-knows-what-else on your trousers it is slightly less funny. From a fitness perspective, a muddy walk exercises muscles you forgot you had, in a similar way that FitFlops do, as you lurch and slide, arms wind-milling, along woodland tracks and field edges. The effect of 3lbs. of thick sticky mud enveloping each boot is also akin to wearing those fancy ankle weights for resistance training, though less ‘Fabletics’, and more ‘Feck this!’
Then there is the weekly teen-age mud-bath ritual known as Rugby, where we line up on a squelchy sideline, hands in pockets, jostling close together for warmth like penguins in guano, and look on as our sons skate, slide, flop, and are trampled into the grass-flecked battleground of a club pitch. Mine helpfully bleached his hair bright white in the autumn, which meant that in the early (dry) part of the season, had I turned up late for a match I could very quickly see if he was still on the field, and not in the back of an ambulance. But yesterday when I arrived shortly after the first whistle, the players on both sides were all wearing the same thick coating of mud from head to toe, which made spectating quite difficult and I imagine playing even harder. Is it too late to incorporate an outside shower into our Grand Design? Or will I just have to scrape chunks of the PRUFC front pitch off the white tiled floor of the bathroom every Sunday night, and like it? I’ll confess that on a Saturday, prising the leather-dry skin of wattle and daub off the sole of a rugby boot, where the studs leave perfect holes, is one of the more satisfying things for a bored housewife to enjoy.
This afternoon I have scheduled a little mud-free me-time in which to browse the Internet for trips to sun-drenched turquoise lagoons and azure sea-caves, where mud has no place and there are staff to tend green flower gardens and dry sandy paths. I need to sell something before I can make these dreams a reality, how much is a kidney worth again?
But right now my canine friends gaze expectantly up at me as I write, and it is time once more to head out into the breach and do battle with the Yorkshire mud. Think of me an hour from now as I tussle with their filthy wet wriggling bodies in the butler’s sink, attempting to sluice the worst from their furry feet and undercarriage while they rear up on their hind legs and embrace me muddily.