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How it all began

A snippet from chapter 1 of 'Common or Garden Cows'.........

I’ll never forget the look on my boyfriend’s face when I opened my front door to greet him one day back in 1980. Ashen faced, and with some reluctance he informed me he’d met up with several cows in a nearby alleyway. Being an inhabitant of a land several miles away in the wrong direction he’d never encountered such a surreal tableau before. Maybe he was afraid of being viewed as some sort of crackpot by his new girlfriend, or of experimenting with the latest drug du jour.

“Oh, them” I replied indifferently. “Yes, they’re always wandering about the streets”.

I don’t know if he was more relieved that I had believed him, or crestfallen that I had found such an astonishing occurrence (to him) of no consequence at all.

But that was the way it was back then. Every spring local residents, or ‘commoners’ with a certain acreage of land and a few cows were allowed to take their animals onto the ‘common land’ of Epping Forest and graze their cattle there from April to November. There were no physical boundaries or fences around the commons apart from a few cattle grids of questionable usefulness, so the cows wandered about wherever they wanted to. Occasionally you’d see a group of cows being moved from one pasture to another by a herdsman but for the most part they were left to their own devices. So they ended up wandering the streets. Which is where my boyfriend came in.

Many years later my boyfriend (who is now my husband) was recounting this tale to a neighbour of ours. Not without embellishment he spun a tale of cows wandering the streets of suburbia for all to see.

“You’ve got to be joking mate”, was the reply from our neighbour. “What were you on at the time? Got any photos to prove it?”

Well…. no, we hadn’t. You see, people didn’t take photos back then with anything like the regularity they do nowadays. With mobile phones and digital cameras just a twinkle in some inventor’s eye, photography involved complicated rolls of film that had to be taken to the chemist’s or sent away to be developed, a limit of 12, 24 or 36 pictures, and no preview screen to see if you’d got your subject in the frame or if you’d accidently taken a picture of your foot. Photography was largely reserved for holidays, days out or weddings.

So, it got me thinking. Someone out there must have a picture of a cow in a garden stuffing its face with roses. Someone must have had the photographical nous to take a picture of a cow without obscuring the lens with a forefinger. Maybe someone on an online forum would be able to help with my dilemma?............................

Like what you've read? 'Common or Garden Cows' is available from 'Shop' for £12.99

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