The first time we went to the bluff, I was six. It was Easter Sunday, and like every other Sunday morning, once the digital clock ticked past 08:00, it meant my sister and I could climb into my parents’ bed. I didn’t sleep much as a kid, so I’d usually woken my sister first…crept into her room and climbed into her bed around 6. By 8, we’d been watching cartoons, and the clock, for hours already… Captain Planet and David the Gnome were what Sunday ‘stay in your room time’ was made of.
I loved every Sunday morning as a kid…but I loved Easter Sundays more. Not only did it mean my sister and I could wedge ourselves between mum and dad in the ‘big bed’, like we did when it was someone’s birthday and we all wanted to see the cards, but it also meant my dad would open one of his Easter eggs in bed, and eat it for breakfast… I loved that…watching him tuck into a Mars Bar at 8.30 in the morning. Part of me couldn’t believe he was actually ‘allowed’ to! It was so naughty of him, I thought I would burst with envy!
I definitely wasn’t allowed to do that. Mum always insisted my sister and I ate some ‘proper’ breakfast first and would go downstairs to make toast and tea. Meanwhile, dad would lift me and my sister into the air, one on each hand as he lay flat on his back in bed, and wave us around like two colliding fighter jets. We’d scream with laughter and beg him to do it again…bracing against the padded ‘80s headboard. I don’t ever think he had the heart to tell us when we were getting too heavy!
At some point, mum would return with a tray and we’d all eat breakfast together, in the ‘big bed’, in pajamas…like Christmas, but with spring sunshine, streaming through the net curtains. Later, we’d have toys and presents from family and friends, and there’d be Easter Lunch, before we called at grandma’s to collect what was always the biggest of our chocolate eggs…the big bed and the aeroplane game were just the beginning.
This particular Easter Sunday I met mum on the landing as I crept across, tip-toeing between the floorboards that creaked so as not to wake anyone. She was coming out of my sister’s room…with a bucket. She stopped me.
“Oh love,” she said. “She’s asleep. She’s been sick all night.” I looked up at her, incredulous.
“But…but…” my lip quivered… “But it’s Easter!!” I dodged round her and stuck my head around my sister’s bedroom door. She was pale and glistening, with old towels over the bed and on the floor, in case she threw up again. I burst into tears. “But we won’t be able to do Easter!” I wailed.
“Oh chicken…she can’t help it. She’s poorly.” Mum went in the direction of the bathroom to empty the sick bucket. I stood, weeping, on the landing. This was going to be the most miserable day ever.
Mum and dad tried. We had Easter lunch, and I played with my new toys…but I couldn’t bring myself to eat any chocolate at all. It just wasn’t the same without my sister to share in the joy of feeling pleasantly ill from too much cocoa, whilst watching kids TV. Every time I snuck upstairs to see if she was better yet, she was sound asleep and looking clammy as ever.
“Shall I take her out?” Dad said, when I still had a long face by 3pm. I must have looked awfully forlorn, because he put my booster in the front seat of the red, Renault 19.
“Really daddy?” I said, wide-eyed.
“Really…come on, I want to show you something.”
We drove to the bluff. A huge rock, about 30 minutes from home, that couldn’t be seen, rising out of a field in the middle of nowhere, until you were almost upon it. There were cows in the field next to it, and as dad and I walked up the hill towards it, it seemed to get bigger by the second. You could have walked up the back of it…but dad took my hand and helped me to climb up its massive face instead. Then he sat down on the edge of it and he pointed in the direction of the setting sun.
“Now watch.” He said quietly as he sat me on his knee. I looked out across the cow field as a long chorus of lowing almost instantly began. The field bathed slowly in orange light as we watched, and the sky turned an intense sort of mauve. The cows began walking in unison across the field, lowing together, as though the sun were drawing them towards it. It was one of the most mesmerizingly beautiful things I’d ever seen, and the first time I remember feeling my soul turn over.
“What are they doing daddy?” I whispered, not really sure why I was whispering, but just knowing it felt like the right thing to do.
“They know it’s time to go home, that’s all…to go to sleep. They’re singing a lullaby to the sun. It won’t go down if they don’t sing.” I watched, open mouthed, as the sun sank over the horizon, and the cows at the gate duly stopped singing and let it sleep.
Dad and I climbed down the back of the bluff in the twilight, frightening each other with dark shadows on the rock face, me, screeching and giggling in the dark. It felt even naughtier than eating chocolate for breakfast, and when he stopped at Harry Ramsden’s for tea, an earlier thought that perhaps this had been better than the aeroplane game with my sister, was justly confirmed. I felt that day that the cows and the rock…and my dad…had shown me a secret of the world. Dad may have been bluffing a tale of magic for a disappointed little girl who missed her playmate on a special day, but somehow, for me, the cows have sung the sun to sleep ever since.
I learned later that the rock had a name, and the cows and I shared many beautiful sunsets, and a fantastic solar eclipse there, long after I grew out of the aeroplane game.
But one thing's for sure, I’ve never grown out of the bovine lullaby.