I don’t even know where to start. Was this morning only today? It started so calmly, just me and my coffee at the breakfast table, and slowly the rest of our team arrived. Fabian and Akira look more tired than usual and Fabian admits that yes, he did finally have to get up in the night to tell the boys that although he loved their music and dancing, he thought it best they didn’t actually crash through the ceiling. And when the boys arrive, they shuffle into breakfast with the hunted look of people who have indeed been having a jolly dance party till the early hours, before being rudely dragged from their beds by Alex and his saucepan lids.
We start in the herb garden with Trill Farm’s resident herbalist Muji, who exudes peace and calm, and encourages everyone to kick off their boots and walk barefoot amongst his herb beds. D grins a me and whispers “We are like hippy!" But they listen to Muji. Digestive problems, headaches, stomach pains and insomnia are common ailments for people living with the stress of forced dislocation from home, and Muji carefully takes us round the remedies for them all. There is nothing he doesn’t know about what's growing in his garden and the boys are fascinated. K and R tell me they want to sleep better and stop having stomach pains when they think. They also say it reminds them of home where herbs are used much more - R says he didn’t know we even had them in the UK. M remembers how back in Sudan his grandfather healed his injured leg by using plants and oils. They are delighted to see Muji growing Khat and tobacco, though he is quick to point out that they are not allowed to grow these themselves, and that there danger of ingesting plants you are not knowledgeable about. “If you smoke that,” he says, “it will kill you”. D takes a step back, the thoughts of filling his tobacco pouch thankfully discarded. Muji also points out rosehip and tells us how the seeds make perfect itching powder. I see I’s face light up and watch him slip a handful into his pocket. “For K,” he whispers, beaming at me. “For his bed”. Having seen K throw I’s shoe into a swamp yesterday for no reason, I think there is little need to intervene. Muji suggests we all "do some meditation" together. This is a lovely idea in theory, though in reality, there are six of us sitting on a mat, and the proximity means that snorts of laughter are hard to contain. The boys try to be serious until the sounds of a shrieking M being chased by a guinea fowl waft over to the garden and send everyone into suppressed fits. But Muji is wonderful. We all leave the garden feeling slightly on another plane, and he encourages everybody to come back whenever they want and to help themselves to the tea herbs, which everybody does. B tells me later that Muji has cured his headache and cramps. He has had them every night for 4 months, but after drinking some Trill Farm summer tea, they have gone.
A real treat of the day was a visit from Julian to talk about keeping bees. He explains all about bee navigation systems, how they live and sacrifice themselves for the colony, the guards at the entrance to the hives to keep out any imposters - it’s not hard to see an analogy, for anyone. It turns out that one of the lads has worked with bees at home, and was intrigued by the protective gear. “We don’t use that” he laughs “We just watch, and maybe run”. Julian talks about how to work with them, the presence of danger and the need to be constantly alert, but the great reward when all goes well. Again, there are nods of recognition. The mood lightens when Julian brings out 6 pots of honey to try, and the quiet order of the classroom is lost to a scrum around the jars.
Afterwards, there is falconry. Karen of Kingswood Falcons keeps her birds at Trill Farm, and they watch us appraisingly as we walk up to meet her. Everyone is given a glove, and we are introduced to George the Barn Owl, Rosie the European Eagle Owl with her bright orange eyes, (“Ow! So heavy! Arm is shaking!”) Inca the kestrel, Artemis the Buzzard, and Khan the falcon. Karen talks us through their histories - most of these birds are rescue, taken from caged environments and brought back to health and happiness by dint of huge dedication on Karen’s part towards building trust and respect. “You have to look after them properly” says H carefully "It's difficult to trust people when people have given you a bad life". You don’t want to look for metaphor in everything, but I think everyone feels it. It’s something we notice again and again - we are in the thick of a holiday atmosphere of hilarity and camaraderie, but the biting reality of past experience and future uncertainty is never far below the surface. Karen takes us out into the field and shows us how to swing the lure. I get tangled in my line and whack myself in the face with the lure, which generates shouts of sympathy mixed with explosions of mickey-taking. M is so good, he is sent out to try it for real, with Khan. He stands nervously in the field while Khan sweeps around expectantly, and M panics, throws out the food early, and squeals as Khan heads right for him. Everyone else is delighted by M’s consternation, and film him gleefully; later K tells me she could see the whites of his startled eyes from across the field.
In the evening it pours with rain, which puts football and swimming off the cards, but we have two guitars and a keyboard and the craft room is turned into a jam session. Everyone is reluctant to start and Ruth and I have to be brutally encouraging, in a you-have-no-choice kind of way, to Trill staff and Akira and Fabian, but they are brilliant and are properly applauded. We have to field requests for songs from Africa and the Middle East that we have never heard of, but by the end it turns out that everyone knows Bob Marley, everyone can sing the chorus from Hallelujah, and everyone will sing Stand By Me.
The evening ends with a game that has become a central part of this week - it is part football, part piggy-in-the-middle and (it seems to me) part dancing. I can’t understand it at all, but it involves everyone, and a heck of a lot of shrieked laughter. And more to the point, it wears everyone out.
M, D, H and S say they have one problem. They do not get enough sleep here and they feel “very tired” when Alex bangs his saucepan lids at 08.30. Fabian politely suggests it is because they stay up chatting, or dancing, until 4am. They look thoughtful and agree that if they went to bed earlier, they would indeed have more time to sleep. It seems to be quite a revelation, but I am not sure how far it will sink in. The general energy here can carry on into the night. Akira says he doesn’t care, because he can sleep through anything, so I make a mental note definitely to ensure that Akira comes next time, and for me to reclaim the beautiful (and separate) guest house.
Before I go to bed, H sidles up to me and informs me that actually he is not leaving tomorrow. He is not going back. He looks pretty determined and I think we will come back to this in the morning.