I spoke too soon. Today it took 3 rounds of saucepan banging to get some of them out of bed. Scattered UNO cards on the grass outside suggest late night gaming, and the bleary eyed faces at the breakfast table back this up. But the wonderful news is that Sam has arrived. He bounds in with his infectiously joyful energy and within seconds everyone is pulling on wellies to start the day. They ignore my advice to wear socks and two of them consequently get stuck in them, which is what I said would happen. Anyway, Sam is a treat for everyone. Last year, he and the boys built a pizza oven. This year, he is teaching us all to find clay and turn it into useful things, like mugs and bowls.
My group are first with Sam, and we set off to dig up the clay. It’s so dry here, but Sam jumps into an arid ditch and proclaims it a good thing, because we can break off bits of the clay, and eat it. This, he tells us, will be good for our stomachs. He says that back in his homeland of Uganda, clay is given to pregnant women before the birth, (which makes me grateful for my grandmother’s advice to drink Guinness). The boys and I are unconvinced. It looks like Sam is eating handfuls of mud and encouraging us to do the same. He hands pieces of clay to Z, who breaks it up with a doubtful expression and passes it around. It doesn’t break evenly and the boys insist I get the biggest piece, assuring me the tiny pieces, barely a morsel each, will be absolutely fine for them. I am slightly suspicious about this sudden burst of generosity, which certainly didn’t happen yesterday when there was cake, but I eat it, and watch them trying not to laugh.
The boys set to work with shovels and a pickaxe and in seconds, the wheelbarrow is full. I say I will do some pickaxing too. They all look doubtful and says it is not for women, so I insist sternly to demonstrate gender equality, and they reluctantly hand me the pickaxe. It is much heavier than I have imagined and I immediately swing it into my own foot. They quickly take it off me and rub my foot in concern, but also exchange rolled eyes and words, which I can’t understand but I suspect might include “I told you so”. Still, we have harvested enough clay anyway, and Sam soaks it ready to use tomorrow.
Our big activity for everyone today is about being with horses. Sue from Adventures with Horses has brought two beautifully gentle animals along and each group spend time with them up in the field, learning about their behaviour and the signals of physical language, how to lead them and to bond through grooming. Everyone is mesmerised as Sue and Jo explain the messages being given by Harry and Tristian. Sue demonstrates the art of leading by asking Jo to be a horse. The boys' eyebrows shoot up at this, and they look at me incredulously, as Jo trots and neighs at Sue's side. It IS funny, but it definitely works. They take the real horses on the lead around the field, and when Sue encourages them into a trot, S and D begin to run, and are charmed when the horses break into a canter, and then outrun them. Even the more nervous participants are stroking and patting them by the end of the session. But the clearest bond is immediately formed between Tristian and our A. Sue explains that Tristian had not had the best start in life and how he is still learning to trust. He had no issue trusting A though. They stick to each other like glue, with no lead required, and when A begins to groom him, Tristian sways gently with his eyes half-closed, the very picture of peace. Later, when A sits alone in the field, Tristian goes to stand with him, pushing his shoulder gently with his nose. A stands up and puts his arms around Tristian’s neck, and they stand there for a long while, and in a way that makes me wonder whether we might be bringing a horse on the bus home with us.
In the carpentry workshop the stools are taking shape. These sessions are the quietest as everyone is so involved in their own work. Ruth is the best of teachers, and nothing goes awry, so although Joc and I pretend to be helpful, really we are just drinking coffee. The concentration and precision that goes into the work here is astonishing. I am not actually sure how we will get 14 stools home with us, but that’s a question for Friday, not today. I tell M and D that I have a stool that my grandfather made when he was at school, and that I still use it and love it. Maybe this stool will go to their grandchild. They are taken by this thought and M says "Inshallah, K; inshallah".
Akira’s group have been flying hawks and working with owls, falcons and kestrels. H tells me he is amazed at the control our brilliant falconer, Karen, has over the birds when they are so far away. S says the birds look into his heart. I ask him what the birds see there, and he says “hope” and “excitement”. Which has to be a good thing, surely.
Joc and I look for Fabian’s group and are surprised to find them just round the corner. The lack of noise confused us. Sam has them rolling out clay and find leaves to make imprints, and each of them is fully immersed in creating mugs. The mugs are well-shaped and beautifully decorated, and Sam is beaming. “There is so much talent here” he says “Everyone could be potters”. M’s is so impressive I ask him if he has done this before back home. “No, never” he says “But I like this. I am relaxed with this”.
We finish the day on the top of the hill with the two enormous pans of curry they prepared yesterday heating on the campfire. It is a busy scene, as most of Trill is with us - the volunteers, the staff, their families, friends and kids, and us, either sitting around the fire and eating, or playing football; a mass mixed age, mixed nationality game, also involving several sheep and Trill Farm’s resident dog, Rosa. Z tells me it reminds him of being at home. Alex gently chides everyone to finish the food, and the queue goes on for seconds, thirds, fourths... Marielle cooks Scotch pancakes on the fire for dessert, and douses them in Trill honey, immediately winning a place in the heart of all of the boys, who accuse each other of being greedy, while they also try to jump the queue for more. I wonder whether I will be allocated the largest portion, like with the clay, but oddly, that doesn’t happen this time.
Anyway, as every sits round the fire listening to Akira’s guitar, we all seem pretty happy. As M asks me before he goes to bed, “Yesterday good, today better, tomorrow best?” Who knows? I am just pleased, for Fabian and Akira’s sake, to see them all yawning.
The people at Trill are the most most wonderful bunch of open-minded, open-hearted beings you could ever wish for. And as I pick up a pair of discarded boxer shorts which have somehow made their way onto a vegetable patch, it strikes me that everyone feels very much at home.
I am amazed to find everyone up and eating breakfast at the time we had stipulated. Remembering the saucepan banging and ankle dragging we had to do last year to get them up every day, I had not expected the morning to begin so smoothly. Akira and Fabian (our fabulous co-leaders) say everyone slept really well and they didn’t hear a sound after midnight. Last year, I had dancing on my ceiling at 2 am and an egg frying feast most nights at 4, so Akira and Fabian are clearly doing something right.
The farmer takes us on a tour of the farm and there is much involved comparison of farming methods in Iraq, Sudan and the UK. Everyone however agrees that the bull, whose job is to service 50 cows and then have a long rest, is very lucky. The sheepdogs fascinate everyone, but especially when the pup-in-training falls under the feet of an escaping sheep. S laughs so hard he falls over, and ends up with a “cow present” on his trousers. Then half of us go to the beach, while the other half stay with Trill Farm resident chef, the very brilliant Chris Onions.
The boys are delighted to leap into the sea, and immediately less delighted to discover that English sea is “very cold and very salty”. Not that it stops them. An impulse purchase of a rugby ball leads to the birth of an unusual hybrid of rugby and water polo, which exhausts everyone by the time lunch has arrived, the classic fish and chips on the beach. Tartare sauce is declared to be “very really disgusting”, but everything else is received with joy. I am momentarily disconcerted when R runs to me to tell me in panic that M is being attacked by many “big angry girls, shouting and biting and trying to eat all his chips” but relieved to find out it is only that M had decided to ignore the warnings not to feed the gulls, and was experiencing the consequences. It is incredibly hot and sunny and I get sunburnt. The boys are fascinated and amused by this; they try to look sympathetic but I have now learned the word ‘tomato’ in both Arabic and Sorani.
Back in the kitchen, the other team have baked 50 rolls of bread, and prepared onion and garlic flatbreads for tonight’s evening meal. Group 2 set to making two enormous curries which are to be heated on the campfire tomorrow, with naan bread and vegetables. They chop the salads from the garden with such competitive gusto, that our excellent co-leaders hover anxiously, but no one loses any fingers. Supper is set out in the courtyard, and there is real contest to wield the barbecue tongs and be the one to decide when to turn the meat. This indeed brings up much noisy debate, on how and when and which to turn first, but it is all a success because the lamb koftas barely touch the table before they disappear. Several of the Trill Farm team join us for dinner and it is a noisy, clattering affair, with everyone pointing out exactly what they had made, and declaring it the best.
After tea, there is a huge game of meadow football, which ends abruptly when the ball is kicked into the middle of an adjacent pond. One of our aforementioned co-leaders, Fabian, gallantly strips off and prepares to jump in, but the boys won’t have this at all and in the end, S pushes past and runs into the stagnant water fully dressed to get the ball. He emerges dark brown from the waist down and the boys show their gratitude by holding their noses and shouting “Eeuw, you smell”.
Tomorrow they can get up later and they are all happy about this. I have promised to run an extra grammar class for anyone who wants to get up early, but oddly, no one has signed up for this yet...
We have arrived - three hours late, but at least in a dignified fashion. unlike last year, when the entire group shot out of the bus and fell retching at the feet of the startled greeting line of Trill people, after an unfortunate travel sickness incident just before arrival. The boys are mostly excited - they have loved the scenery on the way down, especially the emergency hedgerow pitstop, on the top of the hill. A couple of them, however, are wary; a little confused about what has brought them to a farm in this remote part of the world. One says to me “But what we DO?”
Three hours later, they have had a carpentry lesson in the workshop, and put the first steps in place towards making a kitchen stool. They have made two columns of herbal soap each, mixing their own fragrances out of herbal infusions from the garden outside. They have picked and packed trays of onions in Ash and Kate’s vegetable garden, finishing it in under half the allocated time. They have played football with the Trill residents, both senior and mini, and taken a leap into the lake to cool off. And they have demolished trays of jerk chicken and lasagne. The ones who had been reluctant to come seem to have changed their minds. And the lad who asked me “But what will we DO?” is asking the same question, but in a way that is now far less puzzled, and far more full of anticipation for tomorrow.
Our two co-leaders are doing a marvellous job. And somehow I have found myself in a glorious room in a separate building, with two of the quietest boys next door. I have been careful not to mention any night time stories of last year to the marvellous co-leaders. I don't want them running for the last train to London. Anyway, let’s see. Maybe this lot won’t hold a rave at 3am, while frying every egg in the building.