“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
― Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
A friend called to say she had something to show me. It turned out to be a large, gilt-covered square of cardboard inviting the two of us to a party at Highgrove, the home of His Royal Highness, Charles, Prince of Wales. Seems that in addition to being the grandfather of the most famous baby on earth, HRH is also president of Send a Cow, our village’s annual charity for which we’d been holding fundraisers (see post about our teaparty).
We decided to drive down so that I could indulge one of my favorite hobbies, collecting British place names. I already had Sheepwash, Cockermouth, Wallish Walls, and of course, those perennial favorites, Shitterton and Scratchy Bottom in Dorset. Here was a chance to collect some of the other greats: Crackpot and Butthole Road in Yorkshire, Golden Balls, Crotch Crescent, and Cockshoot Close in Oxfordshire, maybe even the Holy Grail of naughty place names, Cocks in Cornwall.
Before you start, yes I know the US has Intercourse in Pennsylvania, is Boring in Oregon, and goes to Hell in Oklahoma. But admit it – they can’t hold a candle to the UK’s Twatt (north or south), Cum Lake, or Tickle Cock Bridge.
At Highgrove, the party went off without a hitch. We produced our IDs, were told to leave all phones and cameras in the car, and headed for a multi-hour tour of the sustainable gardening experiment that is Highgrove. Prince Charles made a point to speak to each guest and shake hands. (Note: I will probably wash mine again. Someday.) We all ate, drank, and listened to brief talks about Send A Cow’s work.
So what was the best part of the day? Incredible gardens? Touring the estate? Meeting the Prince? Not even close. For me, the best part came after the speeches, when I started talking to a smiling lady who introduced herself as Christina Bush. About twenty-five years ago, she told me, a bishop from Uganda was visiting the farm where she and her husband Anthony raised cows. “How many cows do you have?” asked the bishop. That, she told me, was often a difficult question to answer because so many things could be happening at any time in a large herd. So Anthony answered that he had a couple of hundred cows, give or take.
“If you don’t know for sure,” the bishop said, “you won’t miss one.” Challenged, Anthony agreed to visit Africa and see what difference a cow could make. He came back convinced that even one cow could change the course of a family’s future. He called a meeting of his fellow farmers. As each one entered, he asked the question, “How many cows do you have?” As each gave the typical vague answer, he replied, “Then you won’t miss one.” Send a Cow was born, and over the past twenty-five years has helped over a million people.
You might think this would be enough of an achievement for any couple. But a few years ago, Anthony and Christina sold their herd of pedigree “Moatwell” Fresian cows in order to purchase the land they’d farmed most of their lives. Only retirement just didn’t work for them, Christina said. When the empty farm buildings began providing shelter for a variety of homeless farm animals, the couple decided to start a small petting zoo. Soon their original animals had grown to include exotics like wallabies and llamas. Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm was born. Then, Christina laughed, came the white rhinos. After that it was a migration worthy of Noah – giraffes, primates, eventually even Bengal tigers. And today Anthony wasn’t at the Highgrove party because he had to handle transfer of the new elephants.
“Is this what you thought your retirement would be?” I asked.
“Well, we finally had the farm,” Christina said. “But it wasn’t the same without animals.”
“Why did you do it?” I wondered. “Send a Cow, Noah’s Ark Zoo and the rest of it?”
Christina smiled. “God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes with elephants.”