Becky the donkey likes to bring a bit of sparkle to the Brewers Arms in Heathfield, East Sussex. She’s a regular at this cosy country pub, popping in at least once a day. Perhaps she knows this is the right place for a lady who’s lived a bit, or maybe she’s just after food. Either way, I’m off to join the party…
Sunday 11th January
I park up at the bottom of the field but no donkeys. I wait. No donkeys. I call out. Nothing. I ask in the pub. I’m told they must be behind the trees at the top of the field.
I set off up the road, along the side of the field, until I can see them through the fence. There she is. Little Becky, with her two donkey friends, miniature jacks Derby and Inky Black. Becky, to my delight, looks up instantly and starts heading towards me but then stops. The patch of ground between us is uneven and overgrown. Not a good prospect. What now?
I go back to my original spot, hoping they will follow me. I don’t have to wait long. The three of them are making their way slowly and determinedly down the field, heads bobbing from side to side.
And here they are, sniffing my hands and generally giving me the once over. Becky’s not too keen on strokes. Perhaps, with her celebrity status (as well as featuring in the local paper, she’s been on the front cover of a magazine and has her own calendar) she’s a little tired of all the attention.
Derby on the other hand is only too happy to be lavished with affection so I concentrate on him. Inky is curious but wary of getting too close.
I don’t leave before watching Becky come into the pub. Undeterred by surprised looks from diners and with an expression of total nonchalance on her face she heads straight to the restaurant where Fiona Airey, landlady and donkey owner, is waiting with a bowl. After chomping down a few pieces of apple, it’s back to the field, with a few pats from the regulars on the way out.
Sunday 15th March
Becky is wearing little waterproof shoes. Fiona explains that she is suffering from Laminitis, a potentially fatal hoof disease, common in equines who are kept on grass. Becky is 36 years old and does not have many back teeth left so she gets special feed, which also contains her medication. I’m a bit concerned but Fiona is confident that she can treat the Laminitis and is not about to give up.
Becky is a purebred Mediterranean Miniature and she really is dinky at just 32 inches tall. She came to Fiona after retiring from a local breeder. She’s very fluffy and wears a pink halter, which sits permanently at a 45 degree angle on her nose.
Sunday 22nd March
Today Inky Black is getting ideas. They come over to greet me. Becky, as unimpressed as last time, chews grass nearby. Derby is keen on getting some strokes and Inky Black thinks he’ll get in on the action this time but is immediately jostled out of the way.
I’m feeling pretty pleased now, as if I already know these donkeys quite well. I disappear into the pub and somehow emerge clutching a slice of bread.
I give them a little bit each but it causes too much excitement. Before I know what’s happening, Derby and Inky Black are having a fight. Rearing up, chasing each other, kicking and biting. Becky retreats into the shelter but has to leave again as the brawl comes crashing in. Apart from having to move out of the way, she seems to take it completely in her stride. Do they do this often I wonder?
I feel responsible. With no sign of the fight subsiding and not wanting to encourage them, I decide the only thing to do is get in my car and go home.
Monday 31st August
Harry, from a nearby farm, has moved in with Becky and her friends. Apparently he kept chasing the family dogs. Harry is a full-sized donkey, dark brown and very beautiful. He is also very affectionate and stands for strokes for ages, only moving down the fence bit by bit in the hope that I’ll stroke his back. I’m not keen as it’s soaking wet from the rain, so he has to settle for forelock, ears and cheeks.
Becky is wearing a blue polka dot coat. When I come back from the pub she’s in the garden, being fed her special mulch and having her coat changed for a dry one. The second the new coat is on she’s off, charging towards the bar without a backward glance.
A fluffy black dog comes bounding out. It’s Bobby, Fiona’s new Romanian rescue.
Sunday 27th September
The boys are in the far field grazing but Becky is standing right there, as if she’s waiting for me. As usual she’s not after cuddles. She paces up and down, expecting to be let out of the gate. It must be time for her daily rounds and soon she’s in the pub where she seems to come to life, greeting old and young and getting lots of attention and treats.
Becky has been diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease, which affects the immune system. This explains the persistent Laminitis and her recent weight loss. She will have to take a pill every day for the rest of her life. They must be helping because the Laminitis is finally clearing up and Fiona is hoping to get her weight back up in time for winter.
The donkeys have created their own special tracks along each field and they stick to them, always carefully following the same route. Harry, Derby and Inky Black are walking down, Harry pausing briefly to dismantle a cardboard box with his teeth. Derby turns round to scratch his behind. He sticks his bum right into the fence and wiggles enthusiastically.
The warm early autumn sunshine creates a serene mood. Derby and Inky are grooming each other and Harry stands for strokes, slipping into an almost comatose state.
I think I’ve had my donkey fix for the week. Time to head home.
Copyright Amy Swift 2015