Of course, Buttercup has long since gone but I will never forget her. After a hard day in the fields it was a relief to return to the warm cowshed, pick up a three-legged stool and nestle against the flank of my beautiful lady. She was the first cow I ever milked – in those days by hand, no mechanical milkers then. She was quiet and gentle, not like some of the others who were always ready to kick the bucket of any novice attempting to extract milk from them.
At first I had been embarrassed. Grasping the teats of a several-times-mother to deprive her young of their rightful inheritance seemed at best to be an impertinence, at worst, unspeakable. The word ‘tits’ had not been heard in those days and even if it had we would never have used it. Matronly cows were the epitome of Victorian England with all its moral and ethical shibboleths. And cows had names, each one mysteriously exactly reflecting the character of the animal.
Their life wasn’t long even then. Half a dozen calves, perhaps, at the most, and then the inevitable journey. Today’s cows face an even bleaker prospect. Found guilty of making a major contribution to the destruction of the planet, the cow population of the world is set to plummet. As William, the bull, said, tearfully looking over his dwindling harem, ‘Where have all the flowers gone?’ William is a romantic despite – perhaps because of – his rapacious appetite for sex.
It seems a little unfair when we humans have developed and overbred cows to produce increasing quantities of the most delicious drink on earth that the poor beasts themselves should bear the brunt of the Climate Claim. Talking to Daisy, a relatively young, one-time mother expecting No 2 calf in three months time, I learnt that there was a move among the herds of the most famous milk-producing countries. Primed in New Zealand, an organisation called ‘Bring Back Bovines’ is gathering momentum. Zuckerberg, it is probably wrongly reported, has vowed to establish a new web site called The Milk Pail to allow for exchange of ideas by those affected.
I don’t think it will work. The Soya Milk Lobby is strong and supported by Mr ‘Call me Certain’ Corbyn who, it is rumoured, is allergic to dairy products. ‘Probably a spoof’, grumbled Daisy, adding ‘Wouldn’t touch Soya myself; nasty, cheap imitation’. But, as the tobacco companies found, you either discover an acceptable alternative or burn out. ‘There is no substitute for milk,’ cried Daisy. The stockyard rumbled with what sounded like a milch Amen.
Now, it seems, it is a matter of time before the carrier arrives. In the old days it would have been a horse and cart. Two horses if you were a special beast. Today’s well sprung, air-conditioned box-on-wheels may be more fitting such a solemn moment but it lacks the earthly connection. The ceremony is brief. The herd stands round, heads bowed, while the Brexit Cow (as they are euphemistically referred to) is led into the straw-lined lorry. A small bowl of the top grade cow cake is left for her, a gesture that all humanity is not forgotten. As the lorry drives away the remaining members of the clan belch gently in defiance of an unwarranted punishment.
So where is Daisy? Nowhere to be found, it seems. The others search high and low for her. Then William speaks. ‘Daisy was today’s Brexit Cow’ he says with trembling lip. An unearthly quiet falls on the herd.
‘Goodbye, Daisy’ they all chant quietly.
‘Goodbye, Buttercup,’ I echo silently.