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The unusual interests of Miss Clark

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Miss Clark lived in an old farm in the countryside. Several years before she had lived in the city and worked with computers, until one day she had stood up at her desk and shouted “Aaaargh! Computers are STUPID! I'm going to move to the countryside and raise pigs!” None of her colleagues had taken this seriously, because they all said something similar at least once a month, but then she went right to her boss and handed in her notice! She spent the rest of the month circling “Pig Farm for Sale” adverts in the newspaper, and saying “Figure it out yourself” in her sweetest voice when her colleagues asked her how something worked.

So Miss Clark had bought an old, run-down pig farm. As well as the pigs, the farm had a dog, two cats, half-a-dozen chickens and a donkey called Harold. Miss Clark was very happy there, though she did sometimes miss the things she used to do in the big city. Whatever you like to do, you can probably find someone to do it with in a big city, although if it involves peace and quiet and wide-open spaces then you might have to go to the country to do it! Miss Clark had liked to do some very unusual things, and hadn't been able to find anyone to do them with since moving to the country. But the farm kept her very busy, and she loved being around all the animals.

Every night, Miss Clark counted her pigs into their sty, and every morning she let them out again into the field to roam around. When she first moved to the farm she thought that Rex the dog would guard the pigs at night, but Rex was very old and tired, and he slept all night in front of the fire. So she had rigged up some motion detectors to an ASUS Tinker Board and attached it to a loud bell. For months, the bell had been quiet, and so (after carefully checking that it really was set up correctly) she'd started to think that she had been silly, and that there were no wild animals or pig-rustlers wanting to take her pigs. But then one night the bell rang!

“Rustlers! Wolves! Bears! Mountain lions! Database query timeouts!” she thought, because she wasn't quite awake and couldn't remember if she was on the farm or back in the city and doing an on-call rotation. She grabbed a torch from her dressing table, shuffled into her Wellington boots, and went out to the shed.

“Show yourself! Who is it?” she shouted, trying to sound braver than she felt.

“Over here!” came a very small voice.

“Bless my soul!” she cried when she reached the source of the voice. “It’s a hare! I must have imagined it talking: hares don't talk.”

“This hare can talk!” said the hare. “I am a magic hare. I was trying to squeeze through this hole in the wall, but I got trapped, and I must have set off your alarms when I thrashed about to try and get free. If you free me, I will grant you a wish.”

Now, people who have worked with computers are very suspicious of anything that looks like magic. If you don't know how something works, that means you don't know how it can break, and that means that it will break when you least want it to, which is how you get woken up at three in the morning. But she had already been woken up at three in the morning, so Miss Clark carefully freed the hare, and then whispered her dearest wish, the thing she'd most longed to do since leaving the city.

“Really?” asked the hare. “That sounds… anatomically improbable, and uncomfortable for all concerned. But I'll see what I can do.” Then it hopped off into the night. I don't know if you've ever seen a hare at full acceleration? They can be right in front of you, but by the time you've got hold of your camera, they're out of sight. Miss Clark went back into the house, took off her boots, stumbled back upstairs, then wrote a note to herself describing the strange incident with the magic hare, because the cornerstone of good fieldwork is careful and timely note-taking. Then she turned out the light and went to bed.

The next morning, she crossed out the whole entry, because an important step in good data-analysis is discarding implausible outliers that were probably caused by measurement error.

After that, life went on as normal at the farm for several months. But then Harold the donkey got very sick. Most of him got very thin, but his stomach got very large. Miss Clark took him to the vet, and the vet gave her the news she'd feared: Harold had stomach cancer.

Do you know about circles of grief? If not, the next part won't make much sense to you, so I'd better explain. When someone dies, or gets sick, it's difficult for all of the people around them. They want to complain to the sick person about how hard they're making things. But they mustn't, because things are already much harder for the person who is sick. So they must find people who are further away from the sick person to complain to, and they must find people who are even further away, so everyone is arranged in circles, one inside the other, with the sick person at the centre. Miss Clark was very sad, because Harold was both her friend and her valued employee, and losing him would make farm life much harder. But she knew that she shouldn't complain to Harold himself. So she went to the pub and got blind drunk with her friend Bill, one of the other farmers in the area.

“Are you sure you can’ gerra… gerra… thingy… operashun?” said Bill, after their seventh (or was it eighth?) pint of beer.

Now most of the time, it's a bad idea to offer suggestions to someone who has a problem like this. They're closer to the problem, and they've probably already tried whatever you've just thought of, and they'll just get annoyed at you. But on this one occasion, Miss Clark had not tried Bill’s suggestion. The next morning, she called up the vet.

“I suppose I could try an operation,” said the vet, doubtfully, “but there's little chance of it succeeding. Harold's cancer is very advanced; wouldn't it be kinder to put him down?”

“Please try anyway,” said Miss Clark. “I'd miss Harold ever so much.”

“I tell you what I'll do,” said the vet. “I'll put him to sleep for the operation, and I'll see what I can do. If the operation goes well, I'll wake him up at the end. But if there's no hope, I'll give him some more medicine so he never wakes up.”

“Thank you, please do your best,” said Miss Clark.

Miss Clark was ever so worried about Harold while he was at the vet. The worry made the old pain in her neck flare up, and meant she couldn't focus on the awareness and relaxation exercises that usually helped with it. She tried to calm herself by listening to her favourite piece of music, the Nutcracker Suite, but even Tchaikovsky's beautiful music couldn't calm her. So she went to the sty and mucked the pigs out. Then she went and cleaned out the henhouse. Then she mended a hole in the fence. Then finally she sat in the kitchen and fretted.

After what felt like forever the telephone rang. It was the vet!

“Miss Clark, I have some amazing news!” said the vet.

“Is Harold going to be alright?” asked Miss Clark. “Had the cancer not spread?” For if you get cancer, and I hope you never do, then it's important that the doctors find it before it spreads; after that point, it's much harder to kill it all.

“Better than that - Harold never had cancer at all! When I opened up his stomach, what do you think I found? I'll tell you - an enormous rooster! Goodness knows how it got in there. I've sewed Harold up again; it'll take him a while to get back on his feet, but he should be as good as new in a couple of months’ time.”

“Hurrah!” said Miss Clark.

She couldn't collect Harold straight away, but she did go to take the rooster away. She roasted it in her oven at 200C for one hour per kilogramme, and invited her friend Bill round for dinner to celebrate Harold being saved. They ate the rooster along with potatoes, parsnips, carrots, peppers, and all sorts of good things that she roasted in the rooster's fat, and she saved the carcass for later so she could make a delicious low-FODMAP soup in her Instant Pot.

“Well, Miss Clark,” said Bill, “that is good news about poor Harold. But how on Earth did that rooster get in his stomach?”

At that point, Miss Clark clapped her hand over her mouth. She had realised how it had happened!

“Well, a funny thing happened to me a few months ago…” she began. And she told Bill the story of the magic hare, and how it promised to grant her a wish.

“... And the hare did grant me my dearest wish, the thing I most missed from my time in the city: it gave me an enormous cock in my ass!”

“Did it now,” asked Bill, stroking his beard thoughtfully. “If only you'd said so before!”

And so, later on that evening, he gave her another.