Rachel Ragg: York Life

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Rachel Ragg


“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”


Shakespeare may have thought he was onto something big when he had Richard III utter the now famous lines. But dear old Shakespeare had nothing on the South African waiter my family recently encountered in a Yorkshire restaurant.

There they were, quietly enjoying their Sunday lunch – when up popped the waiter. He took one look at my sister who is, admittedly, rather attractive. “I will offer you 30 cows in return for your daughter,” he declared to our parents. He went on to explain that he belonged to a Zulu tribe in which cows are exchanged for marriageable women. 30, he said, was the maximum cow-payment per woman. The average, in case you ever need to know this, is apparently 12.

Having something of a fondness for four-footed creatures and Sidney Poitier (whom the waiter apparently resembled), my mother did not take much convincing. “I do have another daughter as well”, she said. Possibly with rather more enthusiasm than she has ever shown for me in the past.

“In that case, I will have her, too. Sixty cows,” he announced.

Rachel Ragg Column York

I’m not sure he would have been quite so quick to part with his cows if I’d been there in person, but I’ll happily go along with the idea of being worth 30 of them. There comes an age where you will take any compliment that’s on offer.

But it did get me thinking. One daughter for 30 cows. I think I could have struck a rather better deal for him. Both my teenagers for 10 cows? Well, why not. Steak freezes perfectly well, and now that I have a slow cooker, I could turn the scraggy cow-bits into some kind of stew, which would see me through the horrible winter we are bound to have after a sunny summer. I could even make hoof soup or some such, and there would be no teenagers to moan about it. No moaning, and no having to think about what to cook for the next year or so: I think this is what’s known as a win-win situation.

Pondering further, it occurs to me that it would be possible to have an entire cow-scale for the people in your life. Or, rather, for the people you might not mind losing from your life. We must all know people whom we would be happy to exchange for just a couple of cows. I was at school in the dim and distant past with several of these types. Cousins long unseen may also fall into this category.

And then there are those whom we would gladly just give away without any need for bovine compensation. Grim1970s school teachers would possibly fall into this particular camp, along with Germans clad in lace-up leather lurve-trousers, former work colleagues from the dark days I spent not in York, traffic wardens in Duncombe Place, Minster tourists with selfie sticks, and 50-something men wearing jeans and trainers.

Right at the bottom of the scale, there are those acquaintances for whom we would gladly offer up our own cows (or even our life savings), just for someone to take them away, as quickly as possible. I am, of course, definitely not thinking of the outgoing Dean of York.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, of course, there are those who defy the Cow Counter. There are people in my life whom I would not swap for 3000 cows, never mind 30. Who would move sofas from A to B, then back to A and back to B if I swapped Craig at A1 Removals for a herd of cattle? That said, if you threw in a wodge of goat’s cheese and a nice bottle of White Burgundy to go with the cows, I might be more persuadable. And if you were offering an even nicer bottle of Chanel or a Mulberry handbag, I could quite happily do without the cows altogether. After all, I’m not really sure where I’d put the spare creatures once I’d used up all the space in my somewhat small garden and the freezer.

Meanwhile: Zululand, here I come.

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