Author's note: This story uses British English and also features a generalised Northern England dialect and vocabulary.
Bryan Walsh was visiting a new client for the first time. After graduating from university with a degree in Accountancy and Management, he had worked for a firm of accountants for a further five years before going it alone, two years ago. Now, at twenty-nine, he was building his portfolio of clients, of which Nancy Estensen was the most recent. She owned and ran a farm in Derbyshire and he had been recommended to her by another farming acquaintance. She was a few years older than Bryan and she had grown up with sheep; her parents having been farmers.
The farm was quite isolated and could only be reached by a long drive up an unmade road. Forewarned, Bryan had borrowed a friend's 4X4, which bumped it's way up the deeply-rutted track. It was early-August and the track was dry, but Bryan didn't much fancy having to make the same journey in mid-winter, or when the track was thick with mud.
Nancy was outside with her dogs and a well-earned mug of tea when he arrived. They shook hands: his was soft, while hers was the hand of someone who grafted and didn't have much time for pampering.
"Do you want a brew, Mr Walsh?" she asked.
"That would be nice!"
"Then come inside, Lad!"
Bryan was five feet ten, Nancy a few inches shorter. She was wearing jeans and a T-shirt over a shapely and well-defined body. Her arms weren't over-muscled, but he guessed that with her job, they must be quite strong. He had a job that required very little physical exertion, but he had always liked sport at school and afterwards continued to play squash and tennis, so he, too, had very little excess fat on his body.
"As I told you on the phone, Mr Walsh, Trevor McIntyre recommended you to me-he says you've done wonders for his bookkeeping and admin! I know that's important when you're in business, but it's a reet chore after a long working day, and at lambing time I hardly ever seem to get enough time to do anything extra like!"
"Please call me Bryan, Miss Estensen. Yes, I can sympathize; but, fortunately, my job doesn't make the same demands on my time as yours does. But hopefully I can take some of the pressure off you from now on. What I try to do is give my clients a routine system that they can follow: which is basically just the best way to file away all the evidence that relates to money in and money out; if you can do that, then I can come along every month or so and make some sense out of it. I can also hopefully offer you advice about your money management skills. It is possible to make money work better for you, rather than just paying it into a bank account and then paying out from the same account."
"Aye-that sounds the ticket, Bryan. And it's Nancy to you, Lad!"
"Okay, then, now I'm here, shall I make a start. Have you got time to sit down and tell me what you usually do-and if you can sort out all your bills, invoices, receipts, etc-"
Bryan had been in this situation many times before: he knew that sole-traders usually didn't have much idea about anything other than their particular specialism, so he was often just presented with loosely aggregated collections of complete and incomplete paperwork, which he then had to get into order. Nancy's was no different; although it was at least filed loosely my year, and within the years the individual month's documents were kept apart, so there was already a semblance of a system there.
They sat close together at Nancy's kitchen table, going through her basic bookkeeping journals, and she seemed genuinely interested in what he was doing. What he wanted to do, he said, was to get a mental picture of everything in his head; then he could visualise and systematise everything. When he had done that, he took a laptop computer out of his case and began to set up Nancy's account.
"You look like you've got everything sorted there, Bryan-can I offer you a spot of supper later, or have got to be getting off?"
"No, I'd like to get the basics done now, then I can take all this stuff away with me and go through it in more detail. Thank you, I'd like to stay for supper."
"It's no bother, Lad! I'll just quickly wash up, then get it on. You carry on-don't mind me!"
Bryan was sitting about six feet from the kitchen sink and Nancy stood in front of it. She ran the hot and cold water into it and then got a towel, which she placed nearby within reach. He expected her to just wash her hands, but she first pulled her T-shirt over her head, and then reached round and undid her bra. Without a further word, she stood at the sink and washed her upper body! Bryan didn't want to stare, but it was so unexpected, that for a moment he completely forgot what he was supposed to be doing.
Nancy pulled the plug to drain the water from the sink, then she picked up her discarded clothes and turned to face him. She grinned when she saw his face.
"-Close your mouth, Lad-I'm sure you've seen a woman's boobies before-and mine aren't so bad, are they!" Then she turned and walked out of the kitchen.
When she returned to the kitchen she was wearing a different top and a short skirt; which Bryan thought showed that her legs were equally as nice and shapely as her upper half. They sat down at the kitchen table, with all the paperwork now safely stored away. It was good, wholesome food: meat, potatoes, and other vegetables that the self-sufficient sheep farmer had picked from her small garden that day. It had occurred to Bryan that here was a relatively young and attractive woman, living and working by herself in a challenging location, and he wondered why.
"So have you always lived and worked the farm alone, Nancy-you're pretty exposed out here." She'd already decided that she liked him, so she smiled.
"-Hey! Are you still going on about my boobies, Lad!" she said, jokingly, "-But seriously- The answer's, no! I'm thirty-one now, and when I first came her I had a business partner; who was also my partner in other ways, too. I come from farming stock, so I was the one who had sheep and farming in their blood; and the determination to try and make a go of it, whatever it took. But, John, bless him, was always a bit of a dreamer-he had money and a warm heart; but he also had soft hands! Yes, life can be hard here, Bryan-John tried, but he only lasted five month or so. We had an informal financial agreement, and I've been paying him back as best I can, and now nearly have completely.
"But I've decided, Bryan, that from now on, if a man wants to share my life-including my bed-then he's got to be able to pull his weight around here, too. My folks are sheep farmers, so I grew up with the lifestyle; and I reckon that any man I take on needs that attitude as well, and there's not many out there now as wants it!
"But what about you, Bryan-no disrespect intended, Lad; but I reckon you're a townie-you've got soft hands, too!"
"Yes, that's true, Nancy, but my parents aren't rich: I come from Fleetwood, in Lancashire. It was once a busy fishing port, but that's all but gone now, and there aren't that many opportunities for work any more. But I was quite bright at school, so my mum and dad encouraged me to get into university, and then they made lots of personal sacrifices to help me out financially while I was there. I don't think there are any other accountants in the family as far as I know; but we figured that, unlike the fishing industry, money management wasn't going away any time soon.
"And although I may never make it into your bed on your terms, Nancy, I have you and a few other farmers as clients now, so I'd really like to get a bit of first hand experience of the lifestyle; it might help me to understand what your business needs are, and how I can help you better."
Nancy sat for a moment just looking at him and smiling. She definitely liked him, and she was intrigued by the possibility of helping him.
"-Well, maybe we can work something out then. Lambing is the busiest time, but that's months off yet-you need to try and come and stay here for a week or two, if you can fit it in with your other clients; that's the only way to get a real feel of the life."
And don't be so hasty about not sharing my bed, Lad, she thought to herself.
"Then I'll see what I can do!" Bryan replied.
A short time had passed since the initial visit, and a longer one had been arranged. Bryan had borrowed the 4X4 again for the duration of his stay and he took his case and his briefcase out of it. The door of the farmhouse was open and the two border collies trotted out to meet him. Nancy was once again dressed in her working clothes. On her advice Bryan was dressed similarly, including a pair of stout, waterproof walking boots. He followed her to the spare bedroom; there were no frills, but it looked both comfortable and functional.
"I hope you ate hearty this morning, Bryan, because we're off t'see t'sheep now-it's mainly walking to check on't beasts. They graze and stay on't hills this time o' year; but they're not the smartest of creatures, so they get themselves into trouble at times! How are you managing your time, Bryan, wi' your other clients?"
"-Well, like your lambing, the busiest time is spring, when the new tax year starts. I timed my stay here so it's in the middle of the month, which is theoretically the time when there's the least client visits. I know you get a reasonable mobile phone signal here, so I've told clients to use that number if necessary, and they can also leave messages on my office phone or text or email. I'll try my best to stay here and put in the same hours that you do; but it's possible that I might have to go out occasionally."
Although her sheep were fenced in, they were free to range over quite some distance, so as the dogs ran on ahead, Nancy and Bryan had plenty of time to talk as they walked. This was her territory, so apart from asking the occasional question, he did more listening than talking. He was young and fit, but he couldn't remember ever walking this far in his life before, and he was sure that he'd feel the effects on his leg muscles later-and Nancy did this every day, and in all weathers.
"I know I always have something to think about while I'm working," he said, "but you can't be thinking about sheep all the time you're walking like this!"
"No, of course not; but it never seems to be a problem. They are fairly easy beasts to look after, but I never tire of just being in this place. And it might look all the same to you, Bryan; but if you know it, and you know how to look, you'll see that it's never the same from one minute t'next! It's probably the reason I love this life." Bryan smiled.
"Then you can count yourself truly lucky, Nancy-you've found something that most people seek but never find."
"Aye, Lad, I reckon you're right!"
After checking that all the sheep were accounted for, they made their way back to the farm house. Nancy made Bryan and herself some lunch, while he quickly checked up on his business. When they'd eaten, Nancy and Bryan got into her Land Rover and took tools and materials back to some of the fences that she'd seen that needed attention.
"If there's a way through anywhere, you can be assured that them there sheep will find it!"
In the evening when they'd finished all the routine work for the day, the dogs were fed and settled for the night. There was a strong bond between Nancy and the dogs, and she and Bryan made a fuss of them; but on the farm they were working animals and so they slept in the barn at night. They weren't tethered or locked in, but they rarely strayed or made a noise.
Once their supper was on, they washed up: out of deference to Bryan, perhaps, they took it in turns to use the bathroom, rather than the kitchen sink! Bryan wasn't sure if he was disappointed or not. While they were eating the shepherd's pie that she had made, Nancy said:
"I live alone, but I'm not a recluse, Bryan-do you fancy coming for a pint in the village later?"
"All right! Do you want me to drive?"
"Aye, okay! And the next time I'll take my turn!"
"And what time do you usually get up in the morning?" he asked her.
"Oh, not so early-five-thirty or six usually! We'll have a nice cooked breakfast, then we'll be set up for another day!"
It was dark when they left, but Bryan steered the big Toyota slowly down the track, following the ruts. He had passed through the village on his way to Nancy's, but he'd never stopped there. The village had once supported three pubs, but one of these had long ago ceased trading and it was now a private house instead of a public one.
"The Drovers, please, Bryan!" He parked the Land Cruiser nearby and they walked the remaining few yards. Inside the pub Nancy acknowledged the greetings of the people that knew her. As she had said: despite her lifestyle, she made friends and acquaintances easily, and she frequented the pub at least a couple of times a week between the end of lambing and the beginning of the early-winter months.
"-Well-have you finally got another man to tek an interest in you, Nancy!" someone said.
"Nay, no such luck, Billy!" she replied, "This is Bryan, my accountant-he takes his work very seriously!"
"Well, you know that I'll always tek thee on, Nancy!" the man said.
"Aye, I do that, Billy! Just remind me how old you are again-"
"Tha knows reet enough that I'm eighty-two years young, Lass!"
"-Aye, and that's the trouble, Billy-I'm too old to be tekkin up wi' a toy boy! Come back when you're a few years older, Love!" Billy chuckled.
"Mebbe I'll just do that, Lass!"
"So, it's my shout, Bryan-what'll you have?" Nancy asked him.
"Just a half of bitter if I'm driving, please. He's a nice old boy."
"Aye, he is that, Bryan! Looks like you've got some serious competition, Lad!" Nancy said, giving him a saucy wink.
It turned out to be a very pleasant evening, until they left just before eleven. Bryan knew about her semi-serious side; but now he had seen Nancy's totally relaxed, warm-hearted and frivolous side; and she saw that as well as being handsome and intelligent, he was equally as witty and charming, and he knew exactly how to treat a woman without false-flattery or being patronising. They had an early start in the morning, so after brushing their teeth they retired to their rooms for what was left of the night.
Bryan had even remembered to bring a travel alarm with him, which he had set for 05:45. He had slept well, and the morning had come a bit too soon for his liking, but he had always found that the best way was to get out of bed was quickly as possible, as soon as the alarm sounded. He pulled on clean shorts and walked to the bathroom. He had shaved just before they had gone out last night, so he didn't need to shave again so soon after. Splashing water onto his face finished the job of waking him up.
He put on his working jeans and his boots: his thighs did ache, but it was nothing that he couldn't live with! A clean T-shirt completed the ensemble. Now feeling practically human, Bryan made his way to the kitchen, from where he could smell the bacon that was stimulating his salivary glands.
"Good Morning!" he replied, without looking in her direction. When he did, however, he saw that she was standing in front of the electric cooker wearing just a long T-shirt.
"-Breakfast's nearly ready," Nancy said. And as she carried the two plates to the table, he smiled. "-Hmm-sorry about that!" she said, as she sat down opposite him at the table. "I'm so used to being here on my own, that it was a full ten minutes before I remembered that I had company! Anyway, Lad, you've seen the full set now!" He was still smiling.
"-You'll get no complaints from me!" Bryan said, "-And I'll make sure I'm out of your way before Billy arrives!" Nancy laughed.
"-You daft sod!"
Bryan offered to wash up while Nancy dressed.
"It's going to be another warm day, but you'll need a jacket this early in the morning. I'll tek you up to the top of the hill, then you'll be able to see for miles down into the valleys. If I say so myself-it's bloody marvellous!"
As fit as he was, Bryan had trouble keeping up with Nancy on the steep ascent: the only consolation was that he was able to watch her in her well-fitting jeans a few paces ahead.
"Wow!" he exclaimed when they reached the top, "-You just don't realise from down there what it's like, do you!" To the unfamiliar observer, nothing was really recognisable-not even the large, silver vehicle that he had driven here in, which now stood near Nancy's house.
"There's my girls!" she said, pointing to the flock of sheep some distance away below them, "They're a bit close to the fence down by the road; we might as well go down there and check. It'll be time to introduce the tups in a couple of weeks time; it's a pity you won't be here then."
"-It might be possible-if you need a hand: even a soft hand-"
"Well, I might just tek thee up on that offer, Bryan, Lad! Some of them tups can be strong old boys and you might find the process interesting."
They walked down the hill together, and as they got nearer Nancy gave voice and whistled commands to her dogs, who then drove the sheep away from the border fence. She and Bryan could then inspect it for gaps and damage; which fortunately there were none of either.
"Let's go back and have a spot to eat; then I've got a bit of maintenance around the farm buildings to do. Are you as handy with tools as you are with a calculator, Bryan?"
"-Not bad, actually! My uncle Bill's a builder, in Southport, and I used work for him during the college vacations-I never had soft hands then: there were cuts and calluses. But I did learn a few things." Nancy smiled.