For some time now Jim Grogan had been worried about his field which was increasingly edged by houses. He did not own the land at the top of the slope and had to put up with all the diggers and contraptions that mulched up the soil as the housing estate grew day after day. New house-owners rapidly moved in and from then on he felt as though every window, curtained, or with French blinds, Austrian drapes or whatever, held someone watching him as he walked across his land with his dog.
For several years now he had rented it out to Eamon Keogh, who grew onions for a food factory in Sligo, manufacturing chutneys and crisps. By the time of the autumn harvest the entire district smelled like a large bag of crisps.
“Who’s eating crisps on this bus/” a pernickety pensioner would ask as the four-a-day local bus sailed past the field. “Why don’t they take the empty packets home with them! Litter louts!” And so it would go on, year after year. And then old man Keogh died and it turned out that his son was not interested in farming any more.
“Yes, I know it’s a surprise. Sorry, won’t be renewing the contract on the field, I’m going in for tropical fish, that’s always been my hobby. Just tagged along with dad, had to. Sad he’s gone and all, but there’s Mum to think of as well, she’s in a bit of a state too, you see.” Jim Grogan had not made any specific leasing arrangement and so it looked as though he would have to find a new tenant for next year in a hurry. No one was interested in renting a single field surrounded by new houses. Even the advantage of having Cleary’s pub right at the corner of the lane made no difference .
Cleary said he did not mind if the field was used for keeping horses, they were more picturesque to look at than any onion sets. But the weeks flew past and no one appeared. While quite abstemious, Jim still needed some income and was getting desperate. The first snows arrived and the field was wiped clean with just the rim of houses breaking the skyline. So when the phone call came one evening he was only too eager to agree to a new tenant moving in.
“It’s the field at the edge of the main road, isn’t it? Just interested to see I’ve got the right place after all.”
“Yes, just past the bus stop and Cleary’s pub is on the corner, you can’t miss it.”
The new tenant, Basil, had no quibbles about the rent and paid three months’ worth in cash as deposit right away. He arrived with his wife, a black-haired beauty dressed in a flowing multi-coloured dress. In fact Basil and Rhona were both hippyish, but all the better, Jim thought, as people like them were always interested in anything to do with land and agriculture.
“Not sure yet which crop to set, lots to think over before spring, you know what it’s like,” Basil said breezily, “Sugar beet’s been rather overdone round here and I noticed that there’s not as much rapeseed as there was a couple of years ago, fashion or trade, you never really know. We keep a few horses over Fortfield way too, and Rhona’s family have small market garden, they supply a few of the farm shops in the county. This is amazing, we’re lucky it’s such a convenient situation, couldn’t have asked for anything better.” And so it was settled and Jim ambled into Cleary’s and had a lone celebratory drink, not telling the few locals there that evening anything about the new arrangement.
Nothing happened until summer approached, when a faint red bloom spread across the field. But soon one further red bloom showed up after another and it was obvious the field was becoming covered with poppies. Its shocking bright scarlet splash of colour stood out from the plain humble green of other surrounding crops in the district and the houses sited on the skyline were like toys left out after a child’s bedtime. People started to talk about it. The bus driver was surprised at first, then he noticed more passengers and more hikers appearing. News spread about the scarlet field and photographers and then artists flocked to the scene. They stayed for drinks in the pub and swapped tips about paint techniques. Various artists’ groups arrived from nearby counties by the coachload.
Local publicity magazine journalists turned up too. One of them contacted the local radio station, who had to admit it was wasted on mere radio and it was definitely a made-for-TV spectacle. Prizewinning photographers took photos for future calendars and birthday cards. Soon the poppy field was on Facebook and established internationally. Local artists had a new impetus and many previously bored painters came out and started to paint enthusiastically again. Exhibitions showed walls full of brightly-hued poppies in close-up or as a wide sweep of red. Only Jim Grogan was angry. He knew the field was ruined, not just by this invasion of tourists to Chapel Lane, but because the poppy seeds would be in the ground forever and could turn up again in the midst of another crop.
The art supplies shop in the nearest town had soon run out of vermilion, cadmium red and had even managed to shift tubes of the less safe carmine, scarlet lake, crimson lake, geranium lake and even rose madder and magenta.
“And you know,” the shopkeeper said, “Red is a fugitive colour, it can change dramatically and it’s not always stable. It can fade, the hue will completely disappear and ruin a painting if you’re not careful. It’s almost the same cycle, really, you could say it’s like a poppy field in a tube.”