Oscar was eight years old and he dreamed of tractors. Where he came from, farmers mostly tended a few goats or coaxed a row or two of vegetables from the sandy soil. They were too poor to own machines. But Oscar, who lived in the city, had once seen a boy drive a tractor on a TV programme, and since then he had been unable to think of anything else.
Where he came from, farmers mostly tended a few goats or coaxed a row or two of vegetables from the sandy soil. They were too poor to own machines. But Oscar, who lived in the city, had once seen a boy drive a tractor on a TV programme, and since then he had been unable to think of anything else.
Now he was looking at a huge horse and doing his best not to show his disappointment.
It was Oscar’s first visit to Scotland. He was staying in the hotel with his mother and father and little sister, and today he’d made a new friend. Ruaridh’s family had taken one of the lodges. He and Oscar had met in the kitchen where a floury- looking chef had taught them how to make pizzas. When Ruaridh asked if Oscar wanted to come to the hotel farm, his eyes lit up.
They went in search of Oscar’s mother and found her making play-dough with his sister in the Wee Explorer’s club.
“May I go?” Oscar asked. “Please, may I?”
“We’ll look after him,” said Ruaridh’s grandfather, Mr Mackenzie.
“All right,” said his mother. “Your father’s still playing golf. I’ll take Leila over to the spa. We’ll have a swim.”
Scotland was so different from where he lived, thought Oscar, as he climbed into the Range Rover and they set off for the farm. Everything was new and exciting, from the hotel porters in their kilts to the log fires that burned in the big open hearths, to the strange cake-shaped island that rose distantly out of the sea.
Now he was in a stable with huge leather collars and halters and chains hanging on the walls. Oscar had seen plenty of horses in his life. His parents took him to polo matches where nimble, fiery little ponies galloped about with the desert wind in their manes. But he had never seen a horse like this. It filled the sky. Its hooves were the size of saucepan lids and fringed with feathery hair.
“This is Jock,” said Gerry, the friendly farm manager. “He’s a Clydesdale. He’s eighteen hands tall and he weighs more than a ton.”
Jock snorted and jingled his harness.
Ruaridh took a step backwards.
Mr Mackenzie smiled. “He’s all right. He’s just impatient. He wants to get off to work.”
Gerry nodded. “That’s right. This is a proper working farm. I’m taking Jock out to do some ploughing. Come along and watch.”
Oscar, Ruaridh and his grandfather followed them out of the stable and past a pen full of tiny goats, then down the lane to a nearby field. Gerry hitched the huge horse to the plough and set off, turning a straight furrow through the earth. Seagulls swarmed down at once, looking for worms.
“You look glum, Oscar,” said Mr Mackenzie. “Are you not enjoying this?”
“Oh yes, thank you, Sir,” said Oscar, who had been brought up to be a very polite boy. “But – is this the way people do farming in Scotland? With horses?”
Mr Mackenzie laughed. “It’s just how Gerry does it. He likes to keep the old-fashioned ways going. And it gives Jock a real job to do.”
“Do you have farms where you live, Oscar?” asked Ruaridh.
“Yes,” he replied, “but they are very small. Not big like this.” He pointed to the fields and woods and the hillside, dotted with grazing sheep.
“My uncle has a farm,” said Ruaridh. “He lets me drive his tractor sometimes.”
Oscar looked at him in amazement. Ruaridh must be the luckiest boy in the world, he thought.
“Do you like tractors, Oscar?” asked Mr Mackenzie.
“Oh yes, I do,” Oscar replied wistfully. “I like them very much.”
The Mackenzies left next morning. Oscar went down to their lodge. It was large and comfortable and now the hallway was full of luggage. He helped Ruaridh carry cases outside, then waved them off. He wondered if he would ever see his new friend again.
Later that morning, the whole family had a lesson on the driving range. The coach was kind and patient and everyone laughed as golf balls flew about all over the place. Oscar’s father even picked up some new tips.
At lunch his mother said, “We’ve got a surprise for you, Oscar.”
“What is it? What is it?” he asked excitedly.
“You’ll have to wait,” said his father, smiling.
After lunch they went outside. Cubby, the cheery porter, gave Oscar a wink as they passed the front desk. There waiting for them was Gerry with the Range Rover. They climbed in and he drove them down to the farm.
They stopped outside a large shed.
“A little bird told me about something you like, Oscar,” Gerry said.
Oscar climbed out of the car, his heart pounding.
Gerry pulled back the doors and there was a gleaming red tractor.
“I don’t only farm the old way, you see,” he said. “Sometimes I have to give Jock a rest.” He opened the cab door. “Hop up. We’ll go for a drive.”
Oscar looked at his mother and father, his eyes wide and hopeful.
“Go on,” they said. “It’s OK.”
Oscar climbed in. Gerry started the engine and they set off.
Oscar sat proudly in the cab as they drove slowly around the field and back again. Already he was thinking how he would tell his friends at home. He was so happy he felt as if his heart would burst.
That night Oscar and Leila were eating burgers and watching a DVD in their room when their mother came in. She was wearing a pretty black dress and she smelled of flowers.
“You look nice,” he said.
“Dad and I are going to have dinner in the smart restaurant,” she said.
As she bent over to kiss him goodnight, Oscar whispered in her ear, “I think this is the best hotel in the world!”
“So do I.” She smiled. “So do we all!”