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I didn't see you there...

Image is all important. It's an item that doesn't cost much. It's the way you wear your second hand clothes ... the way you care for your family, animals and possessions ... it's the way you smile at the world. When you haven't got much else, image is a vital part of your self-esteem.

Many years ago I had just started a new teaching job in a small country school and it was in the time of carless days. Therefore, every second day I rode my horse cross-country to school from the cottage I was renting up the valley and my little mare spent her day in the pony paddock at the bottom of the rugby field. It was a great arrangement and I was really pleased with my ability to start fitting in with my new position and with the local community. Image was a key issue to classroom respect and, on my carless days, I wore a tailored trouser suit under my farm pull-ons with my old dry-as-bone over the top.

But this all came unstuck in my second week of term as I was outside the staffroom doing a 'rat-upside-down-in-the-rubbish-bin' to find an apple core to catch my horse with. Around the corner waddled a rather stout and large lady who instantly accosted me and enquired with a booming voice as to who I was and what I was doing scratching in the school rubbish bin. Naturally I beamed a smile, extended my hand and introduced myself as the new infant teacher but, as I shook her hand warmly, the dismay on her face made me take stock. Here stood a person, dressed in a tattered raincoat and grubby farm hat with the remains of left over food clutched tightly in one hand and this person had just announced herself as being a teacher at the school! It turned out that the large and stout lady was the chairperson of the school's PTA ... I had some explaining to do and the community laughed about it for weeks after.

I was reminded of this incident at the weekend. I was gathering apples for the pigs. I go out into the orchard, grab branches of the trees and shake the hell out of them. To prevent concussion from the falling apples, I put the bucket on my head. I didn't hear the car drive in as I stood shaking like mad with the bucket over my head ... I didn't even hear the people get out of their car and slam the doors. I didn't notice the real estate agent and the prospective buyers he had brought with him until I had shaken enough apples from the tree and had lifted the bucket. Standing by the orchard gate was a group of apprehensive people peering tentatively in my direction. What could I say? I didn't bother. It was too late to rescue my self-esteem.

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