When you think of potboilers and grand romances, TV One’s vintage Country Calendar isn’t what ordinarily comes to mind.
But last Saturday’s episode was an absolute charmer, based on simple, old-fashioned television storytelling of a kind we’ve nearly forgotten about.
It was about a Swiss emigre, Meret Horlacher, who is fulfilling her dream of running a highly productive self-sufficiency farm in New Zealand. It looked like being another of those worthy tales of the satisfactions of downshifting, and nothing wrong with that. But if you waited, there was so much more.
The programme’s format is heroically unchanged, so there was no shouty foretaste of where this story was headed, no winky hints about twists and turns to come. Crazy as it seems, the makers of Country Calendar still trust the viewer to have a reasonable attention span. So the narration ambled along gently, showing us Meret tending her little sheep flock and other creatures who are always tenderly tucked up in a barn at night, and explaining her gentle farming philosophies – before delivering us surprise after surprise. For it turned out that Meret’s husband had left her some time ago, saying he thought he could do better for himself – and betting she couldn’t keep the farm and family solvent by herself.
Bereft but determined to hang on, she eked out a living, spending as little as $800 in a year. She ate only what she could produce; she recycled everything and sold as much produce as she could. She hated doing it, but she shot possums to feed her dogs, regretting killing such a beautiful living creature. And she hoped and believed her husband would come back, but he didn’t. Still, she and the farm survived.
But wait, as the narrator blessedly didn’t say, there was more. Meret hit on the idea of giving children riding lessons, founded on her principle that the ponies should have as much fun as the children. They proved popular. And one day, a retired fireman brought his granddaughter along. He saw how hard this woman worked, how brave and gentle she was, and how tough things had been for her, and he offered to do a bit of odd-jobbery for her. And basically, he never left. They fell in love pretty much immediately, he bought her the very luxurious farmhouse next door, helped her with the farm and, to cut a lovely story undeservedly short, they have lived happily ever after ever since. How equally heart warming to see that, despite the prevailing trends in television, Country Calendar has done so too.