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. The 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 leftover 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 a concussion from 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 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.