British farming often seems to be all about reeling from one minor catastrophe to the next. The only thing left to do, after you’ve removed the carcasses from public view and made the bailiffs a cup of tea, is to grade the mishap according to your own personal calamity-scale. Afflictions that sit lightly around your neighbour’s neck may feel like a hefty damn albatross around yours. Nowhere is this principle illustrated so clearly as in the difference between the hubby’s attitude and mine towards impediments to profit. This perhaps has its origins in my fond liking for woolly animals and dislike of the abattoir-concept, but is more likely to rest in fundamentals, like the fact that he is a landowner and partner, and I am landless unpaid sporadic labour, with her own urban job.
For instance, when the end barn caught fire, I was highly excited & spent much time leering hanging around the firemen with my 8 week spaniel puppy. John was strangely indifferent to their uniformed charms, and monstrously pissed off about the insurance claim. Or last week, when one of the six rams in our front field died, and I felt quite sad about it; they are a manly, cantankerous bunch but have always responded well to some cabbage leaves and girlie chat. Hairy hubby was unmoved, except financially, by the demise. Conversely, John was experiencing problems with his sprayer a day ago that left him visibly highly exasperated (his eyebrows, those mighty bulwarks against rain, sun and hail, had moved a fraction closer together) whilst I mourned not a jot. Hubby, aggrieved by my callousness, reminded me of the occasion when his old sprayer, after a week of provoking waywardness, suddenly gave a passable impression of the Angel Falls mid-way down the field. Apparently I laughed uproariously at his misery and anguish, and began to sing ‘Three Wheels On My Wagon’.
Wives… Can’t live with ‘em and not allowed to shoot ‘em. Although, a farming wife does learn pretty early on in courtship that her chap has (whisper it) Two Loves. You do not stand, if you are wise, between your bloke and his other, mechanised, objects of desire. And the love (and hate) between a man and his sprayer is sacrosanct.
The reason I highlight these issues today? I have received my last paycheque. My paid section of maternity leave is over, and I am now officially a non-earner. John often scrutinises my credit cards bills with a hand churning through his hair as it is; so I must either accustom myself to being utterly poor (I think not) or really get behind the idea that the farm must make a fat thumping profit this year. I am beginning to detect in myself a glimmer of agricultural commercial nous: I have muttered about the price of red diesel. I have paid attention to world harvests (lousy) and grain prices (ergo: good). I have begun to scan the Farmer’s Weekly with far more interest, paying particular attention to the market lamb prices, as we have several hundred heading that way soon enough. With any luck I shall stop short of acquiring a flat cap & a Somersetshire accent, but you never know. These things can be catching.
The late great Henry Brewis.