I remember the lyrics,
“All good things around us,
Are paid for by the bank,
So don’t forget, oh don’t forget, the manager to thank.”
I read them in a copy of Farmer and Stockbreeder many years ago. A farmer’s wife had sent them in as suggested new words to ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ which were more appropriate to the industry of the day.
Another strange thing that sticks in my mind are two lines from a song written for the satirical radio show, Weekending. It was a spoof lament, supposedly sung by the Scottish football manager after the team’s performance in the 1978 world cup. The only bit I can remember is
‘Willy Johnston’s like a lark
He’s high and on the wing.”
There again, I do occasionally remember stuff which might be useful. One is a comment made by John Cherrington, farmer, agricultural journalist and broadcaster who was in a fair way of businesses. Back then the arable men were king and he was something of a ‘barley baron’, although he grew a lot of wheat as well. But unusually he still kept a flock of sheep and he also had quite a big pig enterprise. On a programme (or perhaps in an article) somebody had asked him why he kept on the sheep and pigs, because compared to grain at the time, they weren’t all that profitable.
It was his answer that stuck with me. I’m quoting what he said from memory so it won’t be word perfect.
“You see, I have the pigs because I’m a bad farmer. All my neighbours produce fabulous crops of high quality wheat and barley. They never produce anything that the buyer turns his nose up and will only pay a pittance for. But being a bad farmer, I do produce some of that stuff, but I can sell it to my pig unit at full price and the pigs don’t care.
As for the sheep flock, you can sell sheep pretty much at any point of the year. You can sell them when they’ve just lambed and have lambs at foot, and you’ll have a good trade. You can sell them when they’ve run with the tup and they’re scanned and can be given out as in-lamb. You can even sell them when the lambs have been weaned and the ewes are now dry, because people are always looking for some more ewes to tup.
Now the value of my sheep flock is the same as my maximum overdraft. So if the bank manager ever plays silly beggars and starts talking about putting charges up too much, or wants me to reduce my limit, I simply sell the sheep, pay off the overdraft and shift banks. He knows I can and will do that.”
But looking even further back I can remember there was a programme on the BBC called Tonight. It was hosted by Cliff Michelmore and ran up until 1965. They’d often have a singer on it who would sing a song that was hopefully topical and comic. I remember the words to one verse, sung to the tune of Hark the Herald Angels Sing
“Hark the Harold Wilson Sing
Blame George Brown for everything thing.
Peace on earth and pint of mild
God and Mammon reconciled
See the cost of living rise
Freeze the price of all mince pies
Hark the Harold Wilsons Sing
Blame George Brown for everything thing.”
Back then a comic had to be able to get a laugh out of all political parties, but also all professions as well.
I remember the verse from another song, sung by a folk singer who was taking a poke at all those people who looked down on him because he was a mere folk singer.
“Doctors and teachers, exams must pass,
If ere they want to rise above the working class.
And if perchance, they just scrape through.
I’ll give you ten to one that they look down on you.”
There are times when I wish I could remember something useful. I suppose one piece of advice that did stick was from one farmer a lot of years older than me. I was collecting a weigh-crush. Milk quotas had just come in and we’d decided to start finishing some bull beef, and because of handling them, we needed a crush. Then because the weight you sold them at was a bit crucial, so we might as well get a crush that could weigh them.
As I collected it from the agricultural engineers this old chap was watching me and then asked why I was buying it. When I explained, he just said, “When I was a lad, I was told that if a bullock had shoulders like my father, and a backside like my mother, it was ready to go.”
I suppose that is correct now as it was then. And then there was another old farmer who told me, “You can be too busy working to make money.”
He was right as well.
There again, never confuse me with somebody who knows what he’s talking about, try speaking to the experts.
A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.
As a reviewer commented, “
This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”