Sunday, November 19, 2017

For whom the bell tolls

November 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Clodhopper

Clodhopper laments the loss of his neighbour. A cantankerous man to some but also a farmer with the countryside at heart.

Grumpy guts is dead” came the text message last week. I did not have to think hard to remember who it referred to: my neighbour for more than 40 years had died.

It was ironic to be told by mobile phone because he refused to have one. Dave – not his real name – even refused to have a computer until his last few years. I had not seen him recently as he took early retirement – and I am pretty much sure that modern technology drove him out of farming. That and red tape, the local parish council and a minority of the general public.

He hated the hoops farming had to jump through. On one memorable occasion while having a farm assurance inspection he asked the chap what he used to do for a living. On being told he was a farm manager on a local estate, Dave asked what else he was going to make a mess of.

If Dave hated the scheme, he also hated all those associated with it. He liked to keep himself to himself. He never much bothered to talk to anybody else and farmed alone for many years apart from his trusted dogs.

His dogs would follow him anywhere, including into the tractor cab. I never really knew how much he farmed or owned. He usually told me around 300 acres. I would see him sometimes across the ditch. Sometimes he would stop and chat. Other times it was just a nod of the head.

Old-fashioned

When he did stop, he always had a point to make or a comment to add. But it was always worth a listen. He may have been an old-fashioned farmer but his ideas were always current. He was adamant, for example, that cultivation killed blackgrass.

He was never without his trusted three-furrow plough and the number of passes pre- and post-ploughing would frighten the life out of you. He never drilled before 15 October and always drilled 10 stone to the acre.

He never worried about milling quality – he always went for yield. He had presses, spring tines, dutch harrows, rolls and chain harrows. Never anything fancy, just solid machines built to last. And he used the old Massey trailed drill to the end.

Dave loved his green tractors but for his last few years in farming he went away from them. The reason? He would never admit this but when straw burning was allowed Dave decided for reasons only known to him to drive into the field when the fire was still raging.

Overcome with smoke, the tractor stopped. With it only having one door, Dave had to escape by the back window. Despite his love of the green tractors, never did Dave have another one with only one door.

Blocked harrows

He used to attach a rope to harrows on the back of his single roll which in turn was attached to his waist on the tractor seat. If the twitch grass became too much, a little pull on the rope cleared the blocked harrows. I know he was pulled out of the tractor one day. How he stopped her, I do not know – he never said or explained the bruising. A health and safety nightmare!

He was a lovely man if you liked grumpy and tight. He used to run a single row self-propelled beet harvester until the rust set in. I helped him lift his last ever 12 acres of beet with my six row. I knew the field was 12 acres but when the time came to settle the invoice Dave insisted despite 40 odd years of farming next to him that actually the boundary mark was in the wrong place and my side should be bigger.

Like most farmers old and new, he hated paying for anything yet expected top whack for his own work. He never spoke in all the years I knew him about the unpaid work he did for the village – his village as he called it – and the people.

Some people took advantage, especially the local parish council. To shorten the story, Dave looked after the local cemetery most of his 91 years. He never charged and never expected pay. He looked after the plots, hedges and trees.

Complaining

Once, local residents sent a letter to the parish council complaining that the beloved trees Dave looked after for all those years were blocking light from some newly constructed houses. Without a word to Dave, the trees were removed by the council. Did they belong to the council or Dave? I never really knew but the issue upset him.

Not long after that he retired. I was really his only neighbour and yet he never spoke to me about his farm. I assumed we got on well and yet he never gave me the opportunity to farm his land. Instead, he used a local contractor.

Dave had his funny ways. They weren’t always logical and not always easy to explain. But he was straightforward in other ways. He farmed from an age that took a handshake as a deal and your word was your bond.

Those days are sadly gone. But I will miss Dave and what he stood for. As for his farm, well the agents and councils that he so disliked may end up slicing it up. But I dare say Dave will have the last laugh, somehow. He often did.

Sleep well old neighbour Dave.

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