For reasons that are best kept between me, HMRC and Hampshire Plod, I had to pop up to the farmhouse attic the other day to look for an invoice from 20 years ago.
Well, I say "pop" up to the attic, but it never turns out like that. Like many farmers, I was born in the house I now live in, and the attic is huge. Put these two facts together and it means that nothing ever gets thrown away - it just goes further upstairs. So my whole life is scattered in boxes around those three dusty and slightly melancholy rooms - which in 1870 were accommodation for seven staff.
And instead of heading for the box marked "invoices and ledgers, 1991-1996" I ended up immersed in a well of nostalgia. Copies of Railway Modeller from the early 1970s, Shooting Magazine from the late 1970s, 'A' level maths papers from 1980 (I must bring them down and prove just much harder they used to be). Probably best not to mention some of the other magazines lurking up there.
I finally got round to looking for the invoice - but that didn't stop the nostalgia. As I combed the ledger month by month I was transported back to the far-off world of the early nineties. It was fascinating to browse the carefully filled-in pages. Most of the differences were predictable: red diesel at almost negligible prices, steers going to Guildford market at fantastic money, money being transferred to and from a Business Reserve Account, where excess funds gathered something called "interest". Remember that? These days the Reserve Account lies somewhat empty apart from moths and spiders. There was the very first sign of the impending IACS/SFP system - an OSR acreage payment in August 1992.
There was one major difference, one column that was almost unused compared with the cluttered one in the latest ledger - "professional fees". True, there were accountancy fees and a couple of memberships - the TFA, and the NFU in the days before they fell hook, line and sinker for the Global Warming Hoax - and one or two solicitors' fees while we tidied up the battlefield of the farm takeover.
But now it's one of the most filled-in columns in the book. There's the agronomist (the old one was tucked away inside the spray bill), the ACCS, the NRoSO and membership of the buying group that now handles agrochemicals. Then there's the pest control company that helps keep my membership of ACCS, and the plastic recycling company that deals with thousands of empty cans and seed bags every year. Oh, and the environment agency fee for my washout area, and the nice man who comes and tells me that my old trailed sprayer is almost - but not quite - on the point of failing its MOT. Then there's the consulting fee for the monthly newsletter that helps me double-check what my agronomist is up to. And that all comes on top of the TFA, NFU and poor, long-suffering accountant. It's quite a list.
In the end, I found my invoice, which will, I hope, keep Plod and HMRC happy. I resisted the urge to revisit my February 1989 What Car ('Is the Yugo 55A better than the FSO Polonez?') and headed back down the creaky stairs.
Sure enough, my "pop" to the attic had lasted over two hours. One day, I'll have a clear out. One day.
Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, in Hampshire.
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