Morrow's world - Farmers Weekly

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Morrow’s world

JOHNSTON WAS sick this month for the first time in years. He caught one of those nasty flu bugs that sent his temperature soaring and knocked him off his feet.

It”s times like these that we are so glad to be farming in partnership – the petty quarrels about which silo to open first, or when”s the right time to start feeding meal, or even the big debates as to whether we should be investing in new quota, pale into insignificance when the family steps in to fill the gap.

I can”t imagine what life would be like without a big family to call on. Stephen, our third cousin, carried on with the setting up for the visitors arriving; his nephew, Chris, stepped into the milking – despite it being a “rugby weekend”; Hilary changed out of her size 10 business suit to a size 44 boiler suit to feed the calves; while Johnston”s brother Tim did everything else.

Listening to a friend talking about her anxieties about extending her maternity leave also reminded me of the great advantage of a family so close.

I was able to work at home with my children beside me, confident that everyone”s interest was child-centred. There was no conflict about school runs, parent interviews, hospital appointments, project deadlines – someone would always cover or take the children for me.

I am sure that I worked harder and better in this environment than if I had been made to make excuses or feel guilty about my role as a mother. I am sure that we need to totally change our mindset about the importance of childcare and the shared responsibility we all must take – even if that only means supporting a mother (or father) to take time off to be with their child.

Our extended family is extending even further with at least three new babies expected this year. So, inspired by this and by an embarrassing experience with a physio, I have taken up knitting.

About this time last year, I started to lose movement in my left shoulder. This, combined with some pain – not to mention difficulty sleeping – pointed clearly at a frozen shoulder.

“A common injury in middle age,” my doctor sympathetically told me, together with the information that nothing would help or hinder the healing process – it would take roughly nine months. Nonetheless, he applied for an appointment with a physiotherapist and it eventually came up nine months later when I was more or less completely better.

I went anyway and, apologising profusely for my obvious lack of pain, I sat through the bureaucratic process of being signed on to their books.

One of the many questions was: “What are your hobbies?” Well I couldn”t think of anything. I didn”t mention reading – well everyone does that – it”s not as if I belong to a reading group. There are all my animals – but that”s my work. I haven”t got very far with my new set of golf clubs, but that”s as a direct result of the frozen shoulder after all.

So I have taken up knitting again and have proudly completed three little cardigans for the assorted expected babies. I had forgotten how pleasing it is. I can still join in conversation, watch television, listen to the radio, and generally relax (except at the raglan arm decreasing, when I need full concentration).

I am now an officially interesting person with hobbies. By the time the clear evenings are in and I am out on the golf course, I will be fully confident to fill in any form asking about hobbies.

Morrow’s world

I NEVER THOUGHT I would see the day when I did not have all the necessary ingredients to bake a cake ready to hand.

I started baking when I was about 10, learning from my mum, who was never a great cook, but always a superb baker. But now those generations of learning might disappear, as I hardly ever lift out the baking bowl any more. Indeed, when Helen asked me to teach her how to bake a cake last week, I found there was neither margarine nor self-raising flour in the house. My baking powder was about five years out of date and my sandwich cake tin had taken on a new role as a dish for a rabbit.

My baking skills have been reduced to pavlova (perfect for every entertaining situation, I find) and shortbread, the art of which has already been passed on to Helen and so I can”t even lay claim to that either.

 I am not the only woman to have abandoned the baking bowl in favour of the “home-made” cake shelf of the supermarket. My friend Joy took a notion to bake recently and when her daughter saw what she was doing and asked “Who”s died?” she realised she now only baked for funerals!

The problem with home-baked goodies is that we all like them too much and they do not keep as well as the supermarket variety. So we invariably finish a cake the same day as we cut it, with the excuse that it won”t be anywhere near as nice tomorrow.

 Mind you, this is the time of year when Johnston can eat as much as he likes without having to worry about an expanding waistline, as spring calving is upon us. “I need a high condition score to get me through the next two months,” is his excuse as he eats his way through a freezer shelf of ice-cream after coming in at 11pm having checked the cows. Sadly, the rest of us do not need the extra layer of fat, but the temptation is hard to resist.

 As the calving is getting into full swing, I am struggling to get back into something I thought this family had finished with – school runs. Although, it is not so much the school run now as “placement run” and “tech run”.

 Amy and Helen have both got completely new regimes this term, so I am back to delivering them to the bus stop. Then there are the evenings on which Amy has to work, plus Helen”s day release to the vet”s once a week.

As I will be visiting schools to talk about farming over the next few weeks, it is falling to my father-in-law, Addie, to help and so we are trying to concoct a timetable of lifts and places that does not look like an inner city bus schedule. Another wee car each would be a wonderful solution all round.

Sadly, with Jersey cross Friesian bull calves worth nothing and the new auction price for milk down 2p/litre, I am afraid we will just have to keep running the taxi service with a smile. Anyway, I am sure that standing at the bus stop on cold mornings is character building. Then there are the environmental advantages of sharing cars and using public transport.

 Maybe all this extra running for buses will mean we will have room for some of Helen”s new home-baked cake. There has to be a silver lining somewhere.

Morrow’s World

“CHRISTMAS IS coming and the geese are getting fat”, so the saying goes. Actually, Christmas came and the geese are still getting fatter.

I decided I like the geese – and not in the culinary sense of the word. To be honest, we didn”t eat any of the produce I was rearing for the plate. All those dozens of ducks hatched this spring and summer are still being fed every morning with no notion of how lucky they are. I have decided they are like an insurance deal against a fox attack, similar to an extra 5lbs weight coming into the winter in case of a nasty bout of flu.

It’s been a big year in our family calendar: Two sets of big exams, both Amy and Helen leaving school and moving on, Jenny’s 21st birthday, my brother home from Australia with decisions to make about where home is for him, the death of my closest aunt, two very wet holidays, not to mention a very wet autumn and grappling with the intricacies of decoupling.

My diet of farm economics and politics consists of a daily 15 minute dose of the local farming radio programme and what I can glean from conversations, often heated, around the kitchen table, so the subject of decoupling wasn’t an easy one for me to grasp.

However at least I am better set up to hear the programmes coming into this New Year. I love to listen to the radio and have tried all sorts of ways to be able to follow my favourite programmes when I am round the yard, from the car radio at maximum volume with all the doors open to tiny transistors with miniscule ear phones held onto my head with a selection of hats and scarves.

This is fine for music, but my love is talk radio (and obviously it’s my only chance of learning about the farming world) and to be honest both these systems are not up to scratch. I can be quite happy working away listening to a debate on the provision of wheelie bins, or other riveting subjects, then I open the hen house door and all other sounds, bar overexcited geese, are completely drowned out.

Now all has changed as I have discovered Johnston’s ear defenders with built in radio. Each ear piece weighs about a pound, but the reception and volume are first class.

When Johnston first discovered these, I balked at the price; thinking that my 4 little pocket radio from Tesco’s would do me rightly. However, Johnston”s mind doesn’t work that way. He firmly believes that if life’s little luxuries can make an unpleasant essential job bearable, then spend the money.

For example, we have an ancient rattly JCB to fill the silage wagons, an essential, but on cold wet mornings, an unpleasant task. However, Johnston bought himself a state-of-the-art, ex German army gortex suit, a pair of padded waterproof gloves and the ear defenders, now he can happily listen to Terry Wogan as he feeds the cattle. I am now convinced that being happy at your work is worth budgeting for, and if I use them too – sure that is twice the value.

Mind you, if I’d had my old system then the cackling geese and the quaking ducks disturbing my listening might have made me more hard-hearted and they would have been gracing a few festive tables over the past few days. Anyway, my family, my poultry and I had a lovely Christmas and hopefully a great New Year to come – I wish the same for you.

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