11 September 1998

Book Reviews

Busy country diary to put all the rest of us to shame

NATURALLY busy people seem to make time for everything and Benita Tapster is one of those who leaves the rest of us feeling somewhat guilty.

Her detailed diary* over a 12-months period records the minutiae of daily life helping her brother on a small family dairy farm in Northumberland; maintaining close touch with family, relations and friends and describing holidays at home and abroad.

The tapestry she weaves, using her own water colour pictures to illustrate each calendar month, includes delightful observation of the local wildlife and her own industrious gardening efforts.

Thanks to her brother, Matty, Shadfen Farm near Morpeth, also seems to provide an endless supply of rabbits and woodpigeons for the pot.

The day-by-day narrative is written by a keenly observant countrywoman who delights in Northumberlands scenery, which is more grand than pretty, exemplified by her descriptions of the Cheviot hills.

It is not surprising to read that Benita, a past founder editor of the Northumberland Young Farmer Magazine and the first woman YFC county president, has a multitude of interests, including writing for a local magazine, cooking, photography and foreign travel.

This is the sort of read that should prompt the rest of us to greater efforts to putting more into life and getting more out of it. HPH

*Lifes Rich Pattern – a country diary 1990-91, by Benita Tapster; New Millenium, 292 Kennington Rd, London SE11 4LD (£14.95).

Austere life in Wales but it bred character

LIFE on an isolated Welsh hill farm in the 1920s and 30s is remembered by George Lewis.

One of a family of four, his detailed *recollections of an upbringing on Llannerchfraith Farm, Llanbister, Radnorshire, and the local close-knit community, put todays hard times in perspective.

Mechanised, low labour farming was no more than a pipe dream. Work was done with hand tools and a few horse powered implements. Domestic chores in a house without electricity, piped water or sanitation, was as hard as toiling in the fields and around the steading.

Modest income came from the seasonal lamb and calf crops, home-made butter, eggs and poultry. The garden was the main source of fresh and preserved produce for home consumption Meat in the diet was confined largely to bacon and ham salted down on a stone slab with a home-reared goose or turkey for Christmas.

Nothing was wasted and careful use of of every scrap of paper and piece of string added up to recycling with a vengeance – before the modern discipline was discovered.

No-one was exempted from their duties and that included the children after their three-mile trek to school and back. They were conditions which bred sturdy and healthy yeomen and women with character to match. But there was no sense of deprivation for everyone was in the same boat and made the best of their lot.

Those days have gone and few except the "good earthers" would wish for their return. Yet one has a sneaking feeling that the old uns could still teach their over-capitalised grandchildren a thing or two about making do and living off the land in the current financial climate. HPH

*Haber Nant Llan Nerch Friet – an upbringing on a Radnorshire hill farm, by George F Lewis available from Logaston Press, Little Logaston,Woonton Alm eley, Herefordshire HR3 6QH (£7.95).