21 December 2001

FARMING BREEDS

Duncan, the drunkard

Duncan likes a drink. He likes a drink with his lunch and he likes a drink with his tea. Lunch starts at 10am and lasts til 4pm. Tea starts as 4pm and lasts until Duncan is helped out of The George and pointed towards home.

Duncan doesnt work any more. He was a tractor driver for years – a good one, too – but it got so the boss couldnt trust him with machinery. The farm depreciation bill was twice the norm; the fitter was on a state on permanent high alert. "It cant go on," the boss declared.

"Its just a little something to keep me warm," Duncan replied, tapping his hip flask. But with the amount he drank, he was hot rather than warm. Overheated, in fact.

Soon, he got demoted to the simpler jobs, but would be found asleep in half-cleaned grain bins, half-swept barns and half-covered silage clamps. He forgets to do everything – everything, that is, except fill in his timesheets!

He helped out the gamekeeper for a while, but the thought of Duncan with a drink in one hand and a gun in the other was not an appealing one. He got casual work lambing, but the ewes cries of distress would be drowned out by Duncans singing – a wonderful singing voice it is, too – booming from the sheds.

He helped out in the gardens of the big house but got his marching orders after driving the mower through Lady Ps prize begonias. "He stinks of whiskey," Lady P said, derisorily, pouring herself a large gin.

Crisps, supplemented with an occasional packet of pork scratchings, are Duncans staple diet. The staff at The George feed him when they feel sorry for him. Theyve learnt not to over do it, though, especially after giving him that bumper turkey lunch last Christmas – only to discover something resembling most of it in the park beside the swings on Boxing Day.

Duncan swapped from beer to whisky sometime in 1995. He cant remember when – that years a bit of a blur (the 1990s are a bit of blur). It was the year his wife left him. "The year it all started going wrong," he tells regulars – and newcomers – in The George. Maudlin is the typical state in which youll find him, but occasional and intense spells of euphoria come upon him when his horse comes in or when a fresh drink arrives.

Getting a drink – one more drink – is his main aim. Its certainly occupies more of his attention than personal hygiene. His bodys covered with cuts and bruises. Hes got long hair, which would be trendy if it was deliberate. His fingernails and toenails dont get cut, they break off. Hes 45, but he looks an old man.

Duncan usually manages to make it home from the pub – he only lives in a cottage round the corner. On more than one occasion hes been woken in a front garden by a child leaving for school. "Drunken Duncan," they call him.

It should only take two minutes to get home but it usually takes much longer, with him weaving and lurching off-course, covering three or four times the distance like a dog running side-to-side ahead of its master.

Occasionally he stops for a little lie down on the way home. He sits in the bus shelter too – sometimes with a bottle – waving and cheering at passers-by (some of whom are real). Teenagers laugh. Mothers use him as a warning of the perils of the demon drink. Duncan ignores them. Ignores them, and heads back to The George.