“I left the family farm in Herefordshire in the wet autumn of 1999 in search of a life in the arts – a farm lad fleeing the fields to join the Piccadilly Circus. Armed with a drama degree, I believed that my career would be forged on the boards of the National Theatre, but while walking through Hyde Park one afternoon and noting that the unruly grasses would benefit from some close weather attention, I realised you can take the boy out of the farm, but…
I began to write a rural novel in a tiny room in digs in Tottenham, North London, and it quickly became obvious that I was searching for escapism. The material became greener by the page, despite my only inspiration being the sole tree in Tottenham. When a chef friend bemoaned the lack of quality meat (which I met with an impassioned speech about the virtues of native breeds) I knew that I would forever bleed green.
The journeys home grew more and more frequent and eventually I returned, and what a transition it was. Nocturnal police sirens replaced by owl calls, light pollution replaced by a ceiling of stars, urban bin-tipping foxes replaced by their lamb-pinching countryside cousins, and in stark contrast to the city, the nearest neighbour was suddenly a mile away. Silence may be golden, but when it becomes infiltrated by voices that aren’t really there you know you’re in trouble.
In the beginning I dosed the farmhouse rats into oblivion, but I soon relented as their company became something to savour. Some had more interesting chat than certain TV personalities I had conversed with. One rodent (I christened him Bryan) was a punctual as the moon, and each night he’d pop into the kitchen to scurry along the Rayburn. I’d ask him how his day had been and when he had informed me of what wires he had chewed through, he’d disappear.
I confided everything in my closest friend, my sheepdog James Johnston, and when I swore a blue tit told me he had a cousin in London, I knew I was close to madness. And so I released the simmering pressure with words.
My diary started as a ripple, sent out to those I had left in the city keen to learn the life of the country. The first extract went out to just six email addresses, and two of those were for the same person. It was an entry about several black cat sightings in the Radnor Forest.
I was swamped by six replies (one person thought it polite to reply twice) and so for months I sent out a running report on the cat’s progress and the fact that James Johnston and I were assembling a crack team of animals to hunt it down. More and more people wanted to hear the quirky tales knitted in between the hard facts from the farm.
It was my sister, ensconced within her warm east London office, who suggested I turn a roughly cobbled together email into a blog. Blogs, she informed me, were far more accessible, as followers can go at any time to a page constantly blossoming with stories.The result has been supremely satisfying. “Swallow the key” is one of my favourite blog entries and there isn’t a talking animal to be seen. It was written in May last year after a hard winter when sheep were deciding that heaven was a better option. To be able to speak out about the pressures of farming and how close it can bring some farmers to oblivion was wholly rewarding.Sympathy and understanding are only a send button away, and while they may not stop the knackerman arriving, they are critical in reassuring you that no matter how isolated you may feel, you are never alone and help to get a hard day at the hill face off your chest. A weekly sojourn back to the capital to trade Hereford beef and Speckled Faced lamb allows me to dip a boot into the urban din, but it is the blog, the outlet for so much pent-up mental festering, that soothes the mind and allows me not to be so edgy the next time a duck asks for the time.There is never a dull day in farming, and every day is another blog, though the reality for me is a thrice-monthly entry. I encourage any of the agricultural army with a tale to tell of a planted tree, a rare sighting of a corn crake or the fact that they became the butt of a Texel Ram’s joke, to write it down. Blogging is simple. I managed to do it despite, according to James Johnston, being thicker than a midwinter mudguard.
Type Blogspot into your search engine and follow the website’s lead. Choose the design of your page and get writing. Send it out to friends, family, the milkman, the farrier, the dapper looking pheasant cock who won’t stop crowing about how he survived the season, and the rest of the captivated world audience. Who knows, you might have a dog worse than James Johnston.”
31-year-old Tom Jones grazes 800 Welsh Speckled sheep and 60 pure Hereford cattle on 161ha (400 acres) in the Radnor Forest, mid Wales. www.llanevandiary.blogspot.com
You can get your own blog on Farmers Weekly‘s community site. Email email@example.com and we’ll send you instructions on how to set up your page and publish your first entry. Alternatively, there are loads of other free-to-use blogging platforms to choose from, including WordPress, Tumblr.com and Blogger.com
Just navigate to the page and follow the website’s instructions.
SOCIAL MEDIA SPECIAL
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