Flindt on Friday: One last hurrah for ‘magic’ Mike

It has to be said that many of us – “us” being the arable farmers of central Southern England – are in a bit of tizzy at the moment. The managing director of Trinity Grain, Michael Clay, has just retired.

It came as a bit of a shock, too. Not the fact that he was retiring; the fact that he was managing director.

I confess that I wasn’t sure exactly what his role was up among the towering siloes at Micheldever Station.

See also: Tips to achieve successful long-term grain storage

About the author

Charlie Flindt
Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha in Hampshire with his wife, Hazel. He’s a weekly columnist writing for Farmers Weekly and never fails to raise a few eyebrows and tickle a few funny bones with his hilarious musings about the farming world.
Read more articles by Charlie Flindt

He certainly wasn’t chief recruiter. I was persuaded to sign up for my first bit of storage space back in the early 1990s by one of the Scats lorry drivers.

We were leaning on the door post down at the grain store early one winter morning, watching the aged Conder storage bins pump out wheat at about 25t/hr.

I knew that any moment a motor might stop, or a belt might break, or some wildlife might emerge, or that the load might be rejected and brought back later in the day – complete with wildlife.

“You should join Hampshire Grain [as it was then],” said Pete. The more we discussed it, the more it made sense.

My old stores were creaking, regulations were getting (quite rightly) tighter, and the idea of a tenant forking out a fortune for buildings that would end up not being his was daft. And these were the £48/t years, remember.

He could break bad news on wheat quality with the exquisite verbal dexterity of Alan Bennet. “Sh*te!” he’d say.

So I signed up for a corner of a silo, and first came across Michael. Not sure what his job title was back then, either; he was at the end of a phone, and that was it.

I sort of assumed he’d been doing the phones since the phone was invented. He had a fine line in promising harvest lorries in a way that was completely convincing, all made in his distinctive north-of-Basingstoke burr.

Only occasionally would he make the mistake of answering the phone with “It’s on the way!” when I wasn’t ringing about a lorry at all.

And if it was Bill who answered the phone (Dec to Michael’s Ant), you knew that Michael was up a ladder replacing a burnt-out V-belt.

His mix of diplomacy and honesty was unique. In wet years, he could persuade those trying to send in 35% MC wheat that while it was permissible, it wasn’t really practical if it won’t come out of the lorry.

He could break bad news on wheat quality with the exquisite verbal dexterity of Alan Bennet. “Sh*te!” he’d say.

Last harvest’s email requesting that stressed members stop shouting at him and Bill was about as vociferous as it got.

No job too small

But despite always being busy with whatever his job was, he never too busy to help.

When a malicious puddle in the underpass near Hampshire Grain somehow wrecked Hazel’s V70, Michael swung into action.

The Volvo was retrieved and parked in a spare corner, and a minion was summoned to give Hazel a lift home in Michael’s truck.

And I’ve become grateful for the fact that my letter saying I was leaving Hampshire Grain and needed to sell my membership tonnage (written in some dark days when desperate cash-raising measures were needed) somehow failed to reach Mike’s desk; my little virtual barn up there is now a handy pension fund.

I think it’s fair to say his real job title is – or was – “cornerstone”, and I wish the new man lots of luck.

At his recent leaving do, Michael was presented with an engraved grain shovel, which was perfect. Just the thing for the man famous for calling a spade a spade.