Archive Article: 2000/04/21

21 April 2000

Magnus –

the practical-year


OLIVER got the nickname Magnus on account of the number of questions he asks.

He wants to know why the sugar beet is drilled when it is, why cattle need trace elements and whether the office software could be updated.

"Ive started so Ill finish," the farm staff chuckle when he comes into the workshop at breakfast time.

The staff were a bit suspicious of Magnus at first – but they got to like him. Hes 18 and harmless. Harmless to everything except inanimate objects, that is, which he soon showed a talent for ramming, snapping or squashing.

Dung forks, trailers, hydraulic cables, tractor seats and fences have all fallen foul of Magnus. He even misjudged the field boundary and spring tined the bosss wifes flower-bed.

What he lacks in experience, however, he makes up for in enthusiasm. Hell do all the jobs that everyone else avoids. Dispatched into grain pits, barn corners and silage pits, Magnus is more than happy to put his hands in unsavoury places. The prospect of getting covered in dung is not one that fazes him.

"Hell get over his enthusiasm," they say in the workshop.

But Magnus reckons hell have the last laugh. He knows hell only be doing it for a year after all. Then itll be College and, after that, who knows – travel a bit or go into marketing maybe. The worlds his oyster.

This is the first time Magnus has lived away from home and hes missing his family. He goes back at weekends if theres no work to be done and returns on Sunday night, his 12-year-old Ford Escort down on the springs, piled high with the food his mothers supplied.

Magnus unpacks it in the kitchen of the cottage in which hes living rent free. The cottage which the boss described as "adequate". The cottage that the rats have long since moved out of.

"Have you heard about the ghost," the fitter, Jim, asks Magnus. "Its the ghost of a student that died one night in the bed in which youre now sleeping."

That joke – and the one about crossing the Hereford bull with the Suffolk ewe – are ones which hes used on every pre-college year student since 1954. Hes yet to find one that falls for it.

Not that Magnus would notice the ghost if there was one. The minute his head hits the pillow, hes asleep. He works such long hours. "Sundays no problem guvnor," he tells the farm manager, himself an old boy of the agricultural college Magnus is destined for.

He needs the cash, he needs a reference and he needs to write a report for College about his practical year – it would be the icing on the cake if the boss gave him access to the accounts. "What do you think about fixed costs," Magnus asks the manager. "And what about considering a machinery ring?"

Then he goes back to the workshop for lunch. "And your specialised subject is," says Jim, "breaking things."

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