“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Learning the ropes.

I always do my best to make newcomers welcome down at the allotments and if I can pass on any of my limited knowledge of growing a bit of veg I am only too happy to do so. I can well remember when the boot was on the other foot.
When Her Indoors and I rented a cottage and three acres in South Devon back in 1970 we were full of enthusiasm but totally lacking in any knowledge of how to care for livestock or grow anything at all. We borrowed books from Plymouth library but by far our main source of information was due to the kindness of neighbours who patiently explained what to them must truly have seemed the "bleedin' obvious". There was the couple who, as well as holding down full time jobs, ran a small egg and veg enterprise and they took us under their wing and showed us the basics of poultry keeping and horticulture.  There were also the two Arthurs.  One of the Arthurs just seemed to turn up on the doorstep one day, introduced himself and suggested that we keep a few pigs. Being suspicious townies I think that we might have wondered what his game was at first but in no time at all he had formed a pig keeping partnership with "Her Indoors", found us some work spud picking on the farm where he was employed and had become a constant source of information and encouragement.
We inherited the other Arthur as he was keeping bantams on part of the property when we arrived. Arthur number two was a retired farm labourer who lived with his large family on the council estate that bordered our holding. Previously the whole clan had lived in an isolated,and from all accounts pretty primitive, tied cottage with a herd of goats and countless chickens and ducks. The various boxes, runs and coops of bantams kept in our garden were Arthur's link to his past life. Always wearing a flat cap and usually dressed in a rather greasy gabardine raincoat with a piece of baler twine tied around the middle, Arthur would appear in our kitchen every morning, remove his cap, perhaps extract a particularly pretty bantam hen from his pocket, and make polite conversation about the weather before going off to feed and water his flock.   Arthur had spent all of his life in rural Devon apart from during the First World War when he had been "Out in Mespot. " He did his best to advise us but frequently struggled to come to terms with the true depths of our ignorance. One time I decided to scythe the field for hay to feed the goats during the winter. I ran the plan past Arthur. "So I cut it, leave it to dry, turn it and leave to dry again, then bring it in? Is that all you have to do with it Arthur?"  The old chap was silent. Removed his cap. Scratched his head before replying, " Well, there ain't much more you can do with it is there?" We had never met anyone like Arthur before and I doubt if he had met anyone like us either. He would never know that those two clueless young people would remember him for the rest of their lives.

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