I'm spending most of this weekend in Devon, hence the lack of posts yesterday. The thing that has struck me here is how much I miss this kind of lifestyle.
I was brought up in a very rural area in North Essex and never imagined I would spend much of my working life in London. I come from a long line of farmers and it was expected that I too would become a farmer. Visiting some close family near Barnstaple last night it was good to see my cousin Richard again. We worked out that it had been seven years. He hadn't changed at all, yet he had been told this week that after 27 years of working on the same farm he was being made redundant. The farmer was in tears when he broke the news. He said he just couldn't face carrying on due to all the regulations he had to comply with. So yet another farming family is getting out.
I made a decision at a very young age that I didn't want to go into farming and as Neil Kinnock might have said: "I was the first in a thousand generations of Dales to go to university". My close family entirely supported that decision, even though it must have been painful for them to realise that their eldest son would never do what had been predetermined for him. Most of the rest of my family - also mostly in farming - didn't quite view it that way. They felt I was betraying my parents, although they never actually said so.
My parents own their farm. It's not a large farm and they do not confirm to most 'townies'' view of a stereotypical farmer - they don't have a Range Rover, a mansion or wear tweed . But I had the chance in life that my cousin Richard did not, as his father (my father's brother) did not own land. Whenever I go home to my parents I often think how my life would have been different if I had been born twenty years earlier - because there's no doubt that I would have definitely gone into farming whether I wanted to or not.
It is a crying shame that Britain's farming heritage is disappearing. Small farms are being bought up by the big farming conglomerates. The care that farmers like my father have given to their land is being replaced by a very different culture. Those who know nothing about farming bang on about subsidies and how they've never seen a farmer on a bike. What they don't realise is that most farmers were doing quite well by themselves before the era of subsidies. All people need to do is look at New Zealand, a predominantly agricultural country that is self sufficient in food, pays no subsidies to its farmers and yet it has a thriving farming community.
For my father's generation, farming is a vocation, a way of life. It's not about money. As long as he is earning a basic living he is happy. He hasn't had a new car since he bought a Cortina Super in about 1966. My parents just don't go on holidays. They rarely go out to dinner. But is their quality of life better than most? Are they happy and more content? You bet.
Note: The picture shows me with my father Garry (right) and his brother John, Richard's father (left)