I left John and Sally’s at 10 to 8 and drove back down to the farm. My first job was to feed several small mobs of sheep again with concentrates – sugar beet, nuts and ground soya meal – then I brought in a mob of ewes to make way for another mob of ewe hoggets [young sheep] which I brought in on foot without a dog. It took me 4 1/2 hours to do their feet and trough them then after they were back out I got in five ancient rams and trimmed their feet as well. Once again I fed the smaller mobs of sheep and by then it was dark. I had put in 15 hours for the two days which netted me £65.40: not a bad effort.
When I got home, I had a quick bath then Linda and I drove over to Frome to meet Bridget Wells (a friend of ours from New Zealand) off the bus. She has been travelling around Europe and she looked really good. We set up talking for a good part of the night.
I left home at 7 am and drove up to Calne to Tucks Farm where I had arranged to spend the weekend working. Mrs Hastings showed me 50-odd 2 tooth rams¹ that needed their feet trimmed so I got them in with the help (or hindrance!) of one of their sheep dogs and set to work doing their feet and troughing them in a zinc sulphate bath².
It was amazing how all the old techniques came instantly back³ and I spent an enjoyable day doing not only the 2-tooth rams but also 23 older rams. The Hastings’ were suitably impressed by the speed at which I got the job done! When the rams were finished and turned back out onto the paddocks, I gave Mrs Hastings a hand to feed several small mobs of sheep with nuts and ground soya meal, then after a cup of tea, I headed up to John and Sally‘s for the night.
¹The age of sheep is measured by the number of front teeth they have. A 2-tooth is 18 months old, a 4-tooth is one and a half years old, and a 6-tooth is two and a half years old. Sheep that are older than 2½ years are said to be “full-mouthed.”
² Footrot in sheep is treated by standing them in a concrete tough containing a solution of either zinc sulphate or formalin. The chemicals kill the footrot bacteria and harden the hooves against future infection.
³As a high country shepherd back in New Zealand I had spent thousands of hours trimming sheep’s feet and troughing them to treat footrot.
It was a fine but cold day and I spent four hours doing some gardening for Ann. Once that was finished I went home and Linda, Jenny and I went for a late afternoon drive up onto the tops then down to Stockton. It was a lovely crisp evening, with a fiery red sunset as a backdrop as we photographed some swans on the pond at Sherrington then explored the church at Stockton.
We had dinner with Diana then Jenny left to drive back to London.
We went into Warminster and did our grocery shopping first thing and when we got back to the manor where Jenny had arrived. She had come down to stay with us and to do some typing for Diana.
After I had dropped Linda off at work, I went over to the garage at Codford to get the car’s accelerator, which has been sticking, looked at by a mechanic. It ended up only needing a bit of CRC on it in order to free at up.
After that I went off up to Calne for a job interview. I had placed an ad in the latest Farmer’s Weekly and got two replies: one from a Welsh bloke at Amesbury who sounded a bit of a fly-by-night character, and one from Calne. I arranged to go up and look at the farm.
So, I drove up to Calne and after a bit of a search I found Tucks Farm at Charlcutt on the hills behind Calne. John Hastings and his wife Lorraine farm about 500 acres of flat and rolling country and breed Bleu-de-Main rams. My prospective lambing flock is 400 mixed age ewes running on a block 7 miles away from the main farm.
There are no sheep yards apart from two dilapidated barns on a neighbouring property and a set of makeshift yards. But it is a beautiful piece of land gently sloping down to a small river and with plenty of shelter.
It was 7:30 pm before I got back home and after tea Jenny and I went down to the Dove for a few drinks with Linda.
MONDAY 29/10 – FRIDAY 2/11 It was a hell of a busy week and I ended up doing the work of two labourers as staff were leaving left, right and centre. But it was worth it as the 13 hours of overtime I did netted me a healthy £220 in wages.
I spent most of the day at home writing letters and watching TV. When Linda finished work at 4:30 we set off and drove up to Swindon to see John and Sally. It took us about 1 1/4 hours and the little car went very well. Daylight saving ended last night which meant it was dark by 6 pm and the clearing, stormy weather left the sky glowing like a furnace amongst the heaps of clouds on the western horizon.
We spent a very pleasant evening with John and Sally talking over a leisurely supper and later watching the bizarre and sexually explicit movie The Green Man starring Albert Finney. We drove home via the back roads and Linda, tired after a long day, slept in the back seat most of the way.
“Mao seemed to sum up the essay [ON PRACTICE] when he wrote, “all genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.” It was a struggler’s motto, and rather a good one I thought. Action was everything. It was also a good motto for travellers.” 1
I woke up at 7:30 am with a cunt of a hangover, so I got up and watched TV for a couple of hours. After I dropped Linda off at work I went into Warminster and did some shopping. As well as groceries I bought a new number plate light for the car (£6.30) and some flowers for Tina. I also filled in half an hour browsing in the bookshop.
After Linda finished work we drove in to see Ann and Bet but they were there so we went out to the spewing Pac man (Happy Eater motorway restaurant) for a burger then went back to Betty’s place for afternoon tea.
On Thursday Ann gave us two old family bibles. They are quite old and each has an inscription inside the front cover. The first volume, which is Genesis to Psalms, has the inscription: “Lucy Blakiston from her attached sister Sofia Noel Mackintosh, Sandybrooke, October 1868.”
The second volume, Proverbs to Revelation, has the same message but also, on a separate sheet of paper, the inscription “transferred to Horace Mann Blakiston by his beloved mother‘s wish as her death December 29, 1871. First used by him in the pulpit on January 28, 1872. Two Peter 1:15.”
Two Peter Chapter 1, Verse 15 reads: “moreover I will endeavour that he may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance”. Very deep!!
1 This quote, from The Little Red Book, Chairman Mao Tse Tung’s most famous collection of writings, has become the motto for all of my subsequent travels and writings. You can find it on the heading page of this blog and also the heading page of my other blog: https://travelwriterlife.com/
TUESDAY 23/10 – FRIDAY 26/10 It was a quite profitable week as I did three nights cleaning racking up 13 hours of overtime in the process. On Friday night we took part in a Mediaeval Night at the Dove and I managed to get quite pissed!
”In this darkness, huddled groups of people waited in the empty streets for buses. That seemed a grim pastime, a long wait at the Harbin bus stop in winter. And by the way, the buses were not heated. In his aggrieved account of his Chinese residence, the journalist Tiziano Terjanii, writing about Heilongjiang in his book The Kingdom of the Rats, he quotes a French traveller who said “although it is uncertain where God placed paradise, we can be sure he chose some other place then this.” (Excerpt from Riding the Iron Rooster)1
Linda and I went for tea at the Agra Indian restaurant in Warminster.
1 The writing of Paul Theroux was one of the main inspirations for me becoming a travel writer.
PERTWOOD DOG TRIALS Late morning, and I drove up to Pertwood, on the Downs near Warminster, where a local dog trial1 was being held. It was a grey, stormy day and a cold buffeting wind was streaming over the hills and roaring down the small valley where the trials were running.
The trial consisted of pulling 6 sheep down off the hill at high-speed, then driving them with the dog through a series of hurdles then finally penning them, by slapping a stick and shoving them into the pen while the dog more or less sits watching!
It was an interesting afternoon though and I yarned to a Kiwi bloke who was there about lambing. He said it is very hard work but he charges £4.30 per hour.
1As a shepherd, I had competed in many dog trials back in New Zealand so I was keen to see how a British dog trial was run.