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Mr Zummerset Comes Home, Part 7

by Robin Wale

From my early days on the road, I quickly realised, that the job was 24/7. Farmers in those days had no set working hours, I would receive phone calls on the landline quite frequently up to 10 o'clock at night. No mobiles with answer phones then! Also some farmers wives could be very forceful – totally oblivious that you had a job that you were employed to do.

One such farmers wife, just outside Martock, would ring me up shortly after 9 o'clock in the morning and inform me that the baler was coming at one. She would want me at the farm at two to arrange the bales in stacks of seven, so they where all ready at seven o'clock to pick up with the Perry loader. No amount of me saying I didn't have enough time in the day would satisfy her and, as she was the customer, I had to go.

Through the hay making period three of us would clear and put away over 9,000 bales for winter feeding. The up side was that when we finished in the evenings at around 10.30 p.m. there was always a good farmers supper waiting. There would be tasty cheese, ham and (of course) a good glass of cider to wash it down.

A lasting memory that I will always treasure is being fortunate to trade with a lady called Miss Aplin and her farm manager/companion, Marwood. They had a small herd of Guernsey dairy cows and 30 sows, which they farrowed and sold on the small pigs (weaners) at 10 weeks of age.

Her management and welfare skills were second to none. Often she would ring early in the morning to tell me that a sow had farrowed and that over 20 live piglets had been born. She would successfully rear all of them by putting some on the bottle, as a sow would normally have just 14 teats to suckle her young. I would call on her every other Friday at one o'clock to be wined and dined with the best roast dinner that you could ever want for. That continued up to her retirement when she moved to a private residence at Long Sutton.

I was now 25, still single, and it was New Year's Eve. My mate Paul and I were at the Shrubbery New years Eve dance, when I spotted this beautiful long haired young lady with her parents. Was my luck going to be in? I asked her to dance and she said yes. I wonder if she ever regretted that. We got engaged on Valentines night, married on the 16th October – the day after my birthday so I would not forget our anniversary – and have enjoyed 52 happy years so far. When she agreed to that first dance, she actually fancied my mate Paul!

Bradfords, the company that I was employed by, started centralising the agricultural business away from the individual branches and operating it all from the processing plant at Crewkerne. It was a move which I felt made the customer feel more isolated. It also destabilised me in my working relationships, now with a much bigger group of company personnel with whom I was unfamiliar.

But as had happened with my life before, I received a unexpected phone call from a farming company that had put up a new feed mill at Sparkford to supply animal feed to its own farms around Sparkford, Castle Cary and Marston Magna, as well as retailing it to other farms. Would I like to consider working for them as a salesman? The company was W H Longman & Sons. What a decision!

I currently had a job and sales under my belt, but a wage which I struggled to get a mortgage with. Having gone to the Managing Director asking him to adjust the balance of my wages between commission and basic salary, only to be told to get out of the office – he didn't want someone working for him that was financially irresponsible – it made the decision easier for me.

I accepted the job, but sadly there was a lot of bad feeling about it, as though I should have been very grateful at having had the employment at Bradfords at all.

I started my new employment, happy at the choice I had made, with a lot of my old customers following me to the new company, only to find two months down the road Bradfords were going to take me to court for breaking my contract. Apparently I should not have been able to trade in the area that had been my 'patch' at Bradfords.

Well to say I had a few sleepless nights was a understatement! Thankfully Mr Richard Longman came to my rescue by making an out of court settlement. I would always respect him as a good business man and a gentleman for as long as I worked for him. I am quite sure that the debt I owed him, was fully paid back in the business that I was able to get – mostly at the expense of the previous company.

Farming moved on, we were now in the early 70's. Milk prices struggled – operated by one national milk buyer, the Milk Marketing Board. Farmers started milking more cows to try and increase their profitability. The return on arable farming was no better with corn prices making very little gains over the years. Feed prices became more competitive with the advent of more new mills, but a lot of manufacturing capacity within the mills wasn't taken up. As the industry moves forward, it will sadly be beset with setbacks – lead poisoning, BSE and Foot and Mouth to name just a few.

For a long (but interesting) read on Agriculture in the United Kingdom click here, and there's plenty to entertain you this bank holiday weekend on the Government website with their facts, figures and statistics.

Robin lived in Curry Rivel from the 1950s through his school years and early adult life. As he married he moved away from Oath Hill Farm (but not too far) though has since returned. In a series of short articles, Robin recalls his years in agriculture, his schooldays, growing up around Curry Rivel and his eventual homecoming.

To read more of Robin's story search for 'Readers' Lives' in the search bar above.

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