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Mr Zummerset Comes Home, Part 8

by Robin Wale

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.

Life carries on employed at WH Longmans, Sparkford in a nice working environment until, unexpectedly, Mr Longman decides to sell the business to RHM, a national feed company, with mills across the country. That was a situation which I felt I would not be comfortable in.

We came under the management of Rawlings James and Phillips(RJP), which we quickly interpreted that as Rush Jump and Push. They had a big mill, based at Calne in Wiltshire and the thought was that they would shut us down and transfer the business to Calne.

Thankfully that did not happen and the business carried on as usual for another 7 years when, surprisingly, RHM sold their feed business to Dagety Agriculture, a company that I strongly resented. So another major decision for me – what I should do?

Well, as my life had show me in the past, a solution was at hand. I received a phone call from the Sales Manager of Sheldon Jones, a family company that had a high reputation as being the best company in the South West for quality and service. I did not have to think this through, one interview and the job was mine.

On the social side of life, I had a phone call from a past acquaintance who new I used to box at school, asking me if I would MC an ABA (Amateur Boxing Association) event at Taunton that night, as they had been let down.

The pressure was on and, because I realised they were desperate, I reluctantly agreed to do it. Unfortunately I must have done it well as I found myself as MC for many years, travelling around the South West. Of course it was all voluntary so no financial reward, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and was always given good food and drink during the half time interval. Sometimes I wonder how I got back into the ring after the good whiskey that was on offer!

Working for Sheldon Jones was a great pleasure, and one of the lasting memories would be that Richard Calver, from the Bath and West committee, rang the company up, asking if there was any member of staff prepared to go on a stand and talk to the public about how farmers look after their cows. The image of farming to the public was still not a good one, and yours truly got roped in – with the help of a lovely Jersey cow called Sonny from Mr Selway at Riggiston Farm, Walton.

I would walk with her along the top avenue asking the public to follow us until I got to the stage. I was suppose to put on a very professional approach, talking about somatic cell counts, rumen degrading protein and all the other jargon that was going around in the industry. Of course the public just stared at me as if to say "what the hell is he talking about?" So I changed my presentation into a 'Jethro'* type act, walked with a limp because that's how most older farmers appeared to walk, and put on a very humorous show, which would attract about 500 people. I would repeat it four times a day, and on one occasion a customer of mine was watching, and said " that was very good Robin, guess who was standing next to me?" Would you believe it, it was the man himself, Jethro!

1984, a year not to forget because of the mountain of cheese, butter and skim/whey powder, quotas were introduced across the whole of Europe including the UK for production of milk. Unfortunately it was based on the previous year's milk production which, regretfully for UK producers, had not been a good year because of the poor season. The cut in production was 10% and the impact became immediate to us as a lot of farmers cut back the amount of purchased feed from us. Some stopped feeding dairy cake at all. Some of the sales force sadly lost their jobs, but I was one of the lucky ones to retain my employment.

Ending on a happier note – before the next article on the catastrophe that hits British farming with BSE and Foot and Mouth – I had the pleasure to receive a cheque from the now King, along with three other villagers from Ashcott, for the new village hall that we had raised funds for. I had the responsibility for organising events and money raising and had submitted a entry to a competition, sponsored by the Times and the Royal Institute of British Architects, which had been successful! And there's the photo to prove it.

* For those not old enough to remember him: Geoffrey McIntyre Rowe (8 March 1948 – 14 December 2021), known by his stage name Jethro, was a British stand up comedian and singer from Cornwall.

To read more of Robin's story search for "Readers' Lives" in the search bar above or click HERE or HERE and follow the links at the end of the article.

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