Turning off the road, I stopped at the gate to my uncle’s yard. The gate was fastened to an adjoining gate by a piece of red twine, not an unusual occurrence, gates and twine frequently combine in these parts. However, last week there was a gatepost with a metal catch. As I opened the gate, I caught sight of the former post, which had been snapped off at its base. In one of the bays of the Dutch barn, there stood a long steel trailer stacked high with straw bales. The trailer must have accounted for the gatepost and be the explanation of the red twine.
Walking through my uncle’s door, I said, “expensive straw out there.”
“What do you mean?” he said.
“Well, it’s cost you a gatepost.”
“You don’t miss a thing,” he said.
“Grandad would have noticed it straightaway.”
“He would – and have had a few words to say about it.”
“He was a very straight man.”
“He was. Did you ever hear about the time the taxman called him in?”
“No, what happened?”
“Well the Inland Revenue told him he had to come to see them. Anyway, they looked at him and said, ‘Mr Crossman, we have looked at your tax return and have decided that you must have income that you are not declaring – no-one could live on such a small income.”
“Grandad wasn’t happy with what they were saying. ‘I’ll tell you what,’ he said, ‘you come and stay in my house, have bed and breakfast with us for a month, or better still, six weeks, and you will see how we live.’”
“Grandad explained that there was fresh milk from the cows and fresh eggs from the hens every morning. He told them about growing their own vegetables and potatoes. He told them about Nan cooking for he and the seven of us every day. ‘Do you know,’ he said to the taxman, ‘my wife phones Mr Shepherd, our butcher, every Saturday evening and he tells her what joint of meat that he has left over that she can have cheaply – that’s our meat for Sunday dinner.’”
The story was one that even my mother had not heard before. Very gentle and softly-spoken, my grandfather had the capacity for a principled fairness and the name for absolute honesty. It must have hurt him to be thus accused by the Inland Revenue.
“What happened?” I asked my uncle.
“They never came for bed and breakfast.”
I think there was a touch of the Darling Buds of May and James Herriot about a lot of farms on these islands throughout the 20th century.