Archetypal countrymen

A Sunday evening on a village road, he seemed homeward bound. Boiler-suited, work-booted, he carried an empty mug in one hand. Perhaps someone had brought a hot drink to him, perhaps the mug had been reused to the point where he felt it was necessary to take it home to be washed. Passing him, the mug bore the patina of frequent use for tea.

He was a reassuring figure. Unruly dark hair, weather-beaten, wiry-framed, muscular-handed, he fulfilled the imagined image of the working farmer.

It would not have been too hard to imagine his home. An entrance hall where boots were removed, a kitchen where overalls were permitted, the times of his presence would have been predictable. A calendar on the wall would provide a daily reminder of tasks additional to those that were routine. A laptop computer would have intruded into the family space. The business of farming is now done online, without web access administration and management would be impossible.

Walking with a mug on a Sunday evening, he will have worked today much as he works every other day.

Farming in England is unjustly skewed in favour of the rich and the landed. The European Union basic payment, which the British government has committed itself to continue, no longer functions as it was originally intended. The aspiration to sustain family farms and to sustain rural communities was swept away by the British government who preferred a flat-rate system, giving most to those who already had the most (to those who least needed payments from the taxes of working people who were considerably less affluent than themselves).

The walking boiler-suited man lives a life far removed from those whose farms are estates. He is the manager, the worker and every other role that might be imagined.

The boiler suit is a declaration of what he is and what he does. It is more than that though, it is a declaration of who he is.

Perhaps people should be perceived as being more than what they do because there arises the danger that if they do nothing, do they become nothing? Yet for a working farmer, doing and being are inextricably interwoven. To try to take such a man from his land, to suggest that he might turn from agriculture and pursue another occupation, would bring a look of incredulity. Farming life is about being: it is what they are, it is who they are.

When he got back to his house with his tea mug.It seems unlikely he would have lingered too long before finding reason to go out again. There is always more to be done.


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