Monday, 6 April 2009

Brother to the Ox

I just finished reading a really good book. It was one of Bill's old paperbacks I'd started at some time in the past but it hadn't grabbed me at the time. This time I went sailing past the bookmark and finished it in one day. I'm sorry to say that as I turned the pages a few came loose from the binding. Especially sorry when I went to look at its availability on Amazon and found it listed for £21 - 82! I'm guessing that's not for the paperback version and I found more reasonably priced copies elsewhere.

Fred Kitchen was born in 1891. He describes his life working at many of the various jobs on farms in South Yorkshire in the early part of the 1900's. His father, a cowman for a large country estate, died when he was 12. He was the only son with 3 sisters and his formal education ended at the age of 13. He married at age 24, having worked his way up the farm workers' career ladder to his father's job on a number of different farms. His first wife died from influenza after only 5 years, leaving 2 children. He did short stints on the railway and for the coal mines -- though not in the pits -- but always returned to farm work.

His many skills included trimming hedgerows, ploughing a field that sounds like a precision made patchwork quilt, building corn stacks, breaking horses, milking cows and the observation and diplomacy apparently required for a successful milk delivery round. This is not mentioning his wonderful plain-spoken style of writing, his ability to paint the characters he worked with and under, or his amusing bits of poetry.

His six-day week started at 5:30 am and ended at 6pm, unless the farm was short handed and the work didn't finish until 7 or 7:30. Kitchen talks about his love of farm work and of the animals in his care. Of his troubles and disappointments he writes very briefly, without a hint of self-pity, though I was reminded that ones major life experiences do tend to change the way we look at things when he said he no longer tried to make sense of life.

That said, he went on to become a lay preacher in the Methodist church and to be a public speaker about his book and his life in the country. He joined the Workers Education Association, something in which Bill's grandfather Matthew -- who lived about the same time -- was deeply interested, in 1933. He wrote his book from his diaries and later became a journalist and radio broadcaster.

He sounds like an altogether remarkable man and reading his book was both entertaining and a reminder of how soft I am.

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