Memories of Exmoor: The Small Farmer

by David Hill

In the 1950s there weren’t the number of large farms there are today around Exmoor. By and large small farmers were the norm, and if you were farming land with an acreage of over a hundred acres you were considered a big farmer.

One Monday, dad sat down at the dinner table with a broad smile on his face, “Apt us should be having cold pork,” he said as he ladled out a large dollop of bean chutney, made from a recipe passed on to us from my two Methodist Sunday school teacher great aunts, who were really first cousins once removed. Before speaking again, he added the customary mountain of salt to the side of his plate.”Little Leslie have had an accident.”

I pricked up my ears. Little Leslie was a near neighbour and he was a little, short man.

“What sort of accident?” Asked mum. “It’s no smiling matter.”

“Just let’s say he’s a smaller farmer now than when he got up this morning. Out feeding the pigs when one upped and bit one of his fingers off.”

I wanted to ask which finger, but a look from my aged maiden aunt indicated she knew what I was thinking, and I thought better of it.

Grace was said, and dad, having heard the five to one weather forecast, turned off the wireless. “He was lucky,” continued dad.

“How do you make that out. He’ve just lost a finger,” added my aunt.

“Lucky the pig wasn’t really hungry, otherwise he might have eaten all of little Leslie and not just his finger,” laughed dad.

As mum and my aunt joined in the laughter I stared at my cold pork, my appetite not quite what it was, wondering to myself if the pig that I had eaten yesterday and was about to eat again today had ever chewed up a finger.

***

There are only fifty copies left of THE FARMHOUSE TREE now so that’s pretty good from  900 copies, and they should go quickly following the Radio Devon readings. My editor and publisher is thrilled and says it is very good for a small publisher.I’m thrilled because so far my two charities have each received £500. I owe my little primary school at Bishops Nympton so much.

Christopher Lillicrap, a children’s  TV presenter, will be reading five 6 minute extracts from my book THE FARMHOUSE TREE  on Radio Devon. Book of the month on The Judi  Spiers Show. First reading around ten past ten on March 21st and then on the next four consecutive Fridays at the same time.

You kindly did a feature on the book back along.

My royalty cheques have been sent to my old primary school at Bishops Nympton and Michael Morpurgo for the Farms for City Children.

Am now hard at work on, what will hopefully be, a  follow up book  – LEAVES FROM THE FARMHOUSE TREE. Have finished third, and hopefully final draft. Less sadness in this one,with more recollections of my aged maiden aunt and the life of a nine year old boy on the family farm Eastacott, at East Knowstone.It includes the tale of the two brothers who lived in a hen house and also my aged maiden aunt’s recipe for her yum-yum-pig’s-bum home made butterscotch which I wrote about in my first book. Up and coming article in Western Morning News is about the old smithy at East Knowstone.

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