Birdie Johnson – Wednesday May 13 – 7.30pm – St Luke’s
Alas Poor Johnny –
Buster Johnson’s memoir of life on an Exmoor farm, edited by Birdie Johnson with a foreword by grandson Boris
Birdie Johnson, Buster Johnson’s daughter, talks about Alas Poor Johnny, her mother’s highly entertaining memoir of life on an Exmoor farm in the 1950s, and how, after all these years, it has finally come to be published.
In 1951 Buster moved with her husband Johnny and their four children to West Nethercote, a remote farm four miles from Winsford. Cut off from the world she used to know, of domestic servants and bridge parties, she threw herself into her new life. Her world shrank, revolving around Johnny and the children, an assortment of friends and neighbours, and, above all, around the animals. Isolated as she was, Buster kept in touch by writing letters, sharing with friends and family the seemingly daily dramas of life at Nethercote; it is these letters she drew on, some ten years later, when writing Alas Poor Johnny.
Refreshments available in the interval and an optional snack, costing £4, may be booked in advance for the interval by telephoning Marian Lloyd on 01643 831451.
Admission: £10 to reserve the seat of your choice; £5 for unreserved seating; 14 year-olds and under free.
Birdie Johnson, editor of Alas Poor Johnny, is the youngest of Buster and Johnny’s four children. Brought up at Nethercote, she spent a large part of her life there, moving back twice as an adult and continuing to live there after Buster and Johnny had died. In 2002 she produced the Exmoor Oral History Archive (www1.somerset.gov.uk/archives/exmoor) and, with photographer Mark Rattenbury, co-authored Reflections: Life Portraits of Exmoor, the book of the archive. In 2009, with some reluctance (looking to the future), she made the final move away from the isolation of the Nethercote valley to the High Weald of East Sussex, where the landscape serves as a replacement for the Exmoor she has left behind.
For more information about Alas Poor Johnny go to http://www.troubador.co.uk/shop.
ALAS POOR JOHNNY
Buster Johnson’s vivid and entertaining account of life on an Exmoor farm in the 1950s, edited by Birdie Johnson and with a foreword by Boris Johnson, her grandson
“It is wonderful to hear her voice again”
In 1951 Buster Johnson moved from Surrey to Exmoor with her husband Johnny, four children, a couple of dogs and a vanload of pigs and poultry. Naturally gregarious, she exchanges a life of domestic servants and bridge parties for a remote and spartan existence at West Nethercote, a farm in the heart of Exmoor national park. Alas Poor Johnny, written some ten years later, is her vivid and fascinating account of their life there, and of farming on Exmoor in the fifties, told with a strong sense of drama and of the absurd.
The void left by her lost cultural and social pursuits becomes filled by the minutiae of everyday life, and by her husband Johnny and their four children. Above all, it is filled by the animals. These take the place of absent friends in her affections, their personalities permeating the book. There is a small but strong supporting cast, including busybody Mrs Stevens at the next door farm; Arthur the ex-cowman who moves with them from Surrey; SRN Tommie, the butt of an aggressive ram – and Alby the rabbit catcher, who plays the mouth organ and dances wild dances, enchanting the children. Finally, threading through all this with a glint of steel, is Johnny. He is her antithesis; strong and undemonstrative, generally preferring animals to people. Their relationship is the heart of the book.
Alas Poor Johnny is a first-hand account of life on a farm in the 1950s, written at the time but reading with the freshness of the present. It will appeal to anyone, whether interested in Exmoor and old farming practices, a lover of the countryside and of animals, or just wanting to cheer themselves up with a good story, well told. It is a delight to read, hugely funny and, at times, touching.
Buster and Johnny spent the rest of their lives at Nethercote. She died in 1987, without ever publishing her book. Her daughter Birdie, who herself lived there for many years, has now done so on her behalf. Boris Johnson, Buster’s grandson, has written a foreword.