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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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HomeCulture WarClarkson’s Farm and the grip of the state

Clarkson’s Farm and the grip of the state

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I HAVE long avoided Amazon Prime. However, having been brought up on a farm, I simply had to watch Clarkson’s Farm 2 when I heard it would be about his battles with local bureaucracy so I swallowed my pride and signed up.

Jeremy Clarkson has brilliantly caught the mood of rural Britain which, by area, is the greater part of these isles. Fifty years ago I was a farmer’s son on a 230-acre arable farm in Suffolk. Memories came flooding back when I watched the series and I am struck by how, on the one hand, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ yet on the other they are radically changed.

My father bought the farm in the late 1940s after completing an agriculture degree at Cambridge started ten years before the war. The farm was very run down and his first employees were four German prisoners of war living in a small cottage.

In the early 1970s, when I joined the scene, we grew wheat, barley and field beans. The most sophisticated pieces of equipment were a moisture meter for testing the grain before harvest, a telephone and an adding machine for the accounts. Tractors lacked cabs and it took three weeks of combining to get the harvest in. We were trusted to look after ourselves and do a good job, which we did.

The three men working the farm deserve special mention. All, like their Anglo-Saxon ancestors, were the warp and weft of the land they worked, of which they knew every inch. They had mostly served in Dad’s Army, which was ‘nothing like the real thing but just as bloody silly!’ They had to deal with a lot of downed fighters and bombers with lengthy searches through the night for aircrew who had baled out. They were larger than life and wonderful characters. One, a Great War veteran, had only one tooth and used it to shred the rind off the raw bacon which was his dinner; I loved to watch.

One character stands out. Five foot one inch tall and equally broad, looking like Compo from Last of the Summer Wine and speaking like the gravedigger from Hamlet, he was the local barber, chimney sweep, ferreter, corn dolly weaver, pig keeper and much more besides. He had, in fact, been the gravedigger and had me in stitches as he regaled me with comic and macabre tales. On removing an old skull from a grave he saw the vicar coming up the path to the Churchyard. Happening to see a toad hopping in the grass he grabbed it, placed it in the skull which he put on the path just in time for the vicar who had the fright of his life seeing a skull apparently rocking under its own steam as the toad tried to wriggle out. Digging at night, when it was cooler, a place for the second occupant of a double grave dug ten years earlier, he felt through the earth for the lid. Satisfied that a few inches of soil covered the coffin he stood up to climb out whereupon the lid collapsed and he fell in with his old neighbour. I have not seen his like since. Hilarious and, I promise, nobody minded.

These men had earned their place on the land, gave no quarter to anyone, would tell the boss if he was wrong and were quick to put the farmer’s idiot son in his place in accents so broad you had be tuned in to understand insults like ‘Cheroyst bor, you marn’t do that you daft little beggar!’

Fast forward 50 years to Clarkson’s farm: what is the still the same and what has changed?

I’m delighted to say that much good continues. Clarkson’s farmhands are just as special and every bit as good at breaking in Clarkson to parish ways as their forebears, which is how we Anglo-Saxons maintain our culture in the land that is the greater part of Britain. Young contractor Kaleb and farmhand Gerald are real characters and are just as rooted in their local soil as their ancestors, turning their hands to any task they meet. Their skill-set is a little different but they still plough furrows as straight as a die. Kaleb has never been on a train or to an Indian restaurant and regards his son as a foreigner as he was born in Oxford. Gerald’s accent is so broad that Clarkson is never quite sure if a tease is being concealed. The bond between the three men, shared in the pub, is as strong as the bonds we had 50 years ago. The laughter, love of the land and the passion for growing food is just as strong. Farming is basically the same.

Fifty years ago things in Britain worked and, crucially, we kept the state at a necessary distance. This allowed the police to solve crimes, courts to jail villains, the doctor to see you that evening, and you trusted the Church of England primary school to teach your child the Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments, and that God would know if you broke any. The only drag queen was Danny La Rue and he wouldn’t have been allowed in a school.

Clarkson has brilliantly illustrated the villain that the state now is. Farming is not exactly nationalised but the state requires individuals to fund a business which it then chokes to death with regulation. All Clarkson wants to do is sell his crops yet Whitehall is hell-bent on stopping him. Fifty years we never saw a government inspector and I never saw my father fill in a form. Now, every time Clarkson shows individuality and enterprise, a government inspector pops up and thwarts him. That, coupled with the other big change which is the exponential growth in computer technology, makes life hardly bearable for farmers.

Here’s the kicker: Fifty years ago, left to ourselves and with minimal technology, we were reaping up to four tons of wheat per acre. It could not get better. After my father passed in 1975 the farm stayed in the family for 20 years or so during which time the EU got its claws in. The farmer became an overburdened clerk and slave to the modern Domesday Book. The last time I saw our farm, the golden wheat fields were left to grow weeds so that set-aside payments from the EU could be claimed to balance the books. We went from feeding the five thousand to feeding nobody at the stroke of the bureaucrat’s pen.

Ask someone if they have seen Clarkson’s Farm 2 and expect a lengthy conversation about the state of the country if they have. Ordinary people can now see how the state controls their lives and they want out. The juggernaut of state regulation and control holds no future for this country and we have to take personal responsibility, send it in reverse, rediscover our culture and start being ourselves again. With two major political parties on the same hymn sheet we’re in a fix. We have to back something new. The unfairness with which the state now treats people is appalling. As Kipling wrote, the Saxon ‘never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right’. This unjust state is not right and it is time we put it back in its box.

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Tristram Llewellyn Jones
Tristram Llewellyn Jones
Tristram Llewellyn Jones is a civil liberties campaigner, home educator and retired airline pilot.

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