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Posts Tagged ‘Agriculture and Forestry’

I love cars, old cars that is. With a few exceptions, modern cars do nothing for me. They are mainly designed by committee, computer or focus group. Older cars have grace, beauty, quirky ugliness, individuality, seductive faults and personality that are all lacking in most modern vehicles. Well they don’t all have all of those qualities, but go back only twenty years or so and byond and generally you will find at least some of them.

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1930’s Racing glamour visits Northfield Farm

I remember my Father’s passion for cars. Huge, cavernous Austin Princesses used to drive brides to their weddings and collect movie stars from airports. Big black Ford Zodiacs, the earlier ones soft and rounded at the edges, later, I still have its number plate, sharper, more American in styling with aggressive fins, like upturned knives running forever back alongside the enormous boot so big that my brother and I used to lay out a picnic in it. They were all female, these cars, described as ‘she’, as was the way back then, a way that seems so old-fashioned, even patronising now.

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1970 Camaro 35 yrs in the same ownership

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What I marvel at is that those childhood memories were of a time when the motor car had only really been accessible to the masses for such a short time, maybe thirty years or so. Even now, thirty years further on, the motor car has only really been around for the briefest moment in time, and may not, in comparative historical terms be around for that much longer.
I attended the fiftieth anniversary of the launch of the P6 Rover at the glorious Waddesdon Manor a few weeks ago. The sight of a hundred and fifty or so gleaming examples of these cars that were so cutting edge in the earliest years of my childhood was unnerving in a way, as was the passion and intensity of the interest present in their owners. These people are the curators of one small part of our heritage, and on a larger scale the people who came here to Northfield Farm on Wednesday 4th September share that same role, just with a much morediverse collection of vehicles harking back to the early 1930’s.

 

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The best known car & bike meet for miles around was held on the second Tuesday of the month in the tiny Leicestershire village of Ashby Folville. Running for many years, this event attracted thousands of people on Sunny afternoons and evenings. I started going a few times a year and marvelled that so many people could gather so calmly and with so little trouble. Sadly the behaviour of a minority of drivers has now led to the decision to cease holding the event, as reported on in the following article in the Melton Times:
http://www.meltontimes.co.uk/news/local/popular-car-meet-scrapped-1-5454997

The demise of the Ashby Folville event was the main topic of conversation among the enthusiasts who attended Northfield’s event on Wednesday. All felt that it is sad that the behaviour of a small minority should stop an event which had such a long and positive history and contributed so much to the activity and economy of local rural life.
Northfield will continue to hold a meet on the first Weds of the month, the next one being 2nd October 2013 from 17-00hrs.

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I had been hoping for some follow-up from the ‘meeeja’ after The Independent wrote a very positive review of my little book ‘Crushed, My NHS Summer’.

The following simple email appeared in my inbox.

‘Dear Jan,
I wonder if you might consider doing an interview on ‘Saturday Live’, Radio 4’s weekly magazine programme broadcast on Saturday mornings,
kind regards,…’

I didn’t want to gush too much about how much I admired The Reverend Richard Coles for his gentle wit, Sian Williams for being, well, for being, both brilliant and gorgeous, there! I’ve said it… and Corrie Corfield for having one of the most sensuous voices on the planet, as well as being an accomplished Ipad daubette. J.P. Devlin’s voice carries the memories of my Irish influenced childhood. I first became hooked on Saturday Live in the days of Fi Glover, her unique quirkiness made me smile so much. Put simply, it is a truly great programme.

I was even more thrilled that my presence was actually required, live, in the studio. I have done a few radio interviews over the years, mainly BBC Radio Leicester with Ben Jackson, Tony Wadsworth, Jonathon Lampon, and Damien St John. I have done a fair bit of telly with my friend Clarissa Dickson Wright, Great British Food Revival on BBC2, and more recently Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner on BBC4. In 2001 I filmed a Foot & Mouth special with Tony Francis and before that had huge fun working with Aaron Patterson of Hambleton Hall on both series of Wild About Food. But, Radio 4 has a special place in my heart as it saved my business back in 1998 with its ‘On Your Farm’ broadcast with Oliver Walston. Six months or so after having started Northfield Farm Shop, following my redundancy from banking, and before the existence of the re-born Borough and Broadway Markets in London, the business was just not reaching enough customers. That Radio 4 broadcast, early one Sunday morning, had customers beating a path to our door within a couple of hours. Many of those customers are still with us today all these years later.

On the Saturday morning, December 2012, I walked the short distance from a nearby hotel to the bright new BBC Broadcasting House, and was redirected to the original building next door. Rookie error at the time. Already waiting in the reception area was Emma Kennedy, unknown to me then, but, I soon discovered, a superwoman for modern times. Emma writes, acts, amuses, entertains, tweets and is addicted to BBC 4’s ‘The Killing’. In fact, so addicted, that she has taken on the self-appointed role of official stalker to the series’ star character, Sarah Lund and written ‘The Killing Handbook’. As if that were not enough, she dropped into Masterchef in 2012, and won. Emma and I were quickly shown upstairs to meet Chris Wilson, the executive producer and shown into the studio where I was introduced to the two presenters. They, Richard and Sian, are really just as I had anticipated and have described above. The four of us sat in a slightly gloomy, but very atmospheric room, gathered around an octagonal desk kitted out with screens, microphones and headphones. My back was turned to a large plate glass window behind which the production team sat and weaved its magic. This was the BBC at its sparse best, think the retro newsroom feel of ‘The Hour’ , late and lamented, on BBC2, without the fishnet stockings, cigarettes or Single Malt. Some of the lights appeared to be held together with sticky tape and post it notes, definitely no over-spend here. The room exuded what the programme achieves namely, relaxed, refreshingly old-fashioned professionalism.

Listening again to the broadcast, I realise that I failed miserably at answering Sian William’s questions. I seem to be a master at answering part of the question and then rambling away in my own direction. I hope she forgave me.

It really was huge fun to have become even a tiny part of the history of this great show.

You can listen to it here about 18 minutes in: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p027s

You can buy the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1908684194/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

Available in Paperback or Ebook form

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Producer profiles

I wrote this article as pasrt of a series of producer profiles for Great Food Magazine. Photos are by its editor, Matt Wright

The story of Rutland’s famous miller

Published May 28, 2012

By Jan McCourt

Fifty years ago, a boy climbed onto the back of a pony in rural Leicestershire and rode out into the countryside. The little boy lived in the city of Leicester. Ponies are conducive to childrens’ dreams. This dreamer’s dream was quite unusual. On his regular route lay the Fenney Windmill at Shepshed. The mill towered above the little boy as his pony ambled by. From the first time he saw it from his pony, much as it would have been viewed more than a century earlier by any traveller on horse-back, Nigel Moon decided he would become a miller.

Childhood dreams come and go. Nigel’s dream was shared by his parents. As it became clear that young Nigel was very serious indeed, so his father, a fresh water biologist for whom the countryside was a passion, and his mother, started driving around the country with him, looking for mills in need of rescue.

Having tried to buy Whissendine mill in the early 1970s, the family bought derelict Soham mill, Cambridgeshire, in 1974, which they restored. Nigel’s mother ran a shop in a caravan selling flour and frozen ready-mixed dough. Their aim, was to encourage people to bake their own bread using real flour.

Nigel restored the mill at Soham and rebuilt its sails, his first attempt at doing so. Paradoxically, Nigel, having adopted the most traditional of crafts, embraced the future. He decided to use a steel arm in the new sails as a stronger option instead of the traditional wood. When the sails were finally ready to turn in the wind, he let them gather speed. The great new sails came slowly to a halt as the wind died down. Nigel’s mother stood back to admire her son’s great achievement just as the weld on the new steel join cracked. The whole sail sheared off and, falling, impaled itself in the ground a few feet from where his mother was standing.

History does not record how Nigel’s mother reacted, but she is still to be found, now in her nineties, hard at work supporting her son in his lifelong endeavour. Nigel learnt his lesson from his flirtation with modernity. He went back to wood.

Although Nigel’s early attempts to buy Whissendine Windmill had been rebuffed, he maintained contact with the building by helping  in the restoration of its windows over several years.

The family’s quest remained beset by the curse of the drive to convert mills into houses as an alternative form of a rural-housing dream. This in itself was a threat to the remaining mills’ chances of ever regaining their original purpose.

Nigel still had his heart set on taking on the Whissendine mill and negotiated with its owner at the time for three years.

Between 1981 and 1986 Nigel was commissioned to rebuild Wymondham Mill. He managed to buy Whissendine Windmill in 1995. Too few of us ever really realise our dreams. Nigel was determined to be what he has since become: the proprietor of one of England’s few remaining fully operational nineteenth century windmills. For Nigel though, he had to be a very particular miller. Not for him the glistening steel of modern, sterile, equipment, or the link in the chain of creation of mass-produced bread.

Nigel’s views are clear. To preserve our mills, we must stop viewing them solely as objects to be preserved. They must earn their keep.

Outside Whissendine Windmill lies one of the many scale models of a mill that Nigel made as a boy. If you were to conjure up an image of a typical miller, your vision would be of Nigel. The miller, covered from head to toe in a light dusting of organic flour, his blue eyes dancing and shining brightly above a smile, surrounded by his thick beard.

More on Whissendine Windmill…
The 60-foot tower mill was built in 1810 and restored by Nigel in 1996, having stood idle for 74 years. The mill produces a variety of flours. Address: Melton Road, Whissendine, Rutland LE15 7EU, 01664 474172

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I was upstairs when my phone rang, my elder son’s name, Leo, showing on its screen. A short pause.

“We’ve got two for the price of one here” his slightly breathless voice called across the crackling line.

“What are you on about?” I asked, laughing.

Leo was driving home from Agriculture College and stopped to check on our in-calf cows in one of our fields. One of our rare breed White Parks had just calved, a bonny heifer calf already up on shaky legs and tottering towards Mum’s teats to suckle the all-important colostrum. Colostrum is the first milk, thick, golden in colour and full of the antibodies without which the new-born would be left exposed to many otherwise harmless illnesses. As he walked quietly up to the old cow Leo saw a movement in the long grass a few feet away. Puzzled he altered his course towards the movement to find a second calf. At first Leo looked around thinking that another cow had calved, but he quickly realised that this was the last White Park due.

“We have a set of White Park twins”, Leo answered, “a boy and a girl” both seem to be doing really well, as is Mum”.

I don’t know the statistics, but twins are very rare in cattle. Our rare breed British Lop pigs frequently have litters of ten to fifteen piglets. Our ewes commonly have twins, and even triplets every now and then. I have been breeding cattle for over twenty years. Twenty Years!  I barely feel old enough for that to be possible. This is only our third set of twins in all that time. Even then the last twin was a calf we found wandering around the barn early one morning, disowned by its Mum, so we never actually managed to find out who produced her. She was hand reared largely by Dom, my youngest. For many years we used a more than life size photo of him bottle feeding her in our marketing. Dom hated this photo as it apparently did nothing for his considerable street cred.

A couple of days later, I went to check on the cattle outside. Rain drove down from the hill above the farm and raced across the land under glowering skies as the evening light faded early. I drove my old Land Rover up the lane to view the cattle. They were all there, oblivious to the elements, except that one of the twins was nowhere to be seen. Calves are funny sometimes. They like to sleep a lot, and often will search out the tallest grass, or a thick clump of nettles or thistles, as if by instinct, like Brer Rabbit, they understand these to be the safest places to snooze. So, almost certainly, the missing calf was nearby, but any stockman worth his salt would want to know for sure, as did I. No matter how well you know your cows, it really is not a great idea to walk among them newly calved. We’d had so much rain recently that while my trusty Land Rover was unlikely to get stuck, it would certainly make a mess of the long lush grass. The light was failing fast so I drove quickly back to the farm and took our quad out of its secure hiding place and gunned it up the lane. I didn’t have time to dress for the weather, and the sharp needles of the rain pierced through my clothes to my skin within seconds. Once in the field I rode across and up to where the cattle were huddled, not far from an old hedge, backs turned into the howling wind and biting, cold rain. The cattle called to me in unison and trotted over to where I had come to a halt, no doubt hoping that I might have some food for them. The mother of the twins held back, watching over the same calf that I had seen earlier which lay curled up asleep nearby. She called to me again, but this time she also clearly looked all around as if searching for her other calf, which no doubt she was. I could barely see as my spectacles lacked windscreen wipers, but the cattle settled down once it was clear that I bore neither food nor harm. I moved the quad as close as I dared to the White Park cow. Its calf woke up, raised its head and looked at me for all the world as if it saw wet farmers on quad looking down upon it with great regularity.

I spent the next hour searching the field from the quad, going over and over the same ground again and again. Part of the field is very steep and leads down to a brook which normally babbles innocently along. The innocent babble had turned into a furious torrent which, in a few places, had broken its banks. There are ancient hawthorns, bent and twisted, shrouding hobbit-like refuges dug out over the years by sheep and cattle sheltering from the elements. Old trees and bushes grow in thickets, probably dating back centuries to when the whole of this area was covered in forest, and only populated by truly wild animals.

I was really cold, by now soaked to my skin, tired and having been quite jolly about the adventure initially, now very down it the mouth and increasingly certain that disaster had struck in some shape or form. It was almost dark and visibility sorely lacking. I have heard tales over the years of people snatching young animals from fields and barns. There is an increasing amount of poaching and butchery happening in fields. Reports of farmers finding mutilated lambs and ewes in their fields abound. With these tales in mind, I took one more slow turn around the field, searching the fence line. Down a steep slope in wet corner, furthest away from where the herd was still standing in the relentless rain, I thought I saw a flash of white. I stopped and looked again, but it was gone. I turned the quad carefully around to look again, and there, barely visible through the long grass, and only visible from that one specific point and at that one specific angle was something white. Hopeful that it was the missing calf, half certain that it was probably not, I inched the quad bike slowly forward. Whatever it was, lay on the far side of the fence, just at the top of where the river bank dropped steeply down to the swollen torrential water flow. I stopped alongside the fence, stood up on the bike and leaned over towards the white thing. Sure enough, it was the missing calf. It lay very very still. It noise, ears and feet tipped in black, the rest of its body brilliant luxurious white with flecks of black randomly splashed over its body. I dismounted from the quad and clambered over the fence. Still the calf stayed curled up tightly in a ball, either dead or asleep. I bent down and gently caressed its head and moved my hand down the length of its body. To my relief, the velvety coat was warm to my touch. First one eye, sheltered by long 1950’s movie star lashes, opened, so slowly and then the other. Seemingly oblivious to the Lear-like weather conditions and the loud thrumming of the bike a couple of feet away, the missing person looked me straight in the eye calmly and slowly blinked a couple of times.

I rubbed its body more vigorously to get the blood flowing and helped it to its feet. I lifted it up and lowered it gently over the fence into the field. The calf shook himself like a dog in the rain and then took off like a race horse, along the line of the fence, found a hole in the wire and tried to return to the safety of the long grass. I grabbed his back legs as he tried to disappear through the wire fence again. He was too skittish for me to be able to herd back to the family group, so I carried him over to the quad and held him in my arms while I sat astride the big machine. The calf, actually not so little when he’s slung across your lap, struggled at first and then settled down. I pointed the quad at the hill, lent forward over the great hairy lump on my lap, one hand on his back and used the other to open up the throttle and head up the steep hill. Once at the top, I could see the rest of the cattle still stoically resisting the rain at the far end of the field. I felt like a cowboy in an old western film, bringing back the lost calf to camp and to the adoring eyes of some tightly clothed Hollywood bombshell. In my case, no bombshell, and the only eyes on me were distinctly bovine. The calf, surprisingly strong, tried to leap to the ground a couple of times during our journey, but otherwise behaved very calmly. I pulled up as closely to his Mum as I dared and called to her, making my best impersonation of a calling calf. As she began to come towards me, I let the calf slide gently off my lap onto the ground. With no look back, its tail high in the air, the little thing raced over to Mum, immediately searching for the milk bar. I stayed watching for a couple of minutes, savouring the moment. I drove happily back to the farm and a hot shower.

If you enjoy reading about Northfield Farm you might like my E-Book available on Amazon at  www.amazon.co.uk/Crushed-My-NHS-Summer-ebook/dp/B007X4L2LM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335351051&sr=8-1

 

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