John Arnold: A quiet time, where nature and folk take a well-earned break

Farming life changes at this time of year, says John Arnold, but the work never ceases.
John Arnold: A quiet time, where nature and folk take a well-earned break

TIME MOVES ON: John Arnold’s parents’ wedding day gathering in 1952. His father died when John was just four

WE dried off the cows this week. For those from a non-farming background, this basically means that our herd are now no longer milked twice a day.

It’s not that the cows or us are on holidays, but things are of a different tempo, a bit slower.

All going well, from early February these grand cows will give birth to their calves, milking will resume once more and so it goes once more.

We all need some down time — even the cows. With the twice daily task of milking not on the agenda for the next eight weeks or so, you might say we’d have it ‘fine and aisy’, but not so. The cows and the younger stock must still be fed every day and preparations made for the new calves in the spring.

Yes, farming life changes at this time of year but the work never ceases. I suppose we could imagine we were ‘on holiday’ in Fuengirola or Frigiliana, stay in bed ’til ten in the morning, ate a buffet breakfast and go for long, leisurely, languid walks around the fields. But no, life and farming goes on and if we have dry, cold and hardy weather, the winter can be just lovely too, different but lovely in its own peculiar way.

The last few weeks have been rough with wind and incessant rain. I hate clothes and for some unknown reason I despise any waterproof gear. You see, I’d sweat like a pig if I’m covered up too much. So, getting drowned wet and constantly changing from working clothes into more, older, working clothes a few times daily is part and parcel of a rain- sodden November.

This year has been so quiet and even in a normal year November is the quietest of all. My auntie Bridie died at Christmas time last year. I do miss her a fright, not just calling to see her but enjoying the benefits of her brilliant memory.

She was the person to ask about people, places and things. I’d be somewhere, at a match, or the Mart, or at a funeral or a meeting, and someone would say ‘Hey John, are you related to the... Murphys or the Dooleys or the Barrys of such and such a place’. I might know but if I didn’t, quick would come my answer ‘I’m not sure, but I’ll ask Auntie Bridie, she’ll know’, and of course invariably she did.

Born in 1928, just three years after my mother, her school days in Britway, the death of her father in 1943, Mam’s wedding, tales of Aunt Nora who died from the Spanish Flu, and Auntie Lizzie who could trace back for generations, were on her lips as if they happened just yesterday.

Oh, I do miss her a fright altogether but I thank God she lived for 91 years. Her beautiful Memoriam card came yesterday. There’s a stunning verse on it which sums up this time of year for me and is a real ‘Pointer’ for life and living.

Take time to think, it is a source of power

Take time to pray, the greatest power on earth.

Take time to love and be loved

As you are loved and remembered every day.

They say tomorrow is Black Friday which means nothing to me — apparently it’s an American post-Thanksgiving frenzy of commercialism and purchasing stuff for no good reason.

What a contradiction, the feast of Thanksgiving — for freedom, family and community — and then, wham; craziness goes through the roof as people just are swept along on a tide of near ‘mustbuyitis’.

Alright, even me, the humble John Arnold, has got ensnared in the power, the lure of Black Friday, this year and I’ve finally decided after months of procrastination to take the fiscal plunge — we’re purchasing a spang new wheelbarrow in the morning!

That line is awe-full and awe-inspiring — ‘Take time to think, it is a source of power’. As we were drying off the cows, I was thinking if Christ had got one cow for every year he spent on this earth, he would have as many as we have in our little herd now!

I got to thinking on nearly five decades of farming. God willing, we hope to finally pay off our mortgage next month after 40 years. All the ‘if onlys’ — if only we hadn’t to pay close on 20% interest on the loan, if only we had been able to afford more sheds and more cows, if only this and if only that, but then we have our health and that’s our wealth.

I was always a great fan and follower of enough. Once we had enough food on the table and timber in the grate and enough hay and silage for the cows and enough to rear and educate the lads. Enough is just great, just perfect.

We have all we need and after so many years farming and writing, there’s no point in listing off the maybes and ‘if only I’d got 6 Honours in the Leaving’ back in the swinging ’70s.

Do I lie awake at night pondering what my life would have been like if only this or only that? I do, but only for a minute, and soon my nocturnal thoughts turn to sweeter things like friends and family and then I fall asleep, smiling.

We might have a few extra cows next year if we could build a small new shed to winter them. We might keep a few extra calves and fatten them up for sale. Over the next few days doors must be hung on the old Stall and a roof replaced on the back Shed and a new water supply connected, for the cows and the hens are to reinstated in the old Fowl House.

I must put a marking stone up on the spot where we buried our dog Murph during the year. There’s a few slates to be replaced on a roof and two gates to be hung. I built a stone pier over at the end of the Little Iron gate Field in early summer. When the silage men came, the gap I’d left was too narrow for the big machinery so ‘twill have to come down and be rebuilt.

These quiet winter days are a time for renewal and recharging of batteries, both spiritually and mentally. We went for a week’s break to Lanzarote about ten years ago and said we’d go back there but haven’t done so yet and next January won’t be a time for flying anywhere.

But time itself flies and Auntie Bridie’s memory reminds me to ‘take time to think, it is a source of power’ — yes, as I walk and work these fields I think of who trod the same paths.

My grandfather died six years before I was born and my father just when I was four — there was only ten years between Batt and Dan Arnold. I can’t remember either man but so many people I’ve met down the years say on hearing my name: ‘Ah, Batt Arnold’s grandson’ or ‘Are you Dan Arnold’s son?’ and they’ve told me so many stories about them.

My grandfather was a perfectionist and no matter what he did, farming-wise, it wasn’t good enough — in his estimation! My father then was a mechanical genius, ‘great with his hands’, everyone said, and ‘he could fix or make anything’.

Did I inherit any of those genes? Hard to tell, but this I know, they were of this place and loved these fields too.

Ah yes, and the fields need a rest now as well. The soil yields its bounty of grass and other crops but, like us, it needs down time, a quiet time, a quiet land.

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