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Feather's Miscellany: Simon Braithwaite

Stevens-Smith grinned from ear to ear. “A ‘must’ in my job,” he replied, then tried to impress Simon with his computerage and made him a bet. “Let’s have a little wager, Mr Braithwaite,” he continued. “I’ll bet you £5 I can tell you exactly how much stock you have on your farm without leaving my car.”

But can a politician iutwit a canny Dales farmer?

John Waddington-Feather tells another choice tale.

The Braithwaites had farmed the hillside north of Keighworth for generations; and for generations they’d sold milk in town from their herd of cows. taking it there in great churns in a horse-drawn float. Old Sammy Braithwaite, Simon’s dad, had been a familiar figure in town doing his milk-round before adjourning to the Cycling Club or Willow Tree pub on his way home. When drink sometimes overcame his ability to drive, he was loaded into his float and his loyal mare took him safely home to be unloaded by his wife at the farm.

The roads then were relatively free of cars and lorries, so horse-drawn vehicles were still a familiar sight right up to the 1950s. Council refuse-collectors, hardware merchants, greengrocers, rag-and-bone men, (who collected old clothes, jam jars and rabbit skins) and coal-men all used carts or wagons lugged by sturdy shire horses. These, during the course of their travels, deposited welcome droppings almost on the doorsteps of the allotment owners who lived in the cramped terraced streets. When money was scarce, there was a positive race with buckets and shovels to scoop up the rich offerings left in the street by tradesmen’s horses.

But Sammy had passed on like the age of horse-drawn traffic, and his son Simon ran the family farm in a new way. He diversified, and sold the herd of milk-cows which his father had milked by hand nearly all his life. Milk was no longer economical for a hill-farm, so Simon sold off his milk quota and concentrated on rearing beef cattle and sheep. He owned several hundred acres of moorland which his sheep grazed and which rich London business syndicates paid him goodly sums of money to shoot over in the grouse-shooting season; and he also had a steady income from a pair of holiday cottages which he’d converted from an old shippon. So all in all, Simon was well off compared with his dad and didn’t have to work half as hard. He even went on holidays abroad with his wife Jean; a luxury his dad never dreamed of.

One summer, a city-slicker rented one of his holiday cottages, arriving from London in a sleek, brand-new BMW with a dolly bird in tow. He was a small dapper man called Montague Stevens- Smith, very self-assured and very talkative, especially when he talked about himself. The moment he arrived at the farm he tried to impress Simon with a collection of fancy computer gadgetry he had in the back of his car; and while his girl-friend unloaded their cases from the boot, he chatted with Simon outside the cottage and had the cheek to make him a bet.

“By Gum,” said Simon outright, nodding at the back seat of the car, “but you’ve some fancy stuff in there.”

Stevens-Smith grinned from ear to ear. “A ‘must’ in my job,” he replied, then tried to impress Simon with his computerage and made him a bet. “Let’s have a little wager, Mr Braithwaite,” he continued. “I’ll bet you £5 I can tell you exactly how much stock you have on your farm without leaving my car.”

“Nay, never!” said Simon, feigning amazement and acting the yokel.

“Indeed I can,” boasted the other, and pulled out his Dell notebook computer from the car, connected it to his cell phone and surfed to a NASA page on the internet. From there he called up a GPS satellite to get a fix on his location, before feeding it to another NASA satellite which scanned Simon’s farm with an ultra-high resolution image which he exported to an image processing facility in Germany. That done, within seconds he received an e-mail telling him his image had been processed. He made a few more complicated moves on his computer then full of himself pointed to a detailed image of Simon’s farm and the moors above it.

“You have seventy cows in the fields below your farm-house and six hundred and fifty two cattle on the moors above it,” he said proudly, showing Simon the image.

Simon looked suitably impressed – by the gadgetry but not its owner. He’d begun to dislike the little twerp more and more. He slowly took out a fiver from his wallet and passed it over to Stevens-Smith, who grinned from ear to ear. He placed it in his own wallet then bent down to pat an animal which had joined them. “Is this your pet sheep, Mr Braithwaite?” he asked. “It’s very tame.”

Simon gave him a disdainful look. “Nay,” he answered, “it’s an Old English Sheepdog. I breed ‘em. An’ them cows on t’moors weren’t cows at all. They were sheep.” The other looked surprised, and Simon went on, “An’ I’ll tell thee summat else, Mister Montague Stevens-Smith.”

“Oh?” said the dapper little man, looking rather crestfallen now.

“I see from the letter you sent me booking the cottage that you’re a Member of Parliament, a politician.”

“Why, yes,” said the other, perking up.

“An’ I’d like to bet that you’re in the Ministry of Agriculture,” said Simon.

“Quite right, but how did you guess?” said Montague-Stevens looking puzzled.

“Because, Mister Montague Stevens-Smith, you may know a lot about computers with all that fancy stuff you have, but you know nowt about farming! Now can I have my fiver back?”


Shippon = Cow shed.
Summat = something
Nowt = nothing

John Waddington-Feather ©


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