Wold Tom

DIRECTIONS                                                                                              

Wold Tom is a decent enough chap if you treat him right, but he’s got no time for ‘townees’, or so-called gentry-folk, especially if he thinks they’re looking down on him.

One sunny day we’re standing by the bridge, watching the water go under when a smart car comes up and stops alongside us.

“You there,” shouts this city gent type, “How do I get to Honeymoon Farm?”

Tom gives me a look. It was this gent’s attitude, you see.

“What do want to go there for?” he says

“I have business there,” says the gent.

“With Joe Attrill?” Tom says.

“Yes, as if it is any concern of yours,” says the gent, getting a bit tetchy.

Now, in fact, the fellow had just driven past the end of the lane leading to Honeymoon Farm, but there was another way to get there.

“Ah!” says Tom, “Only it’s a tidy way, see, and the road’s not so good, muddy and potholes, you know, and I was wondering about your car, that’s all.”

“Never mind the car, just tell me how to get there!”

“Right,” says Tom. “You just carry on along this road till you come to a tall ash tree and take the next turning right. Carry straight on when it turns into a gravel track, then about half a mile on you come to a few oaks, and just after that you take the left fork until you see two beech trees side by side and then there’s a cottage with a real savage dog, so watch out there, and turn off to the right, through the hollies. Then there’s a patch of green with quite a bit of bracken and when you’ve gone past that you’ll see a little clump of silver birch and that’s where the road gets real bad. Go on for about another half mile and the road dips down and goes through a ford. I reckon the water will be quite deep after all the rain we’ve had lately. If you get out the other side you’ll see the road carries on and goes up again, and where it’s all furze and heather, that’s where you’ll see the roof of Honeymoon Farm, just over the other side of the hill.”

“Just a minute,” says the gent, “Go through it again, slowly, will you, while I write it all down.”

So Wold Tom gives him a friendly smile and goes all through the rigmarole again.

When he has got it all down the city gent type winds up his window and drives off without so much as a thank you.

“He’ll have to hurry,” Wold Tom says to me, “If he wants to catch old Joe.”

“Why’s that?” I say.

Tom gives me a sad little smile. “They’re burying him at eleven o’clock.”

 oOo

(A Little Bit About Wold Tom)

‘Wold’ Tom Grannitt is the same age as me. We were both born and brought up in the village and we started school together on the same day, sharing the same double desk in the front row of the infants’ class for the first couple of terms. That’s all we ever had in common, but although I left the village after university and worked all over the country, I came home on visits every six months or so and we kept in touch all through the years. Now that I’m retired and living back in the old family home, we have a pint or two together in the Red Lion from time to time.

On his mother’s side his family were what nowadays the politically correct language police call ‘Travellers’. Tom says she was a gypsy, one of the Costengris, from genuine Romany stock, ”So you can say I’m a genuine Diddikoi, being half and half, neither one thing nor the other”.

In the summer her people used to travel the country doing seasonal work like fruit picking, coming back to their winter encampment just outside the village in the Autumn. When the war came along gypsies were prevented from moving about and many of their traditional camping places were taken over by the authorities, so Tom’s grandmother obtained a long lease on the field next to the council houses and her family settled there in half a dozen caravans. The locals were not too happy about that, but as the old Romany lady said, “If we’re staying here we got to behave ourselves ’cause we’re the first you’ll come to when summat wrong ‘appens.”

They moved on after the war and, of course, as farming is so different these days we never see them now.

Tom’s mother was a strikingly good-looking woman as I remember her, long black hair, dark skin and deep blue eyes, sort of almond shaped, and she usually wore bright colours, typically a red scarf, sparkling white blouse and long, flowing skirt, narrow at the waist. She had been a circus performer before she met Tom’s father, and I can remember seeing her once standing on the back of a big white horse as it galloped around their field. I never saw Tom’s father. They say he ran off when the war started and joined the Merchant Navy to avoid being called up, but he never came back, so after that Tom was brought up by his Granddad.

Tom is not a big man, but sinewy and very tough, full of vitality. He inherited his mother’s good looks. When he was a little boy he had masses of dark curly hair, his mother’s deep blue eyes, and a sweet innocent face. When he smiled, as he often did, he looked like a little angel. As he grew up he still smiled a lot, but he looked more like a little devil.

He always says he never earned a week’s wage in his life. By that he means he was never permanently employed by anyone. When he left school at fifteen he worked with his grandfather on their rented smallholding, full-time at first, but gradually he took up general dealing, buying or selling anything that took his fancy, or just as often merely introducing buyer and seller and taking a commission from both. He seems to have a knack for getting bargains. He says if he has it’s genetic, inherited from his mother’s folk, but I think there is more to it than that. I know for a fact that as a teenager he spent a few weeks every summer traveling with his gypsy relatives and I daresay they taught him a trick or two.

To be honest I like him, I enjoy his company and I admit I’ve always had a grudging admiration for him. For one thing, he is always cheerful, nothing ever seems to get him down and he generally manages somehow to make the best of any situation. I know he has little regard for rules and regulations, and there have been times when he has been very fortunate to avoid going to gaol, but he pays his fines on time and doesn’t complain when the law does catch up with him. He is, in truth, a lovable rogue and these stories, which are either about him or told to me by him, are a testament to a vanishing breed, the old-fashioned village character.

oOo

A GOOD DEAL

Honeymoon Farm had become rather run down in the year or so before old Joe Attrill passed away and we all wondered what would become of it. Joe’s only son Derek had a well-paid office job in London and he’d never shown any interest that we knew of, so we were surprised when we heard he was coming to take over at Easter.

Derek had grown up on the farm and we all knew him to be a good lad, honest and straight, if rather naïve. Wold Tom decided to look after him until he’d settled in.

The first thing Tom pointed out to Derek was that there was a lot of pasture and very little stock on the farm to graze it. At the time Tom was still in dispute with the folks at the Big House over the increase in the rent for his fields, so he was urgently in need of some grazing himself. He offered to bring his animals in ‘for the good of the land’. Derek thanked him and readily agreed.

Twenty Acre Field was still lying empty though, so Tom persuaded Derek to go along to the market with him to see what bargains there might be.

They went in early and while Derek wandered around enjoying the experience, Tom went looking for the bargains. He spotted a group of hairy but very poor, thin cattle and on enquiry, discovered that they were first-cross Friesians with a Hereford bull, and the farmer who had brought them to sell was having family problems so the farm work had been neglected. These cattle had been left out on the forest all winter and they had obviously had to make do with very little feed supplement.

Tom had a good, close look at them. Their matted, hairy coats were as thick as rugs and underneath he could see there was very little meat on their bones. In another week or two they would have lost too much condition, but they all seemed to be alert and free from any sickness.

He went and found Derek.

“If you want some good store cattle, I’ve seen a bunch that will make a good few quid come Guy Fawkes day,” he told him. “We’ll see what happens when they come up for auction,”

They had to wait until the very end and when eventually the cattle came into the ring, Derek was disappointed and said so. “No, I don’t think so Tom. They don’t look as if they’ll survive till Guy Fawkes Day.”

“They’ll do alright in Twenty Acre,” said Tom.

“But they are so skinny and hairy.”

“Ah, but remember the old saying, ‘In Spring hair is worth more than a meal’.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Derek, “I can’t afford to waste any money.”

“Look, they’re bound to come cheap, Derek. Tell you what, if you can get them at under thirty quid I’ll go halves with you.”

There was very little interest and the bidding started low, probably by the auctioneer himself.

Tom raised Derek’s arm and called out “Twenty pound!”

Derek looked at him in alarm.

A half-hearted “Twenty-one!” was heard.

“Go on!” said Tom, giving Derek a nudge, “Twenty two!” he called, and Derek found himself paying for twenty very scrawny cattle at twenty-two pound a head.

“A real bargain,” said Tom, and he went to arrange for them to be delivered straightaway.

On their way back to Honeymoon Farm, Tom said, “If we put them straight on to Twenty Acre I reckon the grass will be a bit rich for them at first, and they’ll purge. I’ve got a bit of cotton cake I can spare if you’d like to go halves on that as well. That’ll bind them for sure.”

When the cattle arrived they were fed with the cotton cake and a few bales of Tom’s old hay before being turned out on to Twenty Acre Field. Derek went anxiously to check them every morning at first, but very soon they had grown their summer coats and the grass in Twenty Acre Field brought them on so they looked a picture. Derek was relieved, particularly since Tom had not yet got around to paying his half of the price.

On Guy Fawkes night I was standing with Tom watching the sparks fly up from the bonfire when Derek came up to us.

“I sold those cattle this morning, Tom,” he said.

“Get a good price, then?” said Tom.

“Ninety pounds a head,” said Derek as he handed a cheque to him. “You’ll see I’ve taken off your half of the purchase price and allowed for the cotton cake and a bit of your hay. That was a good deal you made me do, Tom.”

“Only too glad to help,” said Tom, putting the cheque in his pocket unseen.

After Derek had left us Tom took out the cheque, looked at it and smiled. “Seven hundred quid,” he said, “Not bad for a day at the market and a few bags of old feedstuff.”

 

 

 

 

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