An American couple having enjoyed a Kit Hill moorland walk one sunny morning in the 1960s came down the footpath and into our farmyard where Dad was carrying on the business of the day and said, ‘You might want to know there’s a fawn in the gorse bushes over there?’ Dad realising they had mistaken one of his pretty Ayrshire calves for a deer, explained it was part of the farm family and its mum was away grazing, there being no wolves about as far as he knew. The visitors stopped to chat and most likely had a conversation about the Old World versus the New. Dad knew little about the Americas but could tell them who in his family had escaped the 19th century poverty of Cornwall to find new lives over there in Vermont, Peru or Michigan. At some point they told him his Cornish land was heavenly, and Dad most likely shrugged his shoulders inside his raggedy jacket.
That dinner time, he regaled us with the exchange, uttering the memorable line. Here’s me living in paradise and didn’ know it. We knew what he meant. Life on that Cornish hill farm was not all ‘pretty calves in the grass’. When the Atlantic mizzle was horizontal, getting the cows milked and the churns down to the gate for the milk lorry to collect by nine oclock, didn’t feel like paradise.
Mum and Dad came to the farm work from different cultural directions. Mum bought the farm in Cornwall from choice, partly as a romantic adventure, an escape from the urban dull life, mapped out for her in post war London. She had travelled, gained a degree in agriculture and seen life alternatives. Dad came from a world of daily toil and non-stop wrestling with the elements as generations of his family had before him. He told me once he saw farm work as lowly drudgery. Sometimes he would hide in his nest of haybales in the the barn with a book like King Solomon’s Mines to escape.
The works of Henry Thoreau extolling the rewards, the aesthetics of manual work had passed Dad by. He didn’t know that only fifty years later there would be books extolling Walt Whitman’s ‘hourly routine of a working man’s life’ and there would be a continued ‘Ruskinian infatuation with the artisan’. For him the artisan work was a burden. Re-building hedges, baling hay, getting up in the middle of the night to check on a calving cow, calling the vet, paying the vet…. Adventure and romance for him lay elsewhere in a gold mine of South Africa which is ironic when you think about it.
In his retirement, he enjoyed reading and resting in the front room, away from all labouring with a double-glazed window to protect him from the paradise outside.