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How to make a pheasant sweat (and other rural secrets)

How to make a pheasant sweat and other rural secrets: From crashing his tractor in a 52-acre field to fighting a losing battle with Whitehall, Jeremy Clarkson’s latest dispatch from the farming front line is a riot of humour, wit and genuine passion

  • This second book about Jeremy Clarkson’s farming career recounts more tales
  • The cheerful read describes more of the disasters that keep befalling him
  • TV presenter, and as in the first book, plays them for maximum comic effect 

BOOK OF THE WEEK

DIDDLY SQUAT: ‘TIL THE COWS COME HOME

by Jeremy Clarkson (Michael Joseph £20, 240pp) 

Jeremy Clarkson is talking to Cheerful Charlie, the land agent who advises him about his farm in Oxfordshire. Viewers of the TV series about the farm will know that the ‘Cheerful’ is ironic.

True to form, Charlie gives Clarkson some bad news, this time about brome, a harmful weed that has invaded the barley field. The best way of dealing with it is to burn off the stubble, but they’re not allowed to do that these days because of the smoke it creates.

His answer to Clarkson’s next question is predictable: ‘No, Jeremy. You cannot have an accidental fire either.’

This second book about the TV presenter’s farming career recounts more of the disasters that keep befalling him and, as in the first one, he plays them for maximum comic effect.

This second book about the TV presenter’s farming career recounts more of the disasters that keep befalling him and, as in the first one, he plays them for maximum comic effect

Contemplating the field where he’ll plant his oil-seed rape, he knows that ‘the dreaded flea beetle will be out there, knife and fork at the ready and its napkin tucked in’. He tries growing wasabi, the spicy plant used in Japanese cookery, but the pheasants eat that. ‘Have you ever seen a pheasant sweat? I have.’

If the arable farming is troublesome, Clarkson’s animals are a nightmare. His sheep perform so many escape attempts they make Steve McQueen look like an amateur. Then he notices that mutton gives him heartburn. ‘Yup, even from beyond the grave those bastards continue to make my life miserable.’

His cows need housing during the winter, so he has an expensive barn built by a man called Lee, ‘whose upper arms are larger than my thighs and who has no need for sleep’.

But the cattle refuse to leave their field, because they won’t cross the line where the electric fence used to be. Not where it is now — where it used to be.

Then there are the tractors. Or, to be exact, Clarkson’s inability to drive them. At harvest time you have to look forwards to see where you’re going, but also backwards to make sure your trailer is lined up with the combine: ‘Ideally a farmer needs to have one eye on either side of his head like a cod.’

His 20-something assistant Kaleb cannot bear to watch Clarkson’s efforts. And he is distinctly underwhelmed when his boss manages to hit the only telegraph pole in a 52-acre field.

Mark Mason writes: ‘If the arable farming is troublesome, Clarkson’s animals are a nightmare…’

Mark adds: ‘Clarkson has always been more nuanced than his critics give him credit for. You’d assume, given his popular image, that he’s pro-Brexit but, as this book reminds us, he’s passionately against it’

As if the farming itself isn’t hard enough, the people who regulate farming are determined to make it impossible. Clarkson is unimpressed with ‘the eight-year-olds at the Department of Agriculture’, and with ‘the anti-farming, anti-meat campaign of Carrie Johnson and her lapdog in No 10’.

Regulations make sense ‘from an armchair in Whitehall’, but not out in the field. Forbidden from burning his stubble, Clarkson spies a solution to the brome problem. Seeing the ‘idiotic juice bars’ which use ‘the daftest, laburnum and nettle ‘I saw you coming’ ingredients to win the hearts and minds of thin urban women who like to start their day with a glass of green slime’, he dreams of selling them his weeds: ‘Get a couple of Instagram influencers on board with the idea that brome is the new eco-friendly alternative to avocado and we are away.’

Some of the barley from his farm gets made into beer. Lager, that is, not a ‘James May beer’ … it does not have twigs and mud in it’.

Clarkson is unimpressed with ‘the eight-year-olds at the Department of Agriculture’, and with ‘the anti-farming, anti-meat campaign of Carrie Johnson and her lapdog in No 10’

But yet again Clarkson is stymied by officialdom. Lawyers advise that his proposed advertising slogan for the drink — ‘just what you need before a hard day at work’ — won’t be allowed.

Throw in the perennial problem of weather (one storm is so strong that ‘next month my wheelie bin is having to go on a speed awareness course’), and you wonder why Clarkson bothers at all. Because he loves farming, is the short answer.

He realises that a nation’s farms are a crucial part not just of what it produces but of how it looks. This is why he disagrees with ‘the vegetablists, who have it in their heads that ruminants are somehow bad for the environment. ‘Right, OK. So let’s get rid of all those wildebeest on the Serengeti, shall we?’

Clarkson has always been more nuanced than his critics give him credit for. You’d assume, given his popular image, that he’s pro-Brexit but, as this book reminds us, he’s passionately against it.

And unlike many of those critics, Clarkson knows that answers are never simple. In farming ‘there’s never a right or a wrong way of sorting something out. Even after 12,000 years of agriculture we are still feeling our way around’.

He openly admits that he’s ‘permanently conflicted’ when it comes to killing animals: ‘I wouldn’t hurt an otter, but would happily stamp repeatedly on the head of a badger.’

That’s because the badger — which the authorities won’t allow him to kill — might give his cows TB. In which case the authorities will kill the cows. But Clarkson has that covered. If ‘the Government sends round an execution squad, I shall simply tell them that while my cattle look like cows, they actually identify as alpacas’.

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