Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Dignity of Labour

When I left high street bookselling, I swore that I'd never work on a Saturday again. But that was before I ended up here:

Even on a grey, misty morning, the drive to my cow shed always cheers me up. The fields appear still and empty, but the surrounding hedgerows are full of life and as I approach, rabbits, squirrels and pheasants run for cover, whilst hopeful sparrowhawks hover above. So far I haven't hit any animals, but a man in Spandex cycle shorts almost came a cropper.

The cow shed may be rather spartan, but it is in a beautiful, quiet place, run by an old Sussex 'gentleman farmer', whose family have been there for generations. After years of working in awful places like Slough and Crawley, it seems too good to be true.

I could quite happily stay there forever, but sadly I'm about to leave and move here:

This is a very different sort of farm - one where sullen, limbless people glare at visitors and the ground is littered with dead rats, whilst semi-erect dogs bark half-heartedly. I'm not joking about the limbs, by the way. I saw four people today and only two of them were in full possession of their extremities. I shall steer clear of any farm machinery while I'm here.

Why am I swapping my rural idyll for this post-apocalyptic settlement, you may ask? The answer is simple: money. The new barn is relatively cheap, with enough space to allow the business to expand significantly. It also has doors that are big enough to take lorries, so deliveries and waste collections will no longer involve an absurd, albeit scenic, time-wasting drive around the lanes of East Sussex.

The one downside of a large space is that it will be impossible to heat, so I have spent most of today building a garden shed-cum-office with a carpenter from Brighton:

I'd been a little apprehensive about spending a whole day making something with a complete stranger, but I needn't have been. The carpenter from Brighton was a true gentleman and when the time came to say goodbye, I felt a genuine pang of regret.

As we chatted, he told me that he'd left school at 16 and joined his father's business in the building trade. He loved the work, but hated the environment: "You know, there's only so long that you can work with racist, homophobic Sun readers." He has now set up a silk screen printing business, but still does a bit of carpentry on the side. I wish him well.

The shed may not be the height of luxury, but it will be warm and I'm sure that with a little effort, I can imbue it with the opulence of an Ottoman palace.

It took six hours to build the shed, which was quite long enough for me - I'm not a huge fan of manual labour. When I returned home, my reward was reading the Guardian Weekend magazine in a very deep, hot bath.

I will miss the old farm, with its chocolate box scene of lush green fields and rolling hills in the distance. The new farm is muddy, smelly and unfriendly, but offers me the chance to make hay while the sun is still shining, if you'll forgive the crass metaphor. I've no idea what will happen to the book trade during the next few years, but I have to assume the worst.

In the meantime, I have found a new rural idyll:

While I'm hanging around, waiting for my son to finish his hour of 'farm therapy', I get to brush the mud out of a pony called Lucy. She seems to enjoy it and I'm picking up a useful skill for the post-apocalyptic society that will begin in 2017.

Everyone's a winner.


Ms Baroque said...

I' so glad your business is doing so well Steerforth, you deserve it. I envy you your focus and sense of purpose - what a year this has been! mine are suffering - and I really hope the new place works out. I think the unfriendliness would be a dealbreaker for me at the moment, but you'll have your lovely Ottoman shed, and when you sit in there working you'll have the memory of the happy silkscreening builder. Mazel tov.

Steerforth said...

Thanks Katy - I should add that I won't be working alone. I'll be joined by two charming, interesting postgrads and one of the cast of a well-known BBC soap opera (who wants a bit of pin money as he doesn't get paid when his character isn't part of the storyline), so I think that will more than make up for the surly farming folk.

Whether I'll ever get used to the smells and constant mooing is another matter.

Martin said...

Good luck with the move, Steerforth. 'Post-apocalyptic society' presumably when the earth is consumed by The Sun?

Anonymous said...

When you have filled all that space, will you let us know if we can buy books from you over the internet. Or will that come later

You obviously have customers at present and perhaps don't want to widen your customer base but I am sure your blog-followers would step in and buy when trade slumps.

If so, I have a list.

Steerforth said...

Martin - I hope that Rupert Murdoch will be consumed by the earth rather than vice versa. He can't live forever (or can he?).

Anon - Thank you for your words of support. I think I'd feel a little embarrassed about promoting my business on this blog, which is why I don't mention its name. That's probably quite daft, but I only feel comfortable taking money from complete strangers.

Canadian Chickadee said...

Good luck in your new digs. I'm glad things are going well enough so that you have to move. Keep us posted. xoxo

Steerforth said...

I will. Expect a shed update ;)

zmkc said...

Why are you spurning the poor brush-loving pigs?

Steerforth said...

I didn't want to seem too interested in the pigs. Hopefully, we'll be reunited tomorrow.

Little Nell said...

Good to hear that the business is expanding. Good luck with the move.

Ms Baroque said...

Ohmigoodness. Staff!

Sam Jordison said...

Why 2017?!

Kid said...

I felt like I was leaving a much-loved, idyllic spot along with you. It was a wrench, and I'm going to miss the place. Can't you maintain some kind of link to the gentlemen farmers?

Steerforth said...

Kid - Yes, I'll try. Mind you, the new farmer's a very nice man - it's just his tenants who are a little 'reserved'.

Sam - It may be sooner if Mitt Romney is elected, but is suppose I was hoping for four more years of Obama, which would probably mean that some war-mongering nutter is elected in 2016.

Ms Baroque - Yes, staff. I swore I'd never manage people again, but I'll never get anywhere unless I have some staff. Luckily, they're a pleasure to be with.

Also, during a recession, perhaps the most socially useful thing I can do is create jobs.

Nell - Thanks. So far so good.