Worries about Thomas and school

29/1/43   Metcalfe and Peggy are both back and so I stayed in bed this morning and let Cyril milk with Metcalfe. I find life very hard. I’m not referring particularly to the last few days which were physically hard in a way no one could stick for very long, but to life on the farm generally. There are so many difficulties and worries. Everyone has to be driven or cajoled. Then I worry about the children. And I never have any fun. I don’t envy you your Christmas parties, but look how often you get drunk! Now I never get drunk; you can’t get anything to get drunk on and I should love to get really drunk just now and then.

I’m not telling you all this just to complain, but when you came home you may find a lot to criticise or feel reproachful about. I want you to know that I find life hard, dreary and at the same time difficult, so that you will be forgiving and not too critical. There are a lot of things on the farm I really love. Tho’ I don’t think one could truthfully say I bit off more than I could chew, I find the chewing fairly tough. And I sometimes think you think too much of what I have done or do and begin to picture me as a much more successful and brilliant person than I really am. I’ve been meaning to tell you for some time not to be impressed by things like broadcasts.

Young bullocks, some with horns

I have lost my watch you gave me. I was carrying a forkful of silage down at Broadlow when a bloody great bullock charged playfully at me in his attempt to get at the silage and his horn grazed right down my arm and wrist. I didn’t realise it at the time, but he must have skimmed off my watch, and, of course, when I did find out and go back to look, the straw was all trampled and trodden.

This is an example of Frankie’s natural courage, in spite of her nervous temperament. Most people are nervous of bullocks – young male cattle usually kept for fattening for meat –  as they are not aggressive, but pushy and over curious.  She wasn’t frightened at all. Nor was she frightened of the large aggressive pigs, or the gentle but huge carthorses. One of the tales of our childhood was how, when a bull got loose inside its pen and attacked the cowman, none of the men watching dared enter but Frankie went straight in and secured the bull and the cowman’s safety.

1 /2/43   Pat came over with two old farmer birds to go shooting, and Thomas insisted on going with them with his bow and arrow. He got soaked to the skin and trudged right round the farm on the heaviest day that I have known since I have been here, but he never drew breath once and enjoyed himself no end. I’m sure he wouldn’t be such a cissy if only he had a man in his life. He so seldom gets an example of how men behave and he is tough enough if he is interested.

Frankie is starting to find Thomas difficult. Not because he wa badly behaved, but because he was nervous and temperamental, often given to tears. Their relationship suffered because of this, and he probably felt the lack of a father’s presence more than I did.

7/2/43   I have temporarily started to try to teach Thomas myself. It is only a question of putting his lessons into the category of things which have got to be done during the day.

The Russian news continues to be almost incredible and even I have started to be moved by it. (February 2, 1943  Germans surrender at Stalingrad in the first big defeat of Hitler’s armies.) This means quite a lot, because I long ago gave up taking any interest in the progress of the war. At some point which I don’t remember the whole thing became for me simply a period of time to be got through and what happened during that time relatively unimportant. I think it is the German propaganda which has got me this time. It is so extraordinary to hear Goebbels and Goring talking like we did in 1940.

8/2/43   I managed Thomas’ lesson alright and I think I shall in fact manage it most days, as I am now determined he shall learn to read and so I am quite keen on teaching him.

Mr Highman, foreman at Gypsy Hall Farm. Thomas loved him
Mr Highman

The hard thing on this farm is this. Highman, who is almost without exception the nicest man I have ever met, has absolutely no drive at all. Nor can he manage men. Therefore I have not only to supply the drive but also to be constantly on the alert to circumvent Highman circumventing me out of sheer good nature. For instance, Metcalfe is a lazy bugger and always trying to get other people do his jobs. At one time he had the whole farm staff dancing round twenty miserable cows on at least two days a week. Then I put my foot down and said no member of the farm staff was to do anything for him without my permission.

Nevertheless, I can’t stop Highman. He has Nanny’s quality of always doing himself anything he thinks needs doing. But it is no good in a foreman. I will go out in the afternoon leaving Highman to mend a drill I want to use the next day. When I get back I’ll find he hasn’t touched the drill because Metcalfe’s calves were so badly in need of litter. Then my whole week’s programme is buggered up. Then Oakley and the land girls all take life too easily because he lets them. So lately I have had to start working in the fields with them as the only means of getting anything like the right amount of work out of them. It makes life very much harder than it ought to be, but on the other hand Highman has so many wonderful qualities and is so loyal and conscientious and hard working that one has to forgive him. Cyril Wheeldon , too, is a wonderful boy.

20/2/43   To-day is our anniversary. Perhaps next year we shall be together.

I have found a school for Thomas and I think a good one. It’s at Henley in Arden and he can go as a day boy, if we can get him there. We couldn’t do this for very long, as it involves getting him to the main road by 9 am for the bus and fetching him back off the bus at 1.20. But I thought if he went this term as a day boy and liked it and got on well then next term he could go as a weekly boarder. He starts on Monday and Rose is going to Nanny for six weeks on Friday, so peace will reign for a bit.

 22/2/43   Thomas is a funny little boy. Yesterday we went for a walk round the farm and I told him the right way to trap rats was to find out where they went to drink and set the traps there. Later we saw the print of a rat by a puddle by a rick. T immediately made up his mind to become a rat-catcher. For a solid hour he talked of nothing else. I said he could have some traps I bought for the house, which are the ordinary kind you set with cheese, and not the proper kind, but I thought would do. So after lunch he set off. Nora kept setting the trap for him and he put it in a basket to take to the rick, but every time he moved off the trap sprang itself. Nora finally got fed up. So about 2.30 he came into me with his eyes bunged up with weeping and his nose running etc. I said “Poor little boy, did it catch your fingers?” “No”, he said “But I can’t get it down to the rick”. I said alright, I’d go with him, and we would set it when we got there. He stopped crying immediately and reverted to his former eagerness. But the odd thing is that he knows quite well that the chances of his catching a rat are very low but he doesn’t mind that a bit. He says “I’ll tell you what. I’ll go and look to-morrow and if there’s nothing there I’ll leave it one more night and if there’s nothing there I’ll know it’s no good.” Yet he is so excited about it that, although to-day is his first day for going to school, his first words this morning were “Mummy, do you think there’ll be a rat?”

Later. Thomas came back from school and in answer to “Did you like it” said “Yes, all except one part” “Which part was that?” “Well, at eleven we have a cup of milk, and a bun with currants in it.” “Well, what didn’t you like about that?” “Well, all the boys came scattering round me.” “What do you mean?” “Well, they all said what’s your name and where do you live and a lot of silly questions.” All this delivered in a completely matter of fact tone and apparently he had answered all the questions but just didn’t like it much. Otherwise a success.

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A Woman's War