Farming is not difficult to learn

Frankie was a tremendous perfectionist and this side of her character contributed to her emotional swings. When facing a challenge or succeeding in meeting it she was always elated. Delays or failure to succeed cast her into the depths of despair. Jack understood her and had an extraordinary tolerance and acceptance of everything, so he was not upset by her letters.  When there in person he could keep her steady, but this side of her character made separation especially difficult for both of them. She says at one point that she loves him and needs him because he brings out the best in her whereas nearly everyone else brings out the worst.

She found most aspects of farming easy to learn, including driving heavy machinery and managing the enormous cart horses, even judging when the crops were ready. She finally concluded that farmers, like many experts, try to shroud their work in mystique and impenetrable pessimism as a means of boosting their self-image. They need to give the impression that it is far too difficult for ordinary people to understand or succeed at. The reason that farming is difficult is down to external factors like the weather, also the seemingly irrational behaviour of animals or their illnesses, and sometimes sheer overload and volume of work rather than to any mastering of the theory or practice.

26/3/42  You ask about pig feeding. Ours are not fed as they should be in wartime. They should get potatoes and certain amount of swill — so should our hens. But these need boiling every day. I can’t do it because I don’t live at the farm and therefore I should do it one day and not the next. Mrs C won’t, she is too lazy. So both our pigs and our hens get a perfectly orthodox pre-war diet which is taken from the coupons which are issued for the cows as we produce enough home-grown for the cows. This is a very good example of the sort of thing that gets me down and completely spoils my fun.

Tractor on Frances Donaldson's farm, gypsy hall. Farming is not difficult to learn
Some of the farm men. Mr Highman driving the Caterpillar International tractor

27/3/42   This was my day. Started a bit late to feed the pigs at 8.45. Finished about 10 and went into Stratford to cash cheque and do week’s shopping. Came back and went up to farm and mucked out one lot of pigs. Lunch. Went on International Tractor with Carling for 1 ½ hours. Turned out also to be easy. There is something to learn this time as it works on entirely different principles. Two joysticks and two brakes and you turn by judicious application of the brake and joystick on the side you want to go. Very simple, but I haven’t the guts to tell Carling it’s dead easy and any half wit could do it so I let him instruct me.

I’ll finish my day, then come back to that subject. Came back to farm and prepared food for pigs. Tea. Fed farm pigs then went to Broadlow where I was supposed to try and shut up a sow and litter who had to be brought up to the house to-morrow. Very very difficult without supreme luck as no-one can catch or drive six young pigs. Found mum and piglets all out together on the wheat. Chased them up and down for about ½ an hour trying to get them in. Then realised that everywhere mum went the pigs went too. So decided to take a chance and chase mum up to the farm there and then. Very anxious-making as if any one got lost on the way complete chaos would ensue. Got them as far as the farm gate when they all separated as mum gave up playing.

However, Carling, Hall and Marjorie all turned out and in about 1/4 of an hour they were all safely in a box, which will save three men about an hour’s work to-morrow. Came home and dug deep and manured four rows and dug over three rows which were dug deep in the autumn. Result, now pretty tired. To go back to tractors. Look here, whatever I do or don’t do in the immediate future, I absolutely know I could run a farm without a bailiff  provided I had proper cottages for a good ploughman and cowman. It is really rather exciting because it means that you could if you wanted to when you came home.

I already know what to do in most cases and I am beginning to force Carling to teach me also how. I absolutely bet that whatever happens now if we want to farm after the war we shall be able to and damn well. This makes me want to. What I could never stomach was the idea of you spending your good brain and character on the sort of humiliation and petty thwarting which I have had ever since we bought G.H. But now I don’t think you’d have to. You could go straight to work and I could teach you all you actually need to know in the first year. I’m sure we should do far better than we ever could with a bailiff.

I read in the Tribune that the Times has a new editor. I think it must be true as it is now an excellent paper and produces the most staggering leaders and articles and is becoming my bible.

I wear your socks with gumboots. They are all wearing through. When any shrink so that you can’t wear them please post them home to me.

31/3/42   Mr Stewart has fixed for me to go for a short time as a pupil to a man called Wilkins who is wonderful on implements. I shall only go for about a week now but if I get on well with him I shall go back in June or July when he is ploughing for summer fallow.

I never mention the war now. There are too many places involved. So I just don’t bother and I get along better like that.

8/4/42   I took the car to London. When I got there I went shopping all day and Buck took me out. Went to a baddish film called John Pulham Esq and then to the Savoy.

Adrienne Allen
Adrienne Allen British actress in the 1930s and 40s

The next day I went to lunch with Adrienne and her new husband. (Adrienne Allen, an actress, I liked him very much but they gave me a lot to drink so that may have coloured my views a bit. Then I picked up Eddie S.W. (Sackville West) and took him down to Fisher’s (the de la Warr house). I do like Eddie. He is so sweet and simple and not all difficult in all the little ways I would have expected him to be. I think he is rather remarkable because fundamentally he must be a neurotic, but, if he is, he has got complete control of himself and doesn’t really show it at all. I expected him to be detached and bored by the discussion of his own subjects by people who are not his equals. But we talked nineteen to the dozen all the way down and all during the week-end he was ready to discuss Tolstoy or agriculture.

Eddie Sackville West
Eddie Sackville West, music critic and friend of Jack’s

I started off about Hemingway and he said that he hated the book so frightfully that he had made an opportunity to drag it into an essay which was about something quite different. He thought he might be prejudiced but he was also quite sure he was right. But later on I found he admired Emlyn Williams who in my view can only be described by the jazz word “corn”. So I came to the conclusion that intellectuals are not infallible in taste any more than anyone else, although they may make fewer mistakes. Any way it cheered me up because if he can like Emlyn Williams I can certainly like Hemingway. It is the same with Edith Evans. All you highbrows like her but I heard her the other night in a modern play and I know she is utterly bad.

I hate it here. That’s about all there is to that. It’s so squalid and unattractive and there is no warmth and the whole thing is a very dignified uphill struggle where I have no friends and no-one who regards me as an equal but just hundreds of people to whom I am just “the Missis”, and who regard me with varying degrees of like and dislike but never as a person like themselves. But when I went to Fisher’s this week-end it was like getting into a warm bath and not wanting to get out of it. I basked physically in the whole atmosphere. Not only because it is comfortable and they are all kind to me and surround me with affection but also because of having people like Eddie to talk to. And here there is no-one and it is like going back to school.

In a month or two when the petrol ration is stopped altogether it will be even worse because, altho’ I shall have petrol for the farm, one will be liable to be stopped on the road and asked where one is going and what for; so one will never be able to use the car except for strictly farm business and I shall never be able to go to Peggy’s or Hannah’s even on a Sunday.

I wanted to be a farmer. I have no interest here in this farm. I don’t believe that I shall make much money this way. It all destroys my faith in myself. With Carling what happens is that I see the point and what needs to be done but I can’t reach it. I can’t run it without him because of the appalling shortage of room for workers and all that stuff of having to have a man in the house and the difficulty of getting servants. So I either stay here and go from bad to worse or I make a move.

Well now, I could just take a little farm either as an extra to this, which means raising more money, or let this and take a bigger one. Or I could sell this. Now here is where ambition comes in and the need for your understanding and approval. Deep down I believe very strongly in myself. I don’t really want a little farm, tho’ I think I should be quite happy if I decided that way. But ultimately I want to be a big farmer and a great business woman. I believe I could be, too.

Of course I shall feel quite different some other day because I always twist and turn and play with a lot of different ideas before I actually make a decision.

This morning Thomas and John Highman came in and said they could help by digging the garden. I remembered their little spades were at the farm and thought by the time they’d fetched them they would only dig for 10 minutes and then stop, so I said yes. They both looked so eager. My dear, they have dug literally and absolutely the whole garden and put a load of manure in. But they only dig about an inch deep so it is just a mess of soil and manure, so how in Heaven’s name shall I get it right? They are so pleased with themselves and have dug like maniacs all day.

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A Woman's War