Six go down to London town

We arrived in London with my Father’s perpetual big city advice ringing as always in my ears – ‘keep your wallet next to your balls Son’. We’re country people see? Big metropolitan cities aren’t our usual hang out. We live and roam in green wide open spaces. Look out of our draughty old Welsh farmhouse windows at the moment and you’ll see fields, trees, sheep, dogs and mountains and that’s about it. But not this weekend. This weekend, we were in the big smoke. The former first city of the greatest empire the World has ever seen. We were in London baby, and boy did we have a good ol’ Cockney knees up while we were there.

My Sister, Brother in Law, Me, My Wife, and our four small Daughters rolled into St.Pancras Station early on a Saturday morning, before heading underground and jumping onto the Piccadilly line to Leicester Square. I love the tube. Always have. The heat, the smell, the bustle of it all. The advertisements for West End musicals, exhibitions, and performances of all kinds plastered all over the walls. The buskers singing and bashing out tunes on their guitars and saxophones. I marvel at the feat of engineering it took to build it every time. I think about all the Irish navvies that dug those tunnels with picks and shovels, dynamite and muscles, curses and sweat. What men they must have been. The Children squeal with delight at every bump and turn in the track and we embark breathless and head up into the tumult and excitement of central London. To Leicester Square and the newly opened LEGO store.

We walk past the Odeon Cinema where all the big film premieres are held and join the queue (How exquisitely British) of excited children and adults waiting to head inside. Our eldest daughter Gwen animated about the StarWars and Batman lego, and Ffion and Mair awestruck at the giant model of Big Ben they can see at the window. The staff heading the queue, in top hats and long black frock coats, friendly and animated with the Children. Tourists from every corner of the globe, as well as those from a small corner of North East Wales, gather all around. We finally get inside and take a family photo in the huge LEGO tube carriage with William Shakespeare and The Queen on either side of us, as you do. And the Children get pictured with a London Bobby and Batman (LEGO, not real). They play with the toys, we look all around, oo and ah at the displays some more, and they depart with their promised treats – a keyring each. What? We may be in the City for the weekend, but we’re still farmers remember..

From there it’s soggy tuna sandwiches and crisps for lunch. And where do we eat our picnic? The foyer of the prestigious National Portrait Gallery. Home of some of the most priceless works of art in the Country. And do the staff mind? Does anyone care that us and our children just nip in there to eat our packed lunch? Not a bit. No one bats an eyelid. Bloody marvellous. So with us all re-energised, we head back outdoors, and down to Trafalgar Square. Ah Trafalgar Square. Just the name of it fills you with pride, let alone the sight of it. It never fails to take my breathe away as you walk around the corner and Nelson’s Column looms into view. Over 50 metres tall with a statue of the greatest of Britons, Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson on top, it almost makes you want to down tools, button on a red coat and sign up for an invasion of France. I give the column a wink and hop on one leg quickly (one for the cricket fans there), but despite my best history geek Dad efforts however, the Children are far more enthusiastic about the street performers, and especially the ‘floating Yoda.’ Eventually we drag them on down to the huge bronze Lions at the corners of the column, and they get excited at the thought of one of them coming to life and them riding on his back around the City, as happened in a book Gwen got for Christmas (Katie in London by James Mayhew – highly recommended.) We take photos and move on again.

We walk under the splendidly neoclassical Admiralty Arch, at one point the official residence of the First Sea Lord, one Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (Whatever happened to him?), and start the walk up the broad open space of the Mall. With St. James’s Park on our left we pass the monument to Captain Cook and I begin to tell the children about this gruff, brilliant son of Yorkshire who sailed through previously uncharted seas and discovered Australia and New Zealand, before they eventually carry on without me, impatient to see the ‘Queen’s House’ at the end. We walk on past memorials to the Royal Marines and The Guards Regiments, and eventually past the awe-inspiring golden statue commemorating Queen Victoria, featuring the figures of Victory, Courage and Constancy, and arrive at Buckingham Palace, with the Union Jack at full mast, signalling to the extremely excited Evans girls that the Queen was in residence. They hang on the railings and watch the Guardsmen on duty, pacing up and down. Gwen whispers to me that she wants to be a Guardsman when she’s older. I whisper back that nothing could make me more proud. Once again I begin to go into a history reverie (I’m only ever half in the present) and imagine what it was like to be there, on that spot, on 8th May 1945 – VE Day. The jubilation, the flag waving, the overwhelming sense of.. ‘Daddy I’m hungry’ Yes, back in the present day it was time to move on again.

We walk across Green Park, and by now the children are tiring. I have Branwen in the backpack and Mair in my arms as we watch the Women’s March against Donald Trump go past. Thousands of people of all races, religions and sexualities taking part in a peaceful and ordered protest. I hope to myself that my girls will have the courage and conviction to stand up for what they believe in when they get older, whatever that may be, and I’m glad they saw it while we were there.

From there it’s back underground, and across to Westminster. The beating heart of British Government and democracy. It’s bloody heaving with people. Too many for us country bumpkins, and especially for me. I can feel my Wife looking at me, knowing only too well that I’ll be beginning to freak out. I don’t do heavy crowds. I’ve never actually had a panic attack in one, but it’s been close a few times. As the Dixie Chicks once said, I need wide open spaces. So after looking at Big Ben, and me nerding out over my absolute favourite London statue – Boudicca – what a woman (And for me the greatest of all Britons), we head across Westminster Bridge, counting the boats and red buses as we go, and turn left down the South Bank. We dodge and weave our way along the embankment, past the London Eye and it’s mile long queues, “Next time kids”.  We watch some skateboarders performing tricks (one stacks it and falls spectacularly on his arse and it’s one of the day’s highlights for me), and we call for a well earned drink in a bar. Mine and my brother in law’s beers disappear within seconds. Nothing induces thirst like carrying Children long distances. After the girls finish their fancy hot chocolates we move on to Blackfriars before jumping on a train back to my Sister’s house in the suburbs.

You hear a lot about big cities like London being cold and unfriendly. No one speaks to you. No one cares. Everyone’s miserable. But that’s never been our experience there at all. We’ve always found it to be vibrant, hospitable, and full of incredibly polite and lovely people. Just this day there was the West Indian guy at the station who came out to see if Ffion was ok after she got stuck in the ticket barrier and he saw it happen on the security camera, the glamorous French ladies who graciously moved along a few seats on the tube unprompted so our girls could sit down all together, and the Asian fella who picked up Branwen’s soggy and battered bunny and sprinted after us to return it to her after she dropped it without the rest of us realising. Not all heroes wear capes indeed.

Brexit and the current political situation in the UK has brought out the worst in a noisy minority of nasty idiots, and it’s sadly empowered many of them in our country. But adversity unfailingly brings out the best in ordinary people too, and it certainly has in our amazing, wonderfully multicultural capital city. People are going about their business and getting on with living life in London, like they have since it was a busy Roman fort occupied by legionaries from every corner of the Roman Empire in 200ad. And for a very brief time, 6 country people from Wales were a part of it.

Until the next time London.




My American Dream

I’m not sure how cool it is to admit this right now for reasons I don’t have to explain, but I’ve been an unapologetic Americanophile for as long as I can remember. And unless you count a few hours in LAX on the way to New Zealand, where we encountered some of the friendliest and most polite airport staff in existence, I’ve never even been there. (And any U.S. readers, if you find this hard to believe, try arriving at Heathrow, Gatwick or Manchester from a long-haul flight and see misery and rudeness personified.)

But the thing with America is, you don’t have to actually go there to fall in love with the place; from the movies and TV shows, to the food and sports, the epic history and breaking news, we’re bombarded with US culture on a daily basis. It’s inescapable, and I bloody love it. I’ve rarely met an American I didn’t like, primarily because they tend to be unerringly polite, optimistic and have an ‘I’m here and let’s get it done’ attitude that I, as a shy, reserved and stiff-assed Brit, can only admire and aspire to.

Like most British families if you go back far enough, I have family links to the States. My favourite of which is my Great Grandfather Evans’ brother, Jonah (never was a man more appropriately named by the way). In the early 1900’s he emigrated there, got a job, bought some land, struck oil on it, made a fortune, then promptly lost the lot on women, gambling and horses. Later he came back to Wales and sporadically lived with my Great Grandparents on the farm whilst on shore leave from the merchant navy. What a story, and what a man. The very epitome of the American dream you might say.

As a hopeless history geek, I’ve always been fascinated by this amazing country’s heritage and heroes. From the early immigrants seeking religious freedom, to the pioneers from every corner of the World who moved westwards across the great plains and built a new nation with their blood, sweat and tears. From the native American tribes who fought so valiantly for their lands and culture, to the African American community who marched and campaigned with such dignity for civil rights. Men and women of every race, colour and creed, came together in this unique cultural melting pot, and despite the numerous conflicts of interest, turned it into the most powerful nation on Earth.

So many of my heroes have come from the USA that it’s impossible to mention them all. From that early president of Welsh descent, and lover of liberty Thomas Jefferson, to the Professor of Rhetoric turned soldier from Maine, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who saved the Union forever with his inspirational leadership and suicidal bravery at Little Round Top in 1863. From that semi mythical figure Crazy Horse of the Oglala Lakota who fought and died for his people, to the department store seamstress who refused to give up her seat in the coloured section of a bus for a white passenger despite the threats and intimidation, Rosa Parks. Just imagine the guts that must have taken. And then there’s Johnny Cash. A dirt-poor sharecropper’s boy from Dyess, Arkansas who who went on to become one of the most influential and charismatic musicians of the 20th century. As a kid I used to listen and sing along to his records with my Dad, and marvel at that beautiful baritone voice and southern accent. And I still do.

At a young age I read Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and was instantly and magically transported to the Mississippi river of the mid 19th century. Later I read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and despite all the novels I’ve read since, I’ve never been so effected by a piece of fiction. It blew my teenage mind and opened my eyes to what writing should be. It almost had a musical quality to it, a thumping rhythm and urgency that i’ve still never seen repeated. I’ve read everything that Ernest Hemingway ever wrote. And i’ve been there with his deep and complex characters in the Spanish Civil War, 1920s Paris, and deep sea fishing off the coast of Cuba. I fell in love with, and mourned the destruction of, the culture and societies of the plains Indians as I devoured every page of Dee Brown’s Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee. I’ve read it numerous times since, and it’s undoubtedly the greatest non-fiction book I’ve ever read. And I’ve been there, dusty and thirsty, riding every step of the trail with Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call driving cattle from Texas to Montana in the 1880s. I’m of course referring to Lonesome Dove, and quite possibly my favourite novel of all time. Love, sex, death, friendship, humour, violence; it has it all. And hell, all farmers are wannabe cowboys.

Speaking of farming, America has long led the World in agricultural science and technology and continues to do so. From early 19th century innovators and businessmen like John Deere and Cyrus McCormick, to Fritz Haber who developed the technique still used today to take the vast amount of nitrogen available in the earth’s atmosphere and convert it into nitrogen that plants can use. It is impossible to understate how this discovery has improved agricultural productivity. And then there’s Norman Borlaug who passed away just a few years ago, and who’s obituary read ‘… he taught the World to feed itself’. He is credited as saving as many as a billion lives with his wheat breeding and research programmes, and devoted his life to improving food production techniques. I could go on and on, but there’s no doubt that we’ve all benefitted from American scientific and agricultural innovation, wherever we are in the World.

There can’t be many people who haven’t seen and loved American films. Hollywood is everywhere. As a kid growing up in the 80s it was The Goonies, Karate Kid, and Back to the Future. It was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, and above all Star Wars. Always the underdogs triumphing over hardship and adversity with swagger and humour. For an awkward and geeky kid like I was, they were a glorious escape. As I got older it was The Godfather, Goodfellas, All the President’s Men, Casablanca, Saving Private Ryan, and perhaps most of all, It’s a Wonderful Life. Who doesn’t watch it without imagining living in 1940’s Bedford Falls? George Bailey I’ll love you ’til the day I die..

America is so many things to so many people. To me it’s all of these things I’ve mentioned and more. It’s Gettysburg, Omaha Beach, Iwa Jima and Khe Sanh. It’s NASA, Hollywood, and Silicon valley. It’s Elvis Presley, and the birthplace of Rock and Roll. It’s cheese burgers, fries, Budweiser, and Jack Daniels. It’s the fuck you attitude after the appalling tragedy of 9/11, and the inspirational stories of heroism and sacrifice that emerged from it. It’s breathtaking scenery and agricultural bounty of every conceivable kind, and friendly, tough, and hard working people. And that most of all. For me, it will never be the country of a spiteful billionaire from a gilded 5th avenue penthouse apartment, no matter how hard he tries to make it so. It will always be the country of truck drivers, teachers, office and factory workers, aye and farmers and ranchers, and all the rest of the ordinary people from every different faith, culture and background who get up and go to work to feed their families day after day. America is the eponymous hero of every Bruce Springsteen song ever written.

I recently asked on twitter what people’s impression of America was, what’s the first thing they think of. In amongst the numerous answers was one that really stood out to me, and that was a one word reply – ‘hope’, and that says it better than I can. Because despite all the recent turmoil there, despite all the divisions, violence, and anger, America is hope. For itself, and the rest of the World. And it always will be.

Finding time

Time. There’s never enough of it is there? And in bleakest mid-winter with it’s accompanying short days and long dark nights, sometimes it can feel like it’s slipping through your fingers like so many grains of sand. Well I’ve only made one resolution for this year, and that’s to find more of it. I have no strategy. No plan. No grand idea about how to accomplish this. I will simply just find more.

Because it occurs to me that it’s mostly in the mind. ‘I haven’t got time’ is the ultimate excuse. If you want to do something badly enough, you’ll just find the time to make it happen. Much to my delight, earlier this week my eldest daughter Gwen asked about participating in a parkrun with me. After checking the times for our nearest event and finding that it starts at 9am, my first thought was that it can’t be done. I won’t be finished feeding cattle and the rest of the morning farm jobs by then. But wait. No you don’t time you mean ol’ bastard. I can beat you by getting up an hour earlier, getting the farm work done, and running that first memorable race with my daughter.

I read to my girls every night, but I’ve found myself hurrying through it recently. Trying to get done by 7.30 so that I can get on with other things. Farm paperwork, writing jobs, marathon training, blogging, replying to messages. But no more. I’m resolving to find the time to not speed through reading with my girls. To savour every second before in the blink of an eye, they no longer need, or want me to. They’re discovering a love for literature, as I did at their age, and it makes my heart sing to be part of it. Soon we’re starting ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ together, and I can hardly wait. I’ll do those other less-important things after the stories are done.

I will find more time to be with, and talk to my wife. As a farmer I work long hours, almost every day of the year. When I’m not working, I’m either with the children, running, or writing. And when she’s not with the children, she’s chairing the village playgroup with all the roles and responsibilities that implies. It’s too easy to be passing ships in the night these days. But I won’t let that happen. I can’t. I need her too much. And I’ll find more time to spend with her, and make her laugh that incredible laugh of hers. And yes, that means less time for social media too. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in it, and before you know it, a precious hour has gone forever.

When I started this blog I didn’t have any expectations. I always wanted to give writing a go, and thought that I’d see what happened. Just get something out there. But now I’m enjoying it so much that I want to post more pieces on here, and particularly improve the look and feel of the site. I’m not particularly tech savvy, so just getting it up and running by myself was an achievement for me, but now I’ve done it, I’m no longer satisfied with it. Any advice or feedback in this department would be very gratefully received. And I will find the time to reply!

Ultimately, you can search all the religious, philosophical or scientific works ever written, and you won’t find a more truthful phrase in my opinion than ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person.’ Well I’m damn sure a busy person; I have a wife, four young daughters, two dogs, 330 cattle, 5000 free-range laying hens, and a few hundred acres of crops to find the time for. Not to mention a very average blog to work on, and a marathon in April to train for. But this year you can be sure that I’ll find more hours in the day to get things done. Because more than anything else in life, you’ve got to find time for the things that make you glad to be alive.



Living and dying in 2016

I’ve never found New Years’s Eve a time for celebration. For some unknown reason I always harbour a melancholy feeling deep inside. A sadness for the year that’s gone. My Mother is the same; perhaps it’s a celtic thing. A darkness in our souls that rears it’s head in the depth of midwinter and blinds us to the truths that are all around.

But of all years, this is the one that I should be glad to see the back of. Shouldn’t it? You don’t need me to tell you that 2016 has hardly been a vintage year for the World, we all know what’s happened. Whatever your political persuasion, the likes of Brexit, terrorist attacks, Trump’s election, and the ongoing situation in Syria have far-reaching effects for all of us. And sadly, many people seem to have nailed colours so firmly to their own particular mast, that they seem incapable of being mature enough to agree to disagree on things, and respect the fact that others may have another opinion to themselves.

Though despite all this, reflecting on what 2016 means to me personally has been quite surprising. Early in the year we walked around the 700 year old wonder that is York Minster, and even four very young children were moved to awe inspired silence at the gothic beauty and splendour inside. A similar wondrous silence occurring just a month later as they witnessed for the first time lambs being born at a friends farm. I don’t think I’ll ever forget their collective joyful smiles at seeing the new life emerge before them.

I have lost one dog, and gained another. The first being stolen from our farm one night, and not being seen since. A low point for our family not just for this year, but for our lives. But our new Welsh Sheepdog Gus, could just turn out to be one of the high points. He is an unbridled joy to be around, and is already universally adored by the entire family. He has ‘it’. That special talent and instinct that some working dogs have deep within their bones, and it’s exciting to see what he can become with time.

I held in my hand a Roman coin that a man with a metal detector found on our farm from 68bc. 68BC! It was an old coin even before the Romans arrived on this island. As a hopeless history geek I can’t begin to tell you what a thrill this was.

We have harvested excellent crops of grass, maize, and spring barley, but very average crops of winter wheat and particularly winter barley. Though the weather, and therefore soil conditions when doing so were unusually good, making the whole job relatively stress free. And throughout 2016 the best flock of hens we’ve ever had have performed like champions, laying well above average egg numbers for their breed. Cattle prices have held up reasonably well, and we’ve begun to see some of the benefits of expanding numbers over the last few years. Our hard work is beginning to pay off in that department.

I’ve spent a joyous long weekend with old university friends and their families, and watched our children hare around together forming fledgling friendships that will perhaps last for even longer than ours have. The thought of this brings a tear to my eye. I have taught my two oldest Daughters to ride a bike. And in fact, I let go of them both for the first time on the same day. And what a day it was. I suspect that I will remember the feeling of pride and elation as they zoomed away on their own for the rest of my life.

We Christened our youngest Daughter in the Church where we got married, my Parents got married, and my Grandparents are buried, surrounded by our family and friends. And afterwards we drank beer, ate hog roast, and toasted the health of our beautiful baby girl together. A day of laughter and celebration, followed by a day of more than a few sore heads. Memories are made of such things.

I badly tore the ligaments in my right shoulder, which has made farming and parenting a challenge all year, though it’s finally on the mend. We spent a memorable week in North Devon, playing on the beach, splashing in the surf, and eating pizza and drinking wine in the dunes (Us, not the kids. They don’t eat pizza.) And met in person the first of several twitter friends. Shout out to @newlandfarm and family who welcomed us to their farm in deepest, darkest Exmoor and even provided our Girls with a pony to ride. They’re still talking about it now. The kindness of social media friends never fails to astound me.

I have ran two half-marathons, and loved *almost* every second of both. Taking part in such large events surrounded by similarly minded and positive people was an incredible experience, and I’m proud of the money that I raised for Save the Children. I hope I enjoy the marathon that I’m training for in April as much. Though at the moment, after a week of Christmas excess, the thought of it makes me die a little inside. I’ve also been interviewed and appeared on my new favourite podcast (Shark Farmer Podcast, hosted by the one and only Rob Sharkey – check it out on iTunes) and made many new friends from that experience in the good ol’ US of A.

I stood with my one great love in the pouring rain at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, and watched my other great love perform for two and a half hours the songs that are the soundtrack to my life. My Wife, and Bruce Springsteen; I can’t separate the two. We danced together to Dancing in the Dark, just as we did at our wedding, and I’ll never forget that moment if I live to be 100. You can’t start a fire without a spark, folks.

I watched England and Sri Lanka play cricket at Lord’s with my Brother in Law, with Her Majesty The Queen flying overhead in a Chinook helicopter. After the match we met my Sister at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub, off Fleet Street. The former watering hole of such luminaries as Christopher Wren and Charles Dickens. I could’ve happily stayed there with two of my favourite people in the World drinking Guinness and wallowing in the history of the place for days.

I’ve attended two good friend’s weddings and celebrated their love and marriage with the best of them on the day. At the first of which, I got to see my beautiful Wife and Daughters as bridesmaids. We’ll be looking at the photos and reminiscing about that day for the rest of our lives together. I’ve also seen our 3rd Daughter, who turned 3 in August, both terrorise us and delight us at the same time throughout the year. We all know that 3 year olds are assholes, but my goodness she’s a character with it. I find I can forgive anyone almost anything, if they have a wicked laugh, twinkly eyes and an invariably grubby face.

I have started this blog! Eventually. I’ve been wanting to do it for a few years, but wary of criticism I haven’t had the nerve. I’ll keep working at improving it, and I’m conscious that I’ve a way to go, but here it is, grammatical errors and all. And you know what? I’ve bloody loved it. And I’ve even been offered some paid writing jobs for next year on the back of it, which is a bit of a head-kicker for me and far more than I ever expected. It’s also partly got me into a new project, which I’m tremendously excited about. You never know what’s around the corner if you’re willing to give new things a go eh?

And lastly, I’ve said Goodbye to a few much-loved family members. Two weeks before Christmas, both my Wife’s Grandmother, and Grandfather (on different sides of her family) went on their merry ways. They both lived the exact lives they wanted to live, worked hard, raised families and had no regrets, but they’ll be very sadly missed by all of us. Yesterday I read the eulogy and carried the coffin at her Grandfather’s funeral, and I can honestly say that he was one of the finest men i’ve ever known. I will miss him immensely. So it’s been a very sorrowful end to 2016 here.

So there you go/ dyna ti. In 2016 I have loved, laughed, lost, and above all, lived. Tomorrow night my Wife and I are staying in together at home on our family farm, and when the animals are all fed, and our Children are tucked up in bed asleep, we plan to drink a bottle of pink champagne that we’ve been saving, and count our numerous blessings. Life is wonderful, and there’s so much to look forward to in 2017.

A very happy new year to each and every one of you.


My Daughter, the Jedi.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (1983, Chester Odeon to be precise) my Mum took me to see Return of the Jedi and a life long love affair was born. It captured my imagination in a way that nothing previously had, and paved the way for a childhood spent bombing around our house, garden and farm with my prized toy Millennium Falcon pretending to be Han Solo.

So imagine my delight when my 6 year old Daughter Gwen arrived home from school one memorable day a few months back and asked me the question that every nerdy Dad wants to hear –  ‘Daddy, what’s StarWars?’

Yes, suddenly, completely out of the blue, Frozen is yesterday’s news. StarWars is well and truly where it’s at now.  And despite my long held love for the original trilogy, I haven’t pushed her into it at all, she’s discovered it for herself. According to Gwen, her ‘boyfriends’ (She has 6 of them, and yes you’re bloody right I worry) are crazy about it and talk of little else in the playground, and especially the new film, The Force Awakens.

In the latest incarnation of the movies, the lead role is a teenage girl – Rey, and it’s her who Gwen wants to be. So much so that she excitedly asked for a Rey outfit and a toy blue lightsaber for her birthday. So far, so completely 6 year old normal.

And then, the almost inevitable happened. She was told by someone at school that ‘STARWARS IS FOR BOYS.’ (Coincidently now she only has 5 boyfriends. HA!) But where does this come from? Parents? Grandparents? Retailers? The ridiculously outdated pink for girls/ blue for boys indoctrination that we’ve all been subjected to from birth?

A quick look at major toy store websites shows that they generally no longer separate toys by gender, so attitudes are beginning to change, if painfully slowly. Though on a recent, once in a blue moon visit to a local supermarket, I found myself having to shield my eyes from the wall of garish, bright pink crap at one end of the toy aisle, whilst at the opposite end all the cool action, adventure and building toys abided. The obvious message there being that little girls should be demure and pretty princesses, whilst little boys should be boisterous go-getters.

And it isn’t just toys either. I trawled for hours online in vain to find a t-shirt with Rey on it for Gwen’s birthday. There were thousands of cool ones available with male StarWars characters on, but the only ones I could find of Rey were pink (and cut for Girls; but that’s a whole other blog post). I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t recall seeing Rey wearing pink when she was fighting against Kylo Ren and the galactic empire in The Force Awakens.

What does it matter what a child plays with or wears? Why have we brought gender into children’s play for so long? One of my 5 year old Godson’s favourite things is his toy kitchen, but he’s also an absolute whizz at building technic Lego.  Gwen’s 4 year old Sister Ffion is rarely seen without her tiara in her hair and fairy wand in her hand (even if she’s climbing a tree, or helping to feed a baby calf at the time). As long as their imaginations are fired, and they’re learning that’s ALL that matters.

Gwen and I have a Daddy/ Daughter dinner and movie date planned in December to see the new StarWars movie – Rogue One. Another female lead, and a new hero. And I can’t wait.

In her 6 years on this planet my funny, caring and kickass daughter has wanted at various times to be a doctor, farmer, vet, taxi driver, and firefighter. And now? Now she wants to be a Jedi. And you know what, that’s absolutely fine with me.

Because I’ll tell you what, the force is strong in my baby Girl.









The Great British Nativity Play

There are many in this heady and excitable post-EU referendum Britain of ours that have it that if you don’t subscribe to the Daily Mail, heartily sing along to God Save the Queen at every chance you get, and have a picture of Boris or Farage as your screen saver, that you’re an elitist unpatriotic liberal un-British Europhile.

Well I don’t do any of those things. I don’t own a barbour jacket either. I’ve never watched Bake Off or Strictly Come Dancing. Neither do I eat a roast dinner every Sunday, and I try to talk about other things than the weather from time to time.

However, I do participate wholeheartedly (through my children) in what I consider to be perhaps the most quintessentially British thing of all. The annual school or playgroup Christmas nativity. And what an unadulterated delight it invariably is. All over the country right now, teachers and parents are giving up their spare time to coax very young, and sometimes reluctant, children into learning the words to Away in a Manger, Little Donkey and We Three Kings so they can perform them in front of an audience of adoring Mums, Dads, Grandparents and extended family.

And it’s the absolute chaotic randomness of it all that makes it so wonderfully special. Yes, there’s the classic nativity story itself, but when you’ve got a lot of children to make up parts for you also have to improvise a few supporting characters too. They can’t all be Mary, Joseph or an Angel. Some of them have to be a space alien, lobster, tree, or in the case of our 3 year old last week – a penguin. But it’s the stereotypes that I appreciate the most. The little characters who grace and light up with their presence every Nativity across the land.

There’s the one who freezes and forgets their line, and the one who rises to the occasion like a pro. There’s the one that falls off the stage (always my favourite part), and the one who’s concentrating so hard that you swear they’ll burst a blood vessel. There’s the one that smiles and waves to their Mum constantly, and the one that has a face like a smacked arse throughout. And all draped in tea towels, paper crowns, tinsel halos and dressing gowns (theres a poem there somewhere), with a plastic dolly in a manger as a centre piece. Or alternatively if anyone has a handy newborn, as we did last year, they’re roped in to play the baby Jesus. I’m not sure that JC shat himself as he was being presented with the gold, frankincense and myrrh like our Branwen did though.

But it’s not just the children. All adult life is represented too. There’s the harassed head teacher, or dotty vicar with hearing aid and glasses introducing the show, and the invariably older lady enthusiastically bashing out the music on the ever so slightly out of tune piano. There’s the Mum who got there two hours before the start to triumphantly bag a seat in the front and centre, and the Dad in a flash suit with one eye on the show and the other checking his emails. There’s the one with the really expensive camera with a 5ft long lens constantly snapping away throughout, and the one who gets summoned by a teacher to comfort their upset child backstage and has to commando roll around the front so as not to block anyone else’s view.

There’s the first-time parents. It’s all new to them. They hold hands and smile at each other whenever their child is involved, and the grizzled veterans with 3 or 4 kids, a thousand-yard stare and a much more laissez faire attitude to the whole thing. There’s the cheerful couple with the matching Christmas jumpers, and the parents that you just know will go home and critically appraise the whole bloody thing like they’d just been watching a performance of Othello by the RSC at The Globe. And in our case, there’s the farmers at the back, they’ve rushed straight there from milking, arriving half way through the performance and smelling mightily of cow shit.

But they’ve all made the effort and got there. And that’s the thing. In an age where Christmas has been thoroughly commercialised and we’re bombarded with adverts trying to sell us plastic crap that we don’t need from late October, the wonderfully shambolic Great British Nativity play remains the one thing that tells us what it’s all about. What Christmas really means, and why we celebrate it. It brings people together in a way that perhaps nothing else can at the moment and unites communities, however fleetingly, with a shared pride and warm glow inside.

So here’s to us all. To the children. To the Parents. To the Teachers. And everyone else who contributes to the glorious, chaotic, wonderful, random, shambolic, Great British Nativity Play. After all, it’s what Christmas is all about..








This is a difficult one for me as I’m going to write about something that I’m not really sure I’m qualified for, and I desperately want to do it justice. I recently noticed a campaign on twitter highlighting mental health in the agricultural industry ( #FarmerMentalHealth ) And yes, I’ve lived my whole life within the farming community, but no I’ve never been affected by mental health issues. Down, stressed, worried, anxious, and occasionally overwhelmed, yes. But depressed, no.  There but by the grace of God go I, to misquote one W. Shakespeare. Because it’s a very real issue affecting many of us in agriculture, and I’ve seen it in family members, friends and neighbours.

In the US, farmer suicides number just under twice that of the general population. In the UK, a farmer a week commits suicide. In China, farmers are killing themselves daily to protest the government taking over prime agricultural land for urbanisation. In France a farmer dies by suicide every two days. Australia reports one farmer suicide every four days. India yearly reports more than 17627 farmer suicides (Newsweek 2014).

These are sobering statistics. But why is this happening? What’s making people so desperate that they’re taking their own lives?. Farming as an industry can be tough. Terribly so at times. We work extremely long hours, and often in isolation. If it wasn’t for my family, I could easily go for days without seeing another human soul. Livestock need feeding every single day of the year, and if you’re ill? Tough, they still need feeding. Got a bad back/ knees/ hips from heavy manual work and years of getting on and off a tractor? Tough, it still needs doing. These things can drag you down. Nothing does like chronic physical pain. Or perhaps it’s the financial pressure. An overdraft stretched to breaking point has an awful habit of giving you sleepless nights, further contributing to physical exhaustion. Prices are low in Agriculture worldwide at the moment, and many of my neighbours are struggling, or have left the industry for good in the last few years. Unable to put themselves, or their families through it anymore.

There’s the constant media criticism of us as an industry too. There are newspaper columnists and ‘environmentalists’ who make a very good living out of it,  and unfortunately, they have a large audience. It can be incredibly frustrating to repeatedly see damaging headlines and articles condemning our practices, and us as a community. Recent stories blaming upland sheep farmers for increased levels of flooding here in the U.K. are a prime example of this. There’s the burden of overzealous officialdom and red tape. Many older farmers can find this simply overwhelming. Think about how much the World’s changed in just the last 5 or 6 years. Everything’s online. If you don’t have a younger family member or friend available to help you, that must be quite terrifying.

There’s the stigma, and associated stereotypes of depression. Farming is a small community where everyone knows each other. No one wants a neighbour saying ‘Did you hear about so & so? Lost his/her marbles..’ The embarrassment at the perceived ‘weakness’ is enough to stop many from reaching out and asking for help. Many just put their heads down and work longer and longer hours to try to get through it, and avoid dealing with people.

But even if none of these things apply, perhaps you just simply have no one else to talk to. Or maybe you do, but you find that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t. It’s a British thing isn’t it? Stiff upper lip and all that. Grin and bear it, old chap. Put on a brave face. Bollocks. For years, until I met my wife, I fell into this category. Try as I might, I couldn’t find the words to express how I was feeling. It became a real issue for me. We don’t in my celtic family y’see? We just bottle up all our worries and every day concerns for months until we explode. But my wife, as anyone who’s met her will testify, is a ‘talker’. She communicates. It’s her thing. Being silent in her presence frankly just isn’t an option. And God bless her for it, because being able to talk with her about my everyday stresses and concerns has helped me to be able to better find perspective, and to become a better man for it.

But not everyone’s as lucky as I am. There’s a side of farming that people really don’t see, where men, women and families are struggling on a daily basis, and are falling through the cracks and need help. And it’s up to us all to look out for the signs of this in our neighbours, friends and family members, because no one’s immune to this illness. The first step is to simply listen to a person’s problems. Talking nearly always helps. There are practical things you can do such as making sure the person is eating well and not drinking too much alcohol. And if these simple things don’t work, try to get them to seek help through their Doctor. There are some wonderful organisations out there such as:

  • Papyrus, the national charity for the prevention of young suicide.
  • The Farming Community Network, which answers phone calls in person between 7am & 11pm
  • Young Minds, the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.
  • The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Fund (R.A.B.I), which helps farmers and farmworkers of any age and has a contact number staffed during office hours.
  • The Samaritans, who have a free helpline available round the clock on 116123.
  • Farming Comunity Network (FCN) who give practical & pastoral support to the farming community. Available on 03000 111 999 from 7am – 11pm.
  • NFYFC are running a national campaign #RuralPlus to highlight the issue in younger members of the farming community. 
  • The Addington Fund. A farming charity dedicated to supporting Britain’s viable farming businesses & their families in times of crisis.

And there are many more. Social media can also help. It’s an easy way to connect with like-minded people, without having to physically get off the farm. Sometimes talking to a friend, or even a stranger, on one of the various networks or platforms rather than one who knows you and your family in the ‘real world’, can be easier.

Nobody looks after their own like the agricultural community. In times of trouble, we circle the wagons and help each other. Always have, and always will. And these are certainly troubled times that we’re living in. So let’s do that. Let’s look out for the signs and help each other, because none of us really knows the burdens that our fellow farmers are bearing behind closed farmhouse doors.