Personally, I hate people who say ‘I told you so’, but sometimes it’s irresistible.
I was up in the little office at the farm, sobbing quietly over the assorted envelope backs, milk record cards and wrappers from jumbo economy size tins of cat food that Maggie used for keeping track of her finances, when the woman herself arrived bearing a mug of tea and a massive Jersey slice which had plainly been purchased with real money from a real baker.
I eyed it suspiciously.
‘What’s the occasion?’
‘Occasion? What do you mean?’ She tried to look innocent, but Maggie has one of those big, round open faces that can hide nothing. She wanted a favour and it couldn’t have been more obvious if she’d had a sign around her neck written in inch high letters.
‘Unless Alec has become uncharacteristically open-handed and arrived bearing baked goods for no good reason, you want something.’ I snatched it from her before she could withdraw it in a fit of pique. ‘Tell Auntie.’
‘We-e-e-l-l.’ She wrinkled her nose slightly – a sure sign she was out of her comfort zone. ‘I’ve done something a bit foolish, on an impulse.’
I took the pastry slice apart and, carefully distributing the cream evenly over both parts, bit into the bottom layer. ‘What’s that then?’
‘British Farming ‘phoned me up the other day and asked if I’d be interested in writing a thousand words on women in farming for their ‘Real Life Farmers’ section.’
I nearly choked on my flaky pastry. ‘WHAT?’
‘It’s a great honour to be asked. Every month they feature two farmers in different parts of the country talking about the same subject.’ She paused. ‘They offered money.’
‘But you can’t put two coherent sentences together …. Oh.’ Understanding dawned. ‘I get it.’
‘It’s MUCH more your line than mine. I thought that if I told you what I wanted to say, all you’d have to do is – you know …’
‘Of course.’ I tried very hard not to sigh audibly. ‘When’s the deadline?’
‘TOMORROW?! Maggie, how long have you been sitting on this?’
‘Not long.’ She bridled defensively.’Only a fortnight or so.’
‘Or so …’
‘I’ve been busy doing other things. They want a photo, too.’ She pulled a camera from her pocket. ‘Alec tried to take one, but he’s only good at taking pictures of tractors. He made me look half-witted.’
With an effort, I swallowed the obvious retort and picked up a notepad. ‘You’d better sit down and talk to me, hadn’t you? And then we’ll go outside and take a photo.’
An hour later, I had taken several pages of shorthand notes of Maggie’s perfectly sensible and interesting thoughts on Women in Farming and a photograph of her sitting on the stone steps outside the office looking reasonably intelligent and becomingly windswept.
‘Right,’ I checked my watch. ‘I’ll take this home and work on it. I can probably get it done by end of play today, then we can look at it together and do any tweaking before we send it off to them tomorrow morning.’
She beamed. ‘That’s brilliant. I’ll split the fee with you.’
I was back three hours later with 987 words of deathless prose and we sat down with Alec at the kitchen table to read it over together.
I’d inserted a few small jokes … just light-hearted asides to lift the piece slightly … and I was pleased to see the usually slightly dour Alec smiling as he read it. Maggie, on the other hand, was developing little furrows above the bridge of her nose. Eventually, she lowered the printed pages and sat staring at them for a moment in silence. Then she shifted uncomfortably in her seat, cleared her throat and said, ‘It’s very good …’
‘I like it …’
‘I think they’re looking for something more … you know … serious. I like the little jokes but I’m really not sure it’s the right tone for the magazine.’
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Alec raising an eyebrow, but he held his silence.
I took a deep breath, then nodded. ‘That’s not a problem Maggie. I understand what you’re saying, and I can easily take them out and just make it a perfectly factual piece.’
‘You don’t mind, do you?’
‘Of course not. It’s your piece and you have to be comfortable with it. I’ll just rejig it slightly, and we can send it this evening so it’s with them first thing tomorrow morning.’
So that’s what I did. I took out all the tongue-in-cheek bits, turned it into an exemplary piece of farm journalism, gave it back to Maggie for approval and sent it off together with the photo.
Two weeks later, publication day dawned and after breakfast I duly wandered down to the Post Office to buy a copy of British Farming magazine in order to admire my handiwork.
On the way back up the hill to the cottage, I thumbed through the glossy pages looking for Maggie’s piece and eventually found it towards the back, after an article on dairy cattle nutrition and before a ‘Best Buys in Slurry Tankers’ feature. The photograph I’d taken had come out very well, and the article looked thoroughly professional and business like just as Maggie had hoped.
All of that, however, was noted and discarded in a matter of moments. What riveted my attention was the companion piece on the opposite page. It was by a young female hill farmer in Wales. She was pictured in a lush green field, down on one knee and holding a microphone to a border collie’s nose.
And she was interviewing her sheepdog.
(Picture credit: based on a photograph by Trevis Rothwell and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.)