Farmer Max, old-school countryman


Last week’s column with its mention of bad-mannered cattle prompted DEREK REYNOLDS to send this pen-portrait of a real countryman.

MY LANDLORD Max has been a local man for all his 70 years and has farmed for almost 60. He doesn’t own a mobile phone or computer. His ‘newsworthyness’ comes from the TV and the weekly cattle market, where word of mouth remains king. Double-jabbed, but not taking boosters. I think he’s getting the message on that one.

Max had eight cattle to market last week. Except when the lorry arrived, they got out and took off across the field. He rounded up seven and they loaded with no problem, but the eighth, a good-sized steer, decided ‘Not having that’. Five minutes after the lorry had left, Max opened the gate again and the steer walked in as quiet as a lamb. We got the trailer out, he walked in, and off to Pickstock he went. Pickstock is a huge modern abattoir/meat processing plant on the edge of Telford. Max is hopeless at remembering directions, despite the fact he has been there many times, so I ended up as navigator.

The plant is all behind security gates, electronically controlled, so you don’t get in easily. It is very automated, and the actual processes within are unseen. It smells of manure. Fork-lift trucks abound, with double-deck cattle trucks constantly arriving, being washed out, then departing.

Max is quite a character. His father was East German and served in the German army in WWII, during which he was part of a contingent that went to fight the Russians. Thousands of them were marched 80 miles per day in the bitter cold. Of his platoon, only 70 came back. They were captured by the Americans, which saved their lives since the Russians took no prisoners. Transported to East Anglia, he worked on a camp ditching and hedging and received commendations. This led to a move to Shropshire where he gained employment on a farm, eventually becoming a tenant farmer. He married a local girl and they had three children, two girls and one boy, Max.

Here is Mr Ossig Snr at work.

He did have the opportunity to go home to East Germany after the war, but relatives warned him not to return as the Russians and collaborators were seeking out their former enemies and ‘disappearing’ them. No relatives in East Germany survived.

Max took over the farm tenancy after his father died, and moved into the lower farmhouse across the fields from us. He’s been busy with the tractor mowing hay this week. We now live in the house where Max’s parents brought up their family.

This is Max at a steam event (not his engine)

Without much modern technology available to Max (he cannot ‘get on with’ mobile phones) his main line of contact for ordering feed and arranging deliveries is his BT landline. It has certain unreliable factors, being strung through the nearby woods, and four weeks ago the high winds brought down a hefty branch that parted the overhead line like a piece of rotten string. In the need to get in touch with BT for repairs, Max asked if I would phone them on my mobile (we have no landline connection) to arrange an engineer to come and reconnect the broken wires. BT needed the account number, phone number and of course the nature of the fault. 

What ensued for the next three days was nothing short of insanity. They needed to speak to the account holder personally, for security purposes. After repeatedly stating the problem, Max was cut off when the Asian person on the BT end of the line failed to understand his broad Shropshire accent. Max was also becoming more and more frustrated as he could not understand the Asian accent, and eventually got up and walked away from the phone in total disgust. I called BT myself, and armed with all the numbers needed acted as if I was the account holder. Still no joy, just apologies for the inconvenience and a thin assurance that someone would be out to assess the damage ‘soon’. After more pressure as to when this might be, I was told the engineer would be out tomorrow. No one came out the next day, nor the day after. 

By pure chance, Max encountered another neighbour, Jeff, who was also without his landline for the same reason Max had lost his. Jeff had met an engineer from BT (Open Reach) in the lane who claimed he had just restored the line break. But he was in the wrong location. Jeff said to the engineer: ‘Oh no you haven’t’, and promptly took him to the location in the woods where the remains of Max’s broken line had been rolled up and placed on the ground. The repair was eventually sorted out after more delays in obtaining a ‘cherry-picker’ platform (what happened to ladders?) In all, Max was without vital communication for just over one week. In business, that could break some. Apparently, things had been made more difficult due to covid . . .


I’VE BEEN round and about over the last few days and here are some pictures.

I found this scarlet tiger moth (Callimorpha dominula) in my son’s garden in Reading. I didn’t want to disturb it so here is a stock picture showing the wings open.

While at my son’s house I picked up a Labour election leaflet, containing this sinister-sounding pledge by candidate Matt Rodda:

On my way home I saw this helpful sign at Bolton station:


Pig of the Week

THE British Saddleback is the amalgamation of two similar breeds, the Wessex Saddleback and the Essex. There were black and white belted pigs in the West Country as far back as the early 19th century and they were renowned for their bacon. However by the 1960s the pig industry was heavily focusing on white breeds, so in 1967 the Wessex Saddleback and the Essex, both with seriously low numbers, were amalgamated to form the British Saddleback. Both the Wessex Saddleback and the Essex are now extinct in their original form.

The breed is dual purpose, making a good pork pig or bacon pig if taken to heavier weights.

The British Pig Association says: ‘The Saddleback is a straightforward pig to keep, even for the beginner. It’s a hardy breed that’ll be happy to endure even the harshest of environments, as long as you can provide it with a clean and dry ark.

‘The sows make superb mothers; very attentive and good providers of milk. They tackle farrowing without drama and, by and large, can be left to their own devices at this important time. Piglets are good growers and great characters. They’ll quickly find their feet and will be happy to get outside just a few days after birth.

‘Litter sizes will typically be 12-14 from a healthy young sow, although first litters can sometimes be half this number. Despite their natural attentiveness, you should expect to lose perhaps one or two piglets from each litter due to crushing, unless you’re very lucky . . .

‘It is worth pointing out that some males can become a little feisty with age. Even the most experienced breeders know to be wary of their boars, with some believing that they’re never to be fully trusted, and shouldn’t be approached without a stick and a board.

‘I’m not suggesting that the males grow into raging bulls; far from it. But, as with other breed, Saddleback boars can be excitable and, once their tusks have developed, torn trousers and cut legs are an ever-present risk if you don’t take the necessary and sensible precautions.’

Here are some newborn piglets 

and here are some larger ones.

You can read more at the British Pig Association website and at the British Saddleback Breeders’ Club website


Wheels of the Week

I haven’t done an actual vehicle this week but I am hoping to get to the Classic & Performance Motor Show at Hoghton Tower near Preston next weekend and stock up with lots of pictures. Let’s hope the good weather lasts because there are few things as miserable as a car show on a muddy field in the rain. Meanwhile I hope you enjoy this anecdote sent to me last week by DAVE HIPPERSON:

Yesterday we were reversing off my drive. (I usually reverse in and go out forwards but this was an exception.) I was going slow and looking both ways but with cars parked on my side both ways I missed seeing a white van coming. It hooted and I stopped sharp, and felt a clot for not seeing it. My wife Sue was telling me off for the next hour as we did the shopping and I was kicking myself for coming that close to driving out in front of someone – which people are always doing to me.

We got back from shopping and were finishing unloading from the boot of the car, this time having reversed in, when I was conscious of a youngish guy walking gingerly up the drive. His opening words were: ‘I am terribly sorry but I think I might have been driving a bit too fast this morning when I hooted at you for coming out of your drive.’ He then launched into an explanation of having been getting too used to the road, working as he was on a roof around the corner. So he was a roofer – that was established at least. He said he had got too complacent and was terribly sorry if he had surprised me.

At this stage I had to interrupt him and counter with my immediate reaction when I hear anyone digging a hole for themselves. ‘Stop! Whatever you do, don’t ever admit responsibility.’ I was so taken aback. In no time we were exchanging anecdotes of motoring incidents we had witnessed and I was telling him not be so apologetic with old people – they (we) all should know better. Hysterical. A quite exceptional situation, made by one man’s willingness to presume (incorrectly in this instance) he might have been in the wrong. Oh, if more people, especially the ones in what they call ‘power’, could behave in a similar manner. Or failing that just tell the truth once in a while. My white van man could. I am still glowing over this and I hope he is.


FINALLY, a new feature. I’ve been a sub-editor for about 50 years, and I am constantly astounded and amused by the level of ignorance and stupidity in the written media today. I start with one from Mail Online, a bottomless source of howlers – Google Street View (note: two words, not one) sends in the caravans:

And this is from the Warrington Guardian:

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