Friday, 16 August 2013

B. J. N

Bernard John Nicolson, as mentioned in a previous article about Old Park Farm, Mr. Nicolson was the owner for pretty much all of my childhood and well into my teenage years. Having given a description of him in the previous article I will not go over that again. Readers will recall that BJN was a business man first and a farmer second, spending quite a lot of time in London, town as he referred to it. During the early period of my life many local men worked on the farm for BJN and as far as I can remember he was regarded as a reasonable employer. Both my father and uncle worked for him for many years as did I, in later years, and until his death.

Although a small man in stature he had a commanding presence, full of confidence and, I suppose, he was fully aware of his standing in the community. The class system was then up and running and, as with most rural villages, there was an obvious and fairly clear divide between the workers and those they worked for. In general terms, as far as Kingsley was concerned, people seemed to rub along fairly well and I don't have any recollections of any major problems between the various classes. In fact, I don't recall any of the more extreme stories which were heard about employers from around and about, being alleged of the many Kingsley employers of that time.

As far as the children of his employees were concerned, BJN, came into his own at Christmas time as he entertained his staff at a regular Christmas party in the farm house each year. All would assemble at about eleven thirty in the morning when drink would be served by BJN and Mrs. Nicolson. This would be followed by a full sit down lunch which the couple served. Wine, beer and soft drinks for the children were provided plentifully. As lunch drew to a close BJN would disappear. I now know, but we didn't then, that he went down the drive and into one of the barns near the road. Therein he would change into a Father Christmas outfit. Mrs. Nicolson would organise all of the children into the window areas having told them the great man was on his way. The drive being gravelled the footsteps of BJN could be heard as he progressed towards the house with a large sack upon his back. Entering through the front door he would go into the lounge where he would dispense presents to children and adults alike. Wives of his workforce all received gifts as well. Having completed the task of handing out the gifts, off he would go again, only to reappear shortly afterwards in his normal wear. Incidentally, I recall that the gifts were almost all purchased in Harrods. However, I and,I am sure all others whom attended will recall those parties with great warmth. It was obvious that BJN got considerable pleasure and satisfaction from his annual Father Christmas appearances.

BJN had a miniature poodle which would accompany him around the village where ever he went, it was black but I don't remember its name. One day BJN came to our house at number six Woodfield, what his mission was I don't recall, but his visit was as unexpected as it proved to be unwelcome. Indicative of the sort of confidence, some might say arrogance, of his position, BJN came to the back door of the house and not bothering with the courtesy of knocking, opened the door. The door opened directly into the kitchen area and on that occasion mother was in the process of doing her washing. The electric copper was standing in the middle of the floor and was full and, as far as can be assumed, bubbling away merrily. So far, so good, things then took a turn for the worse. Having opened the door BJN stepped into the room no doubt intent on relaying whatever business had brought him. Unfortunately, the cat was the other side of the copper sitting on the floor, the poodle lunged forward in pursuit of the moggy and in so doing the lead which attached it to BJN wrapped itself around one of the coppers three legs. As the dog pushed and pulled to get at the mog the copper did a sideways flip and ejected its contents all over the kitchen floor. Chaos, there was BJN begging all sorts of pardons and apologising profusely and mother going ballistic. Water everywhere. Offers of help to clear up were met with a clear and obvious instruction to leave, Mrs. Yeomans was in no mood to be placated. BJN left. The next day BJN returned to the house and this time he knocked and was without the dog. When mother opened the door he presented her with a bottle of white wine and again expressed how sorry he was at the unfortunate event. In those days my parents drank very little and when they did it was usually a sherry and then only on high days and holidays. Thus when the bottle of wine was opened it was obviously dry, as I recall, both parents comparing it to vinegar. Well it is the thought that counts, as they say, and I know mother was quite impressed with BJN's gesture.

The next two BJN events take us forward to the era when I worked for him at Old Park Farm. At that time I looked after the piggeries and battery houses and free range chickens. There were then several poultry houses on the sloping field behind the farm house. These were of the ark type and were opened to allow the chickens to run free range in the field during the day. It became clear that we were having a problem with the local fox population as birds kept disappearing and large quantities of feathers were in evidence. I, therefore, obtained a number of fox snares and set them in the ditch at the bottom of the field where various runs could be seen. It was during the late summer and the birds stayed out well into the evenings. This meant that I would call in on my home from whatever evening activity I had been engaged in and close up the arks for the night. It was usually dark by the time I arrived and this particular occasion was no exception. Having closed up the arks I shone my torch along the length of the ditch where the snares had been set and was met with a pair of blinking eyes in the beam of the torch. I had caught a fox. Clearly I could not leave the poor creature in the snare all night but, of course, I had no gun with me. Rather than go all the way home and back I decided to give BJN a knock and borrow his gun. I knocked on the back door of the house several times before a shout from within told me that BJN was on his way. The door opened and there he stood clad in a blue and white striped night shirt together with a long hooded matching hat. A most amazing sight. Other than in pictures from Dickens I had never seen such a mode of dress. I found it most difficult not to giggle. I made my request for a gun and off he went to get one, returning a few moments later with gun and cartridges, he informed me that he would come and help. Frankly this was the last thing I had either expected and or needed. My protestations were brushed aside and BJN, still clad in his nightshirt, and I made our way down the length of the field. When we arrived at the location of the fox BJN gave me his gun and took charge of the torch. He was obviously delighted that I had caught the culprit that had been taking his birds, but his excitement seemed to have overtaken his ability to hold the beam of the torch on the fox. Several times I took aim only to have the light flash off in some other direction. Having, politely, reminded him several times that I actually need the light in order to shoot the fox he calmed down and the fox was shot.

The next incident I recall with considerable affection, at the time there was a student on the farm, living in a flat at the farm house on the side of the area used by the Nicolsons. Timothy Ducker was an agricultural engineering student and he and I became good friends, a friendship which was to last until the present day. Anyway, on this occasion I found myself car-less. This was not an unusual state of affairs as the cars we had in those days could best be described as old bangers. I don't recall what had caused my vehicle to fail on that occasion but whatever it was it was the reason I went to Tim to borrow his car in order to take my girlfriend into Alton for the evening. No problem said Tim, he didn't need it that evening, but I would need to top it up with oil. The reader should know, I am not and never have been mechanically inclined, or had any interest in machines. In those days my technical knowledge was virtually nil. So I collected the car from the farm and was again reminded by Tim of the need to top up with oil. Off I went to Binsted to collect the young lady in question and on we travelled towards Alton. Upon reaching Holybourne I pulled into a filling station opened up the bonnet and unscrewed the oil filler cap. Tim had previously pointed out the cap to me and indicated that was where the oil should be put in. Having taken the cap off I looked into the hole and could see nothing. Off I went into the garage and bought a can of oil, a quart I think it was in those days. I had considered a pint probably would not have been enough. Steadfastly I poured in the oil ….all of it. Again I peered into the hole and again could see nothing. Back into the garage and another can, in that went, followed shortly afterwards by a third until finally I could see oil. The oil was now up to the top off the rocker box, of which I knew nothing in those days. I screwed back on the cap and away we went. Or rather didn't. Almost immediately the car began playing up, the engine became lumpy and erratic. We decided that we had a problem and headed back towards Binsted. Spluttering all the way we reached the village,drove round past the church and down the towards Southhay. We were half way down the steep little hill which is just outside Binsted when the car conked out completely. I, of course, had no idea what the problem was and mobile phones had not been invented. Leaving the young lady in the car I walked back to Binsted to the telephone kiosk. I phoned Tim, told him the car had conked and he began questioning me as to the symptoms. Had I put any oil in he asked, as, if I had not, it was highly likely the car had seized up. Yes I assured him I have filled it up, filled it up he asked, what do you mean filled it up. I explained that I had completely filled it up and the horror of what I had done began to dawn on Tim. How much had I actually put in he asked, Three or four quarts I replied "Oh my God" and a long silence. It will have to be drained he said I, of course, had no idea as to how this would be achieved. He would have to come up to us he told me and would try and get a lift from somebody. He would get there as soon as he could. I walked back to the car and rejoined a fairly fed up girlfriend. Shortly afterwards the big bronze Rolls Royce of BJN came roaring towards us driven by BJN himself. Tim got out and muttered some rather unpleasant words in my direction, lifted the bonnet, opened the oil cap and confirmed his worst fears …. the lunatic had indeed filled it up. To cut a long story short there was oil everywhere. Tim crawled beneath the car and unscrewed the plug at the bottom of the sump and the oil ran out on to the road and made its way down the hill. Doing that sort of thing today would probably be a hanging offence. It took much wiping of plugs and mopping up in general and a lot of time before the car finally burst into life again. Tim decided that he would take command of the vehicle and drop both myself and girlfriend off. We thanked BJN, whom, I have to say, was thoroughly decent about the whole escapade. He remained good humoured throughout and never mentioned the matter again. Just in case there is a hereafter and BJN is looking down upon us, we both thought him to be a thoroughly good chap.

I remained in BJN's employ and at Old Park Farm until shortly after his death, I recall him, not only, as a very decent employer but a very likeable, if somewhat eccentric, gentleman and remember him with fondness.

No comments:

Post a Comment