Published on Wednesday, July 25th, 2018
An excerpt from Dick’s autobiography; Chewing the Cud – An unexpected life from farmyard to Hollywood.
‘Up until this point it had been an unremarkable farm dispersal sale. They had dealt with the machinery and the implements, and all the usual job-lots – old tins of paint or grease, bottles of medicine for stock, coils of rusty barbed wire – for which there was always someone to bid half a crown or five shillings. There had been a few crates of ancient hens and a couple of fowl-houses. They had sold the young stock, and then the sixteen dairy cows, of which I had bought two, paying the top price and wearing a carefully contrived expression to show the assembled company that there wasn’t much about a good milker that I didn’t know. And then Lot Eighty-seven was called.
‘Now then, gentlemen,’ said the auctioneer in a voice rich with promise from his perch upon a four-wheeled wagon beside the rough circular sale-ring out in the yard. ‘Now then! Last lot of the day, and worth waiting for as you will soon see.’ He paused and looked up towards the open door of the cowshed. ‘Bring him out, please.’
Heads turned as a confused noise arose from inside, of snorting and shouting and a low roaring. ‘Lot Eighty-seven,’ went on the auctioneer. ‘Two-year-old light roan Dairy shorthorn bull – come on, please, bring him along.’ And at that moment there appeared in the doorway the son of the outgoing farmer, and the bull. It was not quite clear who was bringing whom along. Young Mobbs had hold of the bull-pole certainly, had the bull’s head well up by the pressure of the pole on the nose-ring, but there was a certain air of desperation about him.
For a moment the bull stopped dead, bemused by the sudden sunlight and the crowd of people before him, and then three things happened. Young Mobbs lowered the tip of the pole, trying to drag the animal on into the ring. The bull, disregarding the pain in his nose, set his feet and pulled him back. And then a helpful bystander raised his stick, and with a loud cry of ‘Get on, yer girt hummock!’ brought it down upon the broad back of Lot Eighty-seven.
Five seconds later, the bull stood at the centre of the sale-ring, and as he swung his head from side to side, everyone could see the snap-link of the bull-pole dangling from his nose, while at the cowshed door young Mobbs gawped helplessly at the broken-off staff.
For the whole of that morning I had been in a dream, un understandably selfish dream. For me, this was no ordinary sale. Old Mobbs was going out and I was coming in. Things that I had bought: pig troughs, poultry fountains, pitchforks, fencing stakes, rolls of wire netting, would remain here, be used here. Lot Seventy (Buttercup) and Lot Seventy-one (Barbara) would stay and be milked in that cowshed, my cowshed. Dreamily I had stood among the press of local farmers around that makeshift ring of straw bales with a token fence and some old posts and a couple of strands of plain wire. Now suddenly there was an eruption of noise and movement.
Round the ring went the bull like a circus performer. Old Mobbs was standing with his hand resting on top of a fence post as he watched his cattle sold, and one of those short horns sliced the meat off his thumb as neatly as a butcher’s knife. Warning shouts drowned out Mobbs’ cry of pain as the crowd melted away, into the cowshed, on to the wagon bed, behind walls, into sheds and loose boxes. Old men, fat men, even lame men leaped for safety with the speed and agility of gazelles. Only the dreamer remained.
By chance, I was standing at a point nearest to the open orchard gateway. Out in the orchard the sold cows grazed happily, only the red-numbered labels glued on each between pin-bone and hook-bone showing this to be an unusual day. When, after several more circuits, the bull stopped and focused upon them, only I, frozen now in to the inertia of nightmare, stood between. He put his head down.
Man can fly. I did. As the wire burst and the posts cracked and the straw bales exploded like so much Weetabix, I flew, overcoat, boots and all, striking with my shoulder the closing-post of the orchard gate and snapping it off like a carrot. Inches behind came the thunder and wind of the bull’s passing, and then he was gone, out into the herd, and away they all went in a mad gallop among the apple trees. I picked myself up, and then I heard my father’s voice as he emerged from the nearby loose-box.
‘Damn brave of the boy, Fred,’ he said to a farmer of long acquaintance. ‘He tried to stop him.’
‘Stop un?’ said Fred. ‘He never. He were trying to bloody miss un.’