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Who's the Boss?
by Wendy Clarke
Taking someone on.
Long ago that was a handshake and a nod. No-one else involved and an understanding both boss and man could walk apart and that was that.
In many respects it worked. Paperwork was non-existent and the look in both men’s eyes – all they needed to know if the deal struck, was going to work.
I sat at a funeral of a neighbour, a number of years ago. The coffin in front of us was John’s last rest. His boss rose to the lectern to give him his last orders. Whenever that nod had taken place that set man to man on a farm, here was the end of the road. The boss was never as strong as he claimed and here he had to say goodbye. “There were days when John was right and there were days when I was right. But there was never a day when either of us was wrong!”
Everything was in those lines. The understanding, the authority and the respect. Now what of all of that has been improved by the endless form filling from local, central and European government, when you take a man on?
That’s lazy of me. I’ve won most of you round to my scratchings with the power of sentiment. How the years soften the memory. For those of you who have been in the bothy or the farm cottage you may well have memories of dreadful damp walls and poor heating in places that no man or woman should be living, let alone raising their families, so the attempts to redress such inadequacies were always necessary no matter what our opinion is of how successful these advances have been on the farm.
But what really keeps two men to that handshake? The house, the job, the farm? Why do some seem to keep their position yet he may not the best tractorman? Worse, why does the odd good lad get the heave while a shirker seems to be safe?
What legislation will never control is the ancient constant that we are all different and as such what works for one may not for the next and woven through it all are the intricasies of personality.
Like any family everyone has to play their role, the farmer has the impossible task of being fair, or at least being seen to be fair, like any good father. Even a piece of machinery can cause ructions. Remember the operator is almost handed a promotion when that set of keys is handed over.
Rarely is the need for the farm considered by the men but that the boss sees fit to let that “bugger” loose on a hefty lump of the farm’s annual expenditure, is much more likely to be the general response. That’s not to say the boss isn’t showing favouritism but even then he sees fit to try and keep someone on the place for what he feels is good reason.
But the men and women, in all their guises, also need to play their part. This too can be very tricky. How many of us have asked a man or woman why they are putting up with their boss or another man and been told, “oh just keeping the peace.” Is it weak or strong for a man to keep his head down; see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing? That’s no monkey’s game. Has the fire gone out of a man’s belly or has his ageing head grown a bit of wisdom?
The farmyard can be a battle field with as much politics as Downing Street; everyone manoeuvring for their place, their cut, what they deserve and in the process making sure the boss sees what’s “going on.”
And of course all of this is further complicated by what’s going on over the dyke at the next place. To hell with them doing any better!
So what droplet of wisdom am I about to hand down? None.
My ageing head does its best to hang on to what little wisdom I have left before I tried to improve it. But I’ll say this. A good man is rare and before that new piece of machinery should be looked after, the men should be thought of, even occasionally listened to and regularly thanked. If someone feels valued they are much more likely to learn their lesson when they are wrong. If they live in a place that they know their boss is looking after, they might just do the same and that is not all about money.
The boss might pay attention to a man if he is honest and reliable. If he walks with his eyes open and stops, just for a moment, and thinks before he once again declares the boss a bloody idiot for his latest decision. It could just be that not all the facts and reasons for his decision are known. And like most of us even the boss has a family to think of, particularly on a farm, with the next generation his biggest critic and his biggest liability. We all know that is never an easy task.
Being on a farm these days can be a lonely pressure cooker. The one thing that has changed is that machinery has left farms sometimes with only one man; the boss. But if there still are staff, then they are even more valuable than before. Men rarely can or want to keep their sons and daughters on a place and it is sad to have agree with them that they may need to think elsewhere. But not all would go if they saw a good life ahead of them and that thought is kindled by our example and encouragement.
This hit home for me recently. I have very little to do with the dairy industry but not so long ago I went to see a fully mechanised unit with its robots etc. It was undoubtedly impressive. But what shocked me was that 30 years ago I spent many happy milkings on my uncle’s farm, contented cows, men with banter and a buzz and a crowd that to a youngster seemed perfect. But there in that shed, purpose built, all singing all dancing, one man pushed feed into troughs that had already been filled from a tractor, no dairymen required, surrounded by hundreds of cows and not a soul to speak to for good or bad. That affects a man. All the more reason for his boss to look after him and for the man to understand the enormity of the boss’s task, which this “improvement” demands of them by the forces of economics.
So, where are we?
Back at that handshake.
Boss or man, maybe an extra handshake now and again wouldn’t go amiss because you can be sure, for all the forces of improvement, an extra form filled isn’t going to mean anything like a little bit of respect and a pat on the back.