Jo Mortimer

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Looking Back to Look Forwards

My grandad, Ron, was most often to be found arse skyward, sowing seed, thinning out, weeding or harvesting. Otherwise, leaning against a fence post, he would deftly roll a fag which remained stuck to his bottom lip until sundown.

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He took on our Mid Sussex farm sometime in the 30s. I lived with him until I was sixteen, he passed away when I was seventeen - I wish I’d stuck around a little longer. Until then, though, life tripped along. For a while we had sheep. The ram got out and literally rammed my grandad against a tree stump, whereupon he declared, ‘Fuck that’ and got rid of them. Vegetables, chickens and fruit trees - they were his bag. He named each of our forty-or-so chickens and taught me how to kill and prep them for the chest freezer.

The farm was organic - a decision down to how skint we were as much as anything else - but if I knew my grandad at all, I think he would have thought that you just need decent soil, elbow-grease and a bit of luck. Seed spuds were piled high in my great-aunt’s bedroom, conveniently freed-up when she died. Eventually, the old house was freed-up all together when asbestos was discovered in the roof. Goats moved in - I played my grandma’s piano to them until it was crushed during the Great Storm of ‘87.

But I digress.

So far as I know, my grandad never left Sussex. He kept himself to himself; only Brighton and Hove Albion could really move him to excitement. He stayed on the farm because the farm was perfect - flora and fauna rubbed along together just fine. We lived symbiotically; the very idea of it being any other way was never entertained. Now I know how lucky I was.

The farm doesn’t exist anymore. It’s more or less buried beneath Legoland housing. Wildflower meadows, all those hand-sown drills of spuds and carrots - you’d never know they’d ever been there. Luckily, though, the badger sett and woodland appear to live on.

A fair few people ate the food my grandad grew, through wartime, right up until his passing. I don’t remember particularly making the connection or thanking him - he made no mention of it, either. But I would like to thank him now, for everything he taught me and for keeping us safe and healthy. He gave us an extraordinarily beautiful home, and he also gave wildlife a safe place to flourish. Bravo, Grandad - you did good.

Jo Mortimer