|I know it is a
hackneyed cliché, but I always feel that like old wine, old country
sports and farming writers get better with maturity. The Glory Days, the
latest book from the pen of Michael Twist, is certainly eloquent proof of
Michael is best known to country sports people in Ireland for his range of articles in iHSF and other UK country sports magazines, based on his sporting days here when he was land agent to the Duchess of Westminster. The older gundog handlers will certainly remember Michael for his Bryanstown Kennel of very fine dual purpose golden retrievers, which could have held their own at the very top level on bench or in the field. One of the legacies of his dual purpose interest is the 'show qualifier' for FT champions although sadly, the 'gundog qualifier' for show champions has become almost defunct.
Born into an estate manager's family, Michael has been privileged to enjoy his sport as part of a complete life working in the countryside. When Michael was born country sports on the mainland Britain were, in some ways, reaching their zenith, while in Ireland, one could have the best of sport relatively unfettered. As someone who has lived, worked and played in the countryside for nearly eight decades, he is in a unique position to chronicle the changes that he has seen over a long and fruitful life. What is more, he sees through the eyes of someone who has always perceived the full range of country orientated activities carried out within the environment as contributing, of necessity, to a balanced ecosystem. This probably even before this word was coined!
Apart from this encyclopaedic knowledge of all aspects of the countryside; from the natural history of fauna and flora, through hunting, shooting and fishing, dog breeding and training, pedigree stock breeding and showing, dealing with disease of plant and animal, and improvements in farming techniques; Michael brings to his writing a rather unique blend of rare attention to detail and a real story teller's art. In his books, Michael takes the reader through a true history of the development of the countryside. These are not just tales of "daring do" in the hunting field, or huge bags of game, or a dry account of developing farming practices. They are, rather, a living breathing and very exciting history of the development of the countryside, its practices and people by someone who has a great love of the countryside but has played a major part in its development.
follows hi The Glory Dayss two earlier books. Its forerunner, The Spacious Days, is an account of growing up on an estate in Buckingham in the '20s and '30s, while The Hallowed Acres takes his account further into the '30s and the
completion of his college education. The Glory Days "fills in" a most important time in Michael's career and an equally crucial time for Britain - the war years. It tells how a raw young man just out of agricultural college, and rejected as medically unfit for the army, took up the challenge of "doing his bit" by providing the food to sustain the war effort. The book chronicles how he dealt with the myriad challenges facing those who lived in the countryside and how this society and way of life was changed for ever by the war.
Having made the successful transition from the OTC to initial acceptance into the army, Michael has to face the fact that, although feeling physically fit from a life time outdoors, he is deemed to be medically unfit because of the residual damage caused to his heart by a childhood illness. Initially he succumbs to what is currently and fashionable now known as the "gap year" syndrome and has an idyllic, although still entrepreneurial, period assisting alleviate food shortages. He does this at both ends as it were, by controlling damage to crops from rabbits and wood pigeon and putting these back into the food chain. This useful, profitable and enjoyable lifestyle is brought to a halt when, just short of his twenty first birthday, he is invited to take over as estate manager of the large and rather run down estate owned by a leading industrialist and keen hunting man Colonel Devereux.
Advised against accepting the post by his experienced father, Michael goes ahead undaunted and takes on a position which ultimately pushes him into the forefront of what is in reality a major agricultural revolution. This book is a very rich chronology of the development of the mechanisation of farming and the sociological changes so wrought in the countryside, all fuelled by the need to "square the circle" of the need for greater output and efficiency against a shortage of manpower due to conscription.
Facing immediate disease problems in the herd of 1500 pigs (not the dreaded Foot and Mouth Disease - but swine fever), Michael has the unenviable task of supervising the slaughter, clean up and restocking, but also the more distressing job of putting down some of the estate's finest hunters.
|From then on, however, in spite
of many minor hiccups, it is success all the way with the estate taking
on more and more land, improving arable output, re-building the pig herd,
introducing sheep, building up a prize winning pedigree herd of Dairy Shorthorns,
keeping the hunt going and almost sweeping the boards at the Royal Windsor
Horse Show and other agricultural shows.
This is neither a dry history of agricultural development nor an indulged and romanticised autobiography, but a very factual, informative and highly readable account of life in the country during the war years. It chronicles in detail the agricultural "advances" such as new methods of arable farming, increasing mechanisation, the setting up at Roundhill of one of the first and largest grass drying units in the country and also Roundhill being the site of the Britain's first Artificial Insemination centre.
Michael not only embraced many of these changes but helped drive them. His factual and historically important account of implementing them is spliced with amusing anecdotes and asides, set against a backdrop of dealing with fifth columnists (as a sort of mounted Dad's army); the "emancipation" of women in agriculture through the use of land girls; the threat of doodle bugs and in some ways the greater threat of civil service bureaucracy, and splitting the Queen and Princess Margaret in competition at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. In addition, the detail on how people lived, their houses, their wages, what they ate and how, with fortitude and good humour, the ordinary country folk faced and met the challenge of supporting their men in the field.
Together with The Spacious Days and The Hallowed Acres, The Glory Days completes an important rural trilogy for anyone with an interest in the countryside and perhaps essential reading for agricultural and sociology students. Michael has not only produced three very enjoyable "reads" but also three very important historical records. Like any good writer he ends at the beginning, by leading us to the start of the next stage of his life story and the history of farming practice. After a disagreement with Colonel Devereux, Michael leaves to start his career in Ireland. This as one would say " is another story" and I for one am looking forward to it with eager anticipation.
The Glory Days, The Hallowed Acres and The Spacious Days are available from The Farming Press, or from good book shops, priced at £6.99.
Contact: The Farming Press, c/o Thompson Packing and Mailing . POBox 76, Bridlington, East Yorks YO15 3JY Tel 08700 780721
email: email@example.com. (ISBN 0 85236 560)