The day the blind saw by Gavin Kedar
There was a gentle tap at the kitchen door as it opened. Mum was expecting it, as our guests would be returning from the sheds, in readiness for the evening meal. Mum broke from her entree preparations to turn and face the back door and greet our guests, a family of 5 from London. What faced her as the door opened, she did not expect!.
‘The day the blind saw’ conjures up some one having been blind and gaining their sight. And, on the other side, us, who are already blessed with sight, witnessing the event. But, what about if you too are ‘blind’, and as the other ‘blind’ party sees for the first time, you too, also experience ‘sight’ for the first time. That is what happened on this summers day in Norfolk, UK, in 1975.
I grew up on a mixed cropping/dairy farm some 3 hrs drive North East of London. When I say ‘grew up on a farm’, I mean my life was literally 110% farming. My best friend was off the farm next door. My first girlfriend was from the farm on the other side of us. All my grandparents farmed, as did their parents, and even all 8 sets of my great, great grandparents. When we visited family, it was mostly on their farms. When they visited us, talk was about the late frosts we had in April, and how the grass was knocked back and the seasons hay crop would be affected, or that the Patterson’s had picked up a prize at the show for their Ayrshire bull. And did you hear how Uncle Tommy had trouble with getting on to fertilise his spring crops, but then, that was often a problem on his heavy land. A cup of tea was followed by the ‘ritual’ farm walk, or if it was too cold or wet, at least a tour around the sheds and inspect the stock, latest piece of machinery, or building alterations.
However, by the 1970’s,farm income was beginning to slip in the UK. People had forgotten the food rationing of the 1940’s, and how farmers had fed the nation with little help from imports during and after the War. Life was great and without much want following the ‘swinging sixties’. People had more leisure time, most owned a car, and exploring the countryside became quite fashionable for weekend and holiday activities.
With this in mind, Mum and Dad decided to supplement the weakening farm income by opening our home up for Bed and Breakfast through the summer months. We had a wide variety of guests, mostly staying for a week. Some were retired couples, occasionally, newlyweds, but mostly, families, wanting to give their children a rural experience, and some fresh country air.
And so the ‘Cardigans’ arrived one Saturday afternoon. Mr and Mrs, with a daughter and 2 sons, aged between 7 and 12. We discovered, through conversation, that both Mr & Mrs Cardigan were well educated and were well qualified in their fields of employment. The first few days, having eaten a hearty farm breakfast, the family would venture off in their car to explore the expanse of the Norfolk countryside. They would return just prior to the evening meal, with tales of their adventures from the day. A stately home and its grand gardens they visited on day one. The next day was of riparian lore, as they hired a motor boat and explored the waterways our part of the country is famous for. Then a trip to our local city to see its majestic Norman castle and awe inspiring cathedral. We had a Wildlife park not too far away; therefore, a ‘safari’ was taken on the fourth day. And so with the week almost past in similar fashion, the Cardigans realized it was their last day in the country, and that they had not really seen much of farm life. A plan was quickly hatched to educate their children in the ways of food production. The family would return early from their last day of explorations in the car, and would witness firsthand the earthy experience of the dairy cow.
Just a little background at this stage. At that time, most urban people in the UK took delivery of milk on their doorsteps every morning. Empty 1 pint glass bottles were placed outside the front door every night, and by breakfast the next day, the empties were replaced with full bottles. The Milkman was quite a part of British daily life, just as much as the Postman.
And so the Cardigans were about to venture forth to the milking parlour. Mum took them to the sheds, as Dad had already begun milking our Ayrshire cows. She told them that they had to be quiet, to keep out of the way of the cows coming into and out of their stalls, and about the general etiquette one observes when cows are being milked. As the Cardigans crept into the parlour, Mum left them to return to her culinary duties.
About 40 minutes later, there was the gentle tap on the kitchen door. The Cardigans, despite all their higher education and skills, entered the kitchen, with expressions and actions that were akin to a native from darkest Borneo having just seen a movie for the first time, or some Amazonia Indians first encounters with radios.
Mum asked if everything was alright, as they seemed somewhat shocked, their faces seemed blank and their mouths resembled some deep limestone caverns. At first they did not reply. Then Mrs Cardigan started to speak, “We…eh…. had no idea….the milk…..the cows, umm….no…it …um…did not realize…..eh…” Slowly, the episode was revealed. Walking into that parlour on that summers day in 1975, the Cardigan’s eye’s were opened for the first time. And now, as they told their story, it seemed to confirm the reality that their ‘sight’ was, indeed, real. They began to explain to Mum (who had left school at the age of 14 to help her Dad tend his dairy herd) all the intricacies of milking a cow. How they enter the parlour, are fed a specific feed, depending on each cows situation, how the udder is washed, the cups put on, the vacuum pump and pulsator (Mr was quite articulate at that point), the measuring jar, recording, the way the milk was piped, cooled, and stored in the vat (the children were the most vocal at educating Mum in this subject). Then they told how her husband (my Dad) had explained to them the voyage of the milk via the milk tanker, to the dairy where it was pasturised, processed and bottled, and finally delivered to their door steps in London. Through it all, they seemed to have to pause at times, to check that their ‘sight’ was indeed real.
However, now it was Mum’s turn to have her ‘eyes’ opened. As I mentioned earlier, with such a history steeped in farming, we envisaged that most people, farming or not, had a good idea of how food got to their plate, and clothing on their backs. Especially with the amount of TV people were watching, and availability of many media mediums that were being used by the general public.
Mum asked innocently, “What did you expect “?. I am glad that the Cardigan’s were honest about the answer, and the serious look on their faces told Mum that they indeed were not ‘pulling her leg’. “Well”, began Mr Cardigan, “We thought that when the milkman took our empty bottles in his van, he would drive out to a farm somewhere, and give the bottles to the farmer, who placed a bottle under each teat, and the cow would drop milk in each bottle”. (Somehow the cow knew how to ‘drop’ exactly 1 pint in each bottle) “Then the farmer would put a cap on each bottle, place them in the hand carrier used by the Milkman, who then picked them up in his van to deliver them back to us the next morning”. Mum looked at each Cardigan face in turn, even the children, just to check again if there was any hint of frivolity or jesting. Even a twinkle in an eye.….There was none.
Mum, always a wonderful host and a great conversationalist, was stuck for words, and only the increasing aroma of something starting to become overcooked, enabled her to excuse herself and collect her thoughts. Surely, surely, people in this day and age had some idea, surely. And these folk, well educated, professional jobs, quite well off, surely they knew something about the basics of life??. It seemed not, and so our ‘sight’ as farmers, was gained. We realized for the first time, that some people go through life, eating, drinking, choosing cloths, all things essential for even the most poor and uneducated, yet never an understanding of where it comes from, or how it all gets to them, the consumer.
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