Farm Ireland

Monday 26 February 2018

Comment: Farmers aren't machines - it's vital to take a break

The city of Malaga on Spain’s Costa del Sol
The city of Malaga on Spain’s Costa del Sol
Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

As it nears the end of its term, the Dáil is often compared to a school on the last day of class before the summer holidays. The deputies get giddy and the Ceann Comhairle is at his wits' end trying to control the unruly bunch.

I remember listening to a recording of Dáil proceedings during Charlie Haughey's days in the Taoiseach's chair.

It was the final session before the TDs and ministers vacated their Dublin flats and offices for their summer lodgings. Charlie was in a rush to get to his Blasket island, Inishvickillane - 'Inish Charlie' as the locals call it - but a certain deputy was hogging the floor: "A Cheann Comhairle, could I ask the deputy to please get to the point; the beaches of West Kerry are calling," the exasperated Taoiseach cried out.

That captured a great image contrasting the wild and wonderful beaches of West Kerry with the city-centre hothouse of the Dáil chamber. It is good to get away, to recreate, to regenerate and to revive.

In general, farmers aren't great holidaymakers: it doesn't fit in with the culture of blisters and backbreak that is often accepted by farmers as the lot of the authentic man and woman of the land.

The strongest currency in farming circles is the currency of hard work. While, traditionally, the size of the farm seemed to matter most in the rural social pecking order, it was the individual farmer's capacity for hard work that earned real kudos on the ground.

Summer is a busy time on farms, the days are long and the weather is (somewhat) better than at other times of the year, so the notion of taking time away seems ludicrous.

But every time of the year is busy and every season has its demands and, unfortunately, the needs of the human beings in this mix are often overlooked and forgotten about.

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Men and women are not machines: we are not meant to run and run until we break down and are then discarded. We are complex organisms with complex needs, we thrive in a lifestyle that's paced and balanced, and we are not meant for toil and labour from sunrise to sunset every day of the year.

When Christy Moore sang, 'Everybody needs a break, climb a mountain jump in a lake," he was telling the truth.

Even a small period of time away from the familiar and the everyday can give you a whole new perspective and a new energy. Problems that seem intractable when you are dealing with them day in and day out are often simple to solve once you and the problem get a bit of time and space away from one another.

In my current job, I often find myself struggling with paragraphs and sentences that just don't seem right - and the more I struggle, the less clear they become.

The best cure is to turn off the computer and turn the hand to something else. An hour or two later or, even better, the next day, the words I was desperately seeking will jump out at me.

Farming can be difficult to get away from. It is an all-consuming mix of lifestyle, career, family, tradition, business and passion.

Many find it difficult to leave it behind even for a moment - if you met them on the moon, they'd be farming away in their heads. I'm reminded of the story of the farmer's son who was convinced to go on a sun holiday with his friends.

As soon as they landed on the Costa del Sol and he got the sun on his back, he wanted to go home. "We have the world of hay to be saved and with weather like this, sure we'll have to get it done."

It can often be a small world inside the farm gate and the longer you stay at it, the smaller it can get. What's more, people who confine themselves to small spaces turn in on themselves.

It's good to close the gate from the other side occasionally and put a bit of fresh air between yourself and the thing that is consuming you. It won't know what hit it when you get back.

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