Sunday 17 December 2017

Finding common ground between city and country

Lay of the Land

"But while we live and let live, forgive me for hoping that one day he’ll extend the same courtesy to his cattle." Photo: Stock Image

Fiona O'Connell

Cities are often cited as Meccas of multiculturalism that are down with diversity. But it takes more than a love of skinny lattes to be truly liberal, especially if your core is conservative. So if you want to experience egalitarianism, come to a country town.

The saying "it takes all sorts" really comes to life in any rural community worth its salt. Like the farmer who enjoys shooting the breeze with this vegetarian, unfazed by how vile I consider the treatment of "livestock", as such folk euphemistically refer to those sentient beings that are bred to be butchered.

In true country fashion, we've helped each other out over the years; this friendly farmer offering me lifts when thieves temporarily relieved me of my motor, while I contacted him when his cattle broke free from their field.

Sometimes he'll mention an old country custom or superstition, before worrying that I'll broadcast it countrywide via this column.

The truth is that he's one of my favourite people around these parts. Maybe because beneath the butchery and unabashed love of steak, I suspect he has a kind heart. Certainly, he's smart enough to have pulled off a bit of provincial paradise for himself, being father to five fine children and with a fair and lovely lady for his wife.

Of course, being Irish means he's also a charming mass of complexity and contradiction. He's fond of casually quoting Shakespeare in the sauna - where many around here gather for steamy sessions - after a day spent sweating over pregnant ewes. While, like many of us, he is suspicious of change, believing it rarely is for the better. Yet he embraces blow-ins, such as this former city slicker, being of the view that they bring fresh blood and stimulus to the country life table.

Maybe it isn't so funny that we get on. After all, we have in common finding each other's attitude to animals a bit absurd. But while we are miles apart when it comes to meat, we share a love of nature - as well as a general nosiness.

Take the time I was having a closer look at his lambs, when he arrived with one of his sons and loaded them in a trailer. I asked their fate, wondering if he was sending them to slaughter, and in response he beckoned me to his battered Jeep. Next thing I knew, I was sitting in the back next to his son as he drove us to heaven knows where.

We passed the turn that farmers often take when livestock are doomed to become late stock. We wound down country lanes, his son and I chatting about all and sundry, from his favourite subjects in school to the fact that I don't eat animals. Mr Farmer watched from the rear-view mirror as I explained my views to his interested offspring, looking as happy as Larry.

Finally we arrived at his farm, where he unloaded the lambs before dropping me home.

But while we live and let live, forgive me for hoping that one day he'll extend the same courtesy to his cattle.

Sunday Independent

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