Landlines: onward and upward

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Like many family in-jokes and catchphrases I can’t remember where or when our “Onward and upward!” line started. But we trot it out to each other in difficult times.

More precisely, we tend to use it when there is a hint that problems are easing and light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train coming in the wrong direction. So I got the “Onward and upward!” feeling at the weekend when after what seemed like six months, but might be a year, the weather improved. The full benefit of a rise in temperature and the prospect, even if illusory, of come compensatory growth for grass and crops was mitigated by the unpleasant and blustery wind.

But even that pet hate was tolerable when the temperature was 14 or 15 degrees compared with a steady four to six for the previous lifetime of hats, gloves, thermals and incipient frostbite, and the sun shone. As noted many a time before, humans like animals respond to the sun on our backs. Goodness knows it was needed as the full horror of late March snow for sheep farmers in parts of Ireland and the west of England and Scotland were revealed as snow melted in the shape of hundreds of dead animals.

Nor will mid April sun and higher temperatures alone reduce the knock-on effects of that snow and last summer and autumn’s miserable weather on crops, grass and livestock. The countryside continues to look brown, bare and wind-blasted, young lambs in protective plastic jackets is never a good sign and expectations for the main hill lambing now starting must be moderate at best.

There is also the thought that this late, cold and at times hellish, spring means cutting much grass for silage in May will be unlikely unless compensatory growth in warmer weather – assuming that continues – is remarkable.

But most farmers, whether they say it or not, always have an “Onward and upward!” approach to life and think more about what to do to get on than brood on the past.

Fertiliser has been spread, spring crops are being drilled, potatoes planted, the main lowland lambing for those not hit by snow seems to have been reasonable. Healthy lambs now outside with their mothers look well, even if most of the feeding to keep ewes milking is coming, expensively, from bags or hoppers. In these troubled times it’s good to see a success story and most farmers will have at least some experience and knowledge of the distinctive yellow-painted products of JCB. Turnover for the company last year was £2.7 billion, profit £365 million, 6,000 staff in the UK alone, productivity per employee £69,000 compared with the national average of £42,300.

It’s also an export leader with 75 per cent of JCB’s UK production going abroad and last year sales of its farm machinery increased. Impressive stuff, but it’s also possible to develop affection for a JCB the longer you have one.

Our record was to buy one second-hand then use it for 30 years. In that time it carried out a wide range of jobs and withstood a lot of rough treatment, as do most JCBs in use today, whatever their age and condition. A company making durable products like that, and a family business too let’s not forget, deserves its global success. Onward and upward.