Radio 4 – Home Truths – The Cattleman’s Story

I miss Home Truths, this was my favourite:

Jim Thompson got in touch with Home Truths with a tale of friendship which totally altered his perception of himself. Around forty years ago, in the 60s, Jim worked as a cattleman for British Rail…

“One day I got a load of cattle in, two year old bullocks. Depending on where they’re brought up they’re about ten or twelve hundredweight. If they’re small, you’ll get twelve in a wagon, if large, you get ten in a wagon. They must be packed in such a way that they’re fairly tight and can’t fall down and become injured and bruised. If they do that, the slaughterhouse won’t have them.

Anyway, one day, I got one in that was particularly badly bruised and looked very sorry for itself – it had fallen and been stepped on. I kept it for a week until it perked up a bit, but I couldn’t afford to let sentiment come get into the job. These cattle went to the slaughter house, and I had to divorce myself from any feelings that these live things were soon going to be dead. It took me a few months after I first took the job to get to this point.

This particular beast was a Hereford. He had long curly hair between it’s horns – and looked foolish ! He looked very sad, it’s head was down, it was steaming, there were damp patches all over it where it had been stepped on – cattle go damp when they’re bruised. I kept it in a pen on it’s own and gave it clover hay – a bit of a delicacy for cattle. Instead of coming in at eight and going off at six, I came in at six and went off at ten at night, getting my work done then spending a lot of time with this animal. I was on my own, and if everyone searched their heart, they would say they would do things on their own they wouldn’t do in front of a crowd.

It looked so sad that first evening, and I looked at it and I said, “Oh you poor devil!” It looked at me, and I walked up and I couldn’t help it I put my arms round its head and gave it a hug. And do you know what, it rested the full weight of it’s head on my shoulder and gave a sort of moan, and I thought, “I’ve struck a chord here!” I had the weight of this big huge bony head, with the big blubbery nostrils, and I thought, “Heck! these creatures don’t look in the mirror and preen themselves, they just say, ‘Hey, I’m big and hairy and smelly, here I am – do you like me?’ We were getting too close, me and this beast!

I didn’t realise how I was feeling until the following Monday when four of the drovers came up. Very hard men! They came up and said, “We’ve come for the spare one, boss!” One, called Fred, said, “You don’t look yourself, Jim.” I said, “I’m a bit down. I‘ve got a bit close to this animal over the last week.” And this big tough man looked at the ground, and said in a low voice so the others couldn’t hear him, “Aye, I’ve been through it myself.”

The animal went off with them to the slaughterhouse. I stood at the gate and watched them. I did feel sad. I was just about to turn back into my office when it gave a roar, a shout! It wasn’t a moo, it was sort of shout, and it reared up and turned round and hobbled back, it couldn’t run, but ran as best it could back to me. It stood behind me. I had goose pimples everywhere. This dumb beast had run back to me for protection; it was going off to be killed. It had put me in this invidious situation – I couldn’t buy it and keep it, the railway wouldn’t let me keep it on the premises. I couldn’t give it the exercise it want, all I could do was keep it in a pen – it had to go, it had to go.

The drovers ran back for it, and I stroked its head. The tears were running down my face. I went back to my office and just sat there, tears running silently down my face. I felt much less than a man. When I could speak again, I phoned head office and said “Sorry boss, I’ve got to pack it in.” He said, “Don’t let it get to you like this!” I had muscles, no-one bothered me, I could chase people off, but I had to leave the job – this creature had reduced me to a wreck!”

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