I wrote this in the very early 90s for a newsletter where I was working at the time. I've reworked it a bit to sit off my home page should anyone be interested enough to get that far and have added various notes over the years with the benfit of hindsight...
This has been described as being like tearing up £10 notes while standing fully clothed under a shower. This is, of course, completely untrue, inflation has set in, and nowadays you're tearing up large cheques instead. Actually, in the slightly off mainstream branch of dinghy sailing I indulge in its not quite like that - for a start its more like a jacuzzi full of ice cold water going down the neck of exotic rubber clothing - but also because the actual design and building of the boats is, for me, a major part of it, and over the years I've probably spent as much time doing that as sailing them - but that's all part of the fun! Less fun, of course, is swimming for the shore because your latest superior design feature had a major flaw that you hadn't spotted.
In theory my father and I used to do this as a business, but when the
accountant did the books he said it just HAD to be a hobby. Basically
you buy lots of expensive ewes (female sheep), a very expensive ram
(male sheep), and put them together in a field on the first of
September. You then spend the winter putting lots of food into the
sheep, picking up the ever fatter ewes when they fall over, and
picking yourself up every time the ram knocks you over.
On about the first of January, if you are lucky, all hell lets loose. Lambs start appearing - well appearing - I use the term loosely - looking ready to appear, getting stuck, and needing to be extracted, often expensively by the vet. You then spend all your time feeding sheep, feeding lambs, stopping sheep treading on lambs, stopping foxes eating lambs, stopping dogs chasing sheep, running around like a blue arsed fly etc. etc. until the week before Easter.
Now its decision time. Any lambs that aren't good enough to be sold as breeding stock have to go to the Easter market (Its the only chance you have of getting a price that will pay for half the food they've eaten). The rest have to be fed more and more until its show time.
With show time approaching its time to make the lambs look pretty. Here is where you discover whether your choice of breed was a mistake. If you went for the pretty brown and white ones with curly horns (Jacob's Sheep) it was. These need to be bathed, trimmed, permed, curled, waved, polished (the horns) and blow dried like any society female - worse in fact, since there's so much more of them. If you were wiser you went for something with a black face, black legs, and a white carpet grade wool body (Suffolks). These only need the bathing, trimming and blow drying, and in addition to have all the bits of white wool where there should be black removed ( you're not allowed to dye it, but you can pull it out!).
In any case you put your beautiful sheep in a van, drive to a show, and pull out a selection of indescribably filthy objects that have been rolling on the floor all the way there. You then line up your scruffy sheep with a number of other people, who have got beautiful immaculate animals, and a judge wanders round and looks at your sheep. He whistles under his breath, looks again, and picks your sheep out. Your heart beats faster, until he says, "That will be all, thank you" and you realise you've just come last.
Finally it comes round to market day. The pick of your best sheep are at the Breed Society's Show and Sale. You've even won a rosette ( 4th out of 5 in the best newcomer class). Your best lamb goes into the ring. All the incredibly gnarled and knowledgeable shepherds surrounding the ring head for the bar. The auctioneer looks, gulps, and says;" Here we are, gentlemen. fourth in his class, a lot of growing still to do, perhaps, but a good sort. What am I bid ? Thirty guineas ? Twenty five ? Who'll start us at twenty?"
Yes, they still sell sheep in guineas. So the best of your year's lambs go for an average of £15.75p, or about a quarter of what they cost to feed.1 Never mind, you just bought that cracking ram lamb, out of nearly the same breeding as the breed record holder, for only 600 guineas, so next year will be the year...
This is my partner's hobby rather than mine so all I can do is offer a few observations. Dog breeding appears to be almost identical to sheep breeding, except that it has a few other drawbacks. Sheep don't wake you up barking because you won't let them sleep on the bed, and aren't normally allowed in the house to pee on the rug. Perhaps more to the point, if you breed sheep you can at least eat your mistakes. Exports to Korea are prohibitively expensive.
I spent a certain amount of time doing what is called roadying. This
involves driving miles and miles to places you've never heard of,
unpacking tons of equipment, getting insulted and sworn at by the
band, packing up all the gear again, finding you've missed last
orders at the curry shop, and driving home again hungry. The band get all the girls too. It is a mystery
to me how everyone in the music business is a socialist, when they
treat the people who work for them so badly. In reality its the last
home of real kick 'em in the balls capitalism.2 Someone I knew who was well up the music
business tree 3 once said to me
"In the music business you can forget all that crap about being
nice to people on the way up so they'll be nice to you on the way
down - you'll meet a different bunch on the way down anyway."
Actually playing isn't much better. Until you've been seen on television audiences think it isn't cool to get excited and enjoy themselves, so they stand there like mindless zombies and talk until the band comes off and the disco starts, then they all dance and enjoy themselves until your second set, when they stop again. As a result you spend your whole time being blown off by discos until you get your big break - a support slot for someone fairly well known. Now its quite different, they all stand like mindless zombies until the main band comes on, but at least you've been humiliated by human beings. Back stage you get to meet your heroes - except that half of them can't string two words together due to mental or chemical deficiencies, and the other half won't talk to you anyway.
Actually a friend of mine at college got arrested playing tiddlywinks. They were having a tiddlywinks race down Oxford Street, and his counter landed on the bonnet of a Police car. He climbed on to finish the game...
Please note that this was written about the
situation in the late 1980s. Right now, 1998, as a result of years of
political interference, both domestic and European, distorting the
markets, the financial prospects of any kind of agricultural
enterprise are nothing like as rosy as described. Right now just
about everyone would be grateful to get fifteen guineas a lamb...
Last home of kick 'em in the balls capitalism
indeed. Well, in my defence it seemed like that at the time, but boy,
was I ever wrong. I utterly failed to predict the rise of the big
internet advertising and merchandising giants, who seem to reckon
that there's no need to kick 'em in the balls when you can break
their legs, jump on their heads, rifle through their pockets, take
their house keys and go and steal everything they own. Oh, and claim
they're doing it overseas so they don't pay tax on the results of
their immorality. How naive I was when I thought almost nothing could
be worse than the record company system...
He did promotion work for one of the major labels,
and at the time he was doing the press releases for a long forgotten
band called Sigue Sigue Sputnik (Inventing stories about £5m
advances, fights, cut heads etc. etc.). I remember him being amazed
that, no matter how preposterous the story the PR department made up,
the UK papers would print it as true!