Large Print Reviews
A Good Living
By Hugh Barrett
A Good Living
By Hugh Barrett
ISIS Large Print - Reminiscence Series, (2002)
Genre: History, Autobiography
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - July 7, 2002
Throughout the late 30's and the 1940's, English agriculture was in a state of flux. The old ways were quickly being replaced by mechanized farm machinery as the traditional labor force left the land to take on war work. Additionally, government regulations and new land schemes abounded, while many of the age-old methods of farming were being eradicated under the weight of 'scientific' methods of farming. It is into this changing venue that Hugh Barrett sought to make a living as a farm manager. And it is in his book, A Good Living that he chronicles his life during this volatile period.
An alumnus of the East Anglian Institute of Agriculture, Barrett took on his first real job in 1935 when he was at the ripe old age of 18. Although untried, he was hired on as the farm manager of Justices Hall. His boss, Euan Lentner was a gentleman farmer who paid well and gave Barrett almost complete freedom to run the farm as he thought best. In short order he was thrown into the thick of 'it' learning to manage the farm by actually doing the work and learning from those around him with more practical experience than he.
A Good Living chronicles the education that Barrett received from the land, and those who were tied to it. But this book is more than just a simple autobiography. It also offers the reader a snapshot of a way of life that radically changed after the end of World War II. In the process, Barrett gaily describes the numerous eccentric characters that peopled the English countryside, whose paths he crossed during his career. He also portrays the various farming methods in use during this period, and how these methods were rapidly changing. And, as the war intersected with his life, he describes the impact that it had on English agricultural practices and the depletion of the farming labor force - and how these labors were, at times, replaced by German and Italian prisoners of war.
As a history of English farming, this book is fascinating. Equally fascinating is Barrett's narrative that expounds the various jobs that he held which ranged from working at a refugee camp for Jewish children that had fled from Germany, to working on a series of farms owned by a 'big' company. He also did a stint as the manager of a plant that converted garbage and sewage to compost. Throughout his career, Barrett worked on a number of diverse farms. Each job is detailed in this work, along with descriptions of each farm, the people that worked on it, what his own life was like, and why he eventually left each position. He also describes what life was like for his wife Deirdre and children, who often lived in what, by today's standards, would be considered primitive conditions.
A Good Living is the second volume in Barrett's autobiography, the first volume being Early to Rise. A Good Living covers Barrett's life from 1935-1948, a period during which he married and had five children. When this book ends, Barrett tantalizingly mentions that after losing his last position in 1948, he went on to work in Africa and South Asia - might it be that a third book is in the offing? If it is as detailed, humorous, and well written as his first two books, we are all in for a treat.
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