“I’ve lived here twenty-two year now. My wife, Margaret, had diabetes and bad hip trouble, so we applied for a bungalow and got one on the Close. She’s been gone eighteen year now, the 12th October – which were two days ago.
She’d been having injections in her hip that turned septic. So they took her into hospital on the Friday and on the Sunday gave her an operation. I waited from about four until six thirty before they let me see her, but by eight o’clock she was gone. She hung on to me, those last few minutes before she passed away. We were very happy, Margaret and me.
I was born in Hampshire, on a farm, and I’ve worked in dairies for forty-six year. My father was such a (I shouldn’t say it, a b—) he had me milking cows at twelve-year old. My teacher came to him a couple of times and said, ‘Your boy goes to sleep in school because I see him go past to go milking every morning and evening.’ And my father said, ‘If I want my boys to work, you mind your own b— business.’
That was why I left home, because of him. When I was a child, a farmer came who he hadn’t seen for a lot of years and said to my father, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you had another son.’ He didn’t know I was listening – I was about eight then. And my father said, ‘Oh, he was a mistake. Should never have happened.’ And you know, I never knew him to pick me up. I had an older brother too and he said the same. My father had him milking from about eight.
After I went to do my national service I wanted to sign on, and I wrote to tell my mother. But she told me I had to come home as they needed me on the farm. So I did – I was only twenty then, and regretted it afterwards – and then I worked there for about four or six year. I met my first wife then; she was only 17 and I was 22. I was a bit of a naughty boy, and she got pregnant. So I told my family I was going to get married and stuck to it.
So then I was running the dairy, working seven days a week, up until nine every night in the summer. After four or five years I told my father I was going to get a dairyman’s job – because he was only paying me £6 a week. He told me I’d never get one, but I applied for one in Somerset and there were eight people went for it; but I got it! We was there three year and I then got paid £20 a week.
We then moved back up here, but after my wife’s mother died she couldn’t settle. By then we had five children and I was still working all hours – I’d worked my way up to nearly 200 cows by then. I was also doing harvesting and hay-making, you know, trying to make more money to keep us going. So after twenty-three years she left me, when I was about forty-five, I think.
Margaret’s sister had been friends with my first wife, and when she asked if I wanted to meet someone else, and I said yes, she introduced us. And then we were together another twenty-three year.
Piddlehinton was very good twenty year ago. Margaret and me were so happy together. But since she died I’ve been so unlucky. I’ve lost three of my children.
Clifford, my oldest, we were very close. As soon as he was old enough he’d come and join me in the dairy for most of the day. But he was very depressed from a small child, and he got worse. He was in and out of hospital and he died at 49. And then about two years after that my son Clinton died of a heart attack. And then four year later my only daughter collapsed at home and within six months cancer had gone to her kidneys and lungs and there was nothing they could do for her. So I’ve lost three of my children. I don’t know how I’ve coped.
My son Philip is still fine. He lives in Andover and works in an old people’s home, doing all the repairs and the garden. So he’s very busy, but he rings me every week to see how I am.
And my stepdaughter, Bernie, she also rings. I don’t mean to be big-headed or anything, but she thinks the world of me. She sent me these socks for my birthday. He sticks out his foot to show me. Her dad died when she was about seven or eight. A driver knocked him over and killed him when he stepped into the road to avoid a big puddle. About seventeen the lad. He’d only passed his test two days.
I was made redundant when I was 58, soon after we moved here – and dairy being so hard I couldn’t get another job. Then Chris S in the next village asked me if I’d do some gardening. I said I’d never done any, but he said have a go. And within seven weeks I was working every day, including Saturday mornings. I had seven part-time jobs and I did that until I was eighty-two.
I’ve always worked, but we did used to leave the valley sometimes. When I was in dairy, Margaret and me would sometimes go to Devon when I had a weekend off. And we went to North Wales once, coz she had cousins up there. The first time we went I thought, God, I’m never gonna be able to do it – but we only got lost for ten minutes, the whole way! Going right from here to Wales.
And I have been abroad the one time. I was in the army, doing me training in the artillery – we had guns for firing at the planes – and a chap got his foot crushed. The Sergeant Major got us all together and said someone was going to volunteer to go to Hong Kong. I didn’t volunteer, no-one did. But he still said, ‘Right, Butler, you’re the one who’s going.’
I was there for 15 months and I loved it. We walked into the aerodrome in Hong Kong and it was just as if I’d be there already. I seemed to know everything and yet I’d never been before. I’ve never forgotten that, I can see it in my mind now.
When I came home, my sister met me off of the plane and she said, ‘I don’t hardly recognise you, you’re so (I shouldn’t say this, should I?) dark, you know.’ Because it was so hot out there. Some of the guys ended up in hospital because of the heat – it burned through the soles of our shoes.
I’ve always loved living in Piddlehinton. It’s a lovely spot and people here are so good. During lockdown they’ve been marvellous, although my life has been pretty much the same.
At the start of it I did get very down, wondering how I would cope, thinking about my children I’d lost, feeling a bit overwhelmed. Philip got worried about me, so Chris S sent my friend Rod to check I was okay. He found me in bed, where I’d been for four days. I had eaten, and would get up and make a cup of tea, but then I’d just wanted to go back to bed.
Then Vickey came round and offered to do my shopping and I said, that would be marvellous. I used to drive to the Piddletrenthide shop every day, but as I get older I’m getting more forgetful. I still love driving, although I don’t go fast now. I’ve been driving over sixty years and have never made a claim. During lockdown my car battery went flat, but Vickey sorted for Tim J across the road to fix it, and now I take the car out every three or four days, just to keep the engine going.
I was never worried about the virus personally, because I’ve had a lovely long life. I’m eighty-seven and said to my boy that if anything happens to me I don’t want you to grieve. I want you to feel happy that I’ve had a good life. I can’t remember ever going into hospital.
At eighty-two I had a blood clot in me leg and the doctor told me to walk twice a day, and I walked and got rid of it, and I’ve kept it up. I haven’t seen a doctor for four and a half year now, and I can’t understand it, but I don’t seem to get any aches and pains. In the morning when I get up now I’m stiff and that. So I put me kettle on and I do exercises while it boils, and this helps.
I was also anxious, at the beginning. I didn’t want to get it wrong with other people.
When I’m walking, I’m careful to stay away from others, because I think it’s only fair to people to do that. I don’t want to give them anything. But I’m never bored. I read The Sun for two to three hours every day – I think it’s good to do that because I think if I read it keeps my mind active.
I did enjoy going on the BBC, although I thought I made a right boob of it. But people in the village said, ‘No, you done very well.’ I think it’s wonderful that they all took notice, I couldn’t believe it.
Afterwards I got this letter, from this lady who saw me on television and wanted to write to say she thought I’d done a marvellous job. It was lovely. On the top it said: ‘Jim Butler’, coz they knew my name. Then it said: ‘Sorry, we don’t know your address, hope you receive this.’ And the postman delivered it. I couldn’t believe it!
I think my best moments now are when I walk down to get my groceries from Vickey or she comes to see me. She always has a chirpy word for me, it’s marvellous.
We’ve been friends for eighteen year now. We met soon after we both moved to the village and she’d lost her father and I’d lost Margaret. We used to walk together for hours, going miles every day, with our two dogs. Sometimes we’d get into trouble for trespassing, not that I cared. They look at each other and giggle; clearly still the same in spirit, despite the gap in years.
I loved my dog Misty. She was a little Jack Russell and if you started singing she’d always join in. After Margaret died she’d sleep in her bed, under the covers.
When Vickey used to come and get us, my neighbour, Ivor, he used to say, ‘Oh I see your girlfriend come up to take you out.’ Then when she had Harry he’d say, ‘Jimmy, I saw you out with Vickey and Harry yesterday, Daddy pushing the pram.’
It was great fun on the Close back then. There was Cyril next door, who always called Harry, Charlie. And Jean C and Ivor. He was a naughty man. I’d take him in his milk every day, and we’d always have a chat.
Originally the bungalows were built for retired farm workers – but it’s different now. Younger people have moved in. As I get older, I find, now I’m in my eighties, I wanna be in my own home and not have to worry about others. Just say hello to people and keep myself to myself.
It’s why I don’t go places. I’ve always worked on my own in dairy – you don’t meet a lot of people. I like meeting like two or three people to talk to, but I feel that when there’s lots of people they ignore me, although it’s not them, it’s me. I can’t cope with crowds.
I’d talk to the cows though. Still do. Well, I’ve worked with them for 46 year. I think it’s lovely to be with them. They’re knowledgeable, and all different. One of my friends used to come up from Somerset and she’d say, ‘They’re all black and white, how can you tell them apart?’ But I’d see a cow and say their number (they used to be named) because to me they’re all very individual.
When they’ve got calves, mind, if you go in there with a dog they’ll go to attack it. Mrs S went in a field once with two dogs and they knocked her down. If she hadn’t had a stick… well. She was bruised all over. And the young ones are lively and will run after you. But I just put me arms out and talk to them quite loudly, and that will stop them.
I’ve always loved being outdoors, but now I worry about the environment. I was saying to someone yesterday, I go for my walks and when it’s lovely and sunny I used to hear the birds singing. But you don’t hear or see them now. Until recently I’d put bits of bread on my front lawn so I could watch them from the window. And sparrows, about twenty, used to come. Now I don’t get one. I don’t know what’s happened to them.
And animals like rabbits, foxes, pheasants and deer. Once there was about fifteen, all together. Now you don’t see one. It’s all this cutting of the rain forest and that, like… you know, the old chap…. David Attenborough says. I listen to him regularly and he says that doing away with forests is going to destroy half the animals. But people can’t seem to see it; or they don’t understand, do they?
Covid hasn’t been the worse thing in my life, but it’s a shame that everything’s gone so wrong. The best thing for me now would be if something could cure all this epidemic, so that things can get back to normal. Back to life like it was.
But it’s still lovely here, the valley is a beautiful place. My sister once said I should go back to Damerham, where I was born. But I said, why, when it’s so lovely here? I’m never going to leave it.”