Toilet Reading: Country Smallholding

Tagline: ‘Britain’s Biggest-Selling Smallholding Magazine’

Price: £3.95

Who is this magazine for? Here you are, a chap of late middle age. You unconsciously harumpf every time you bend down to sit on the sofa, the barber laughs at you when you walk into his shop. Occasional sex is still enjoyable, but primarily as a reason for a nice lie-down. Even worse, your well-remunerated working life consists of meetings with young bucks; obnoxious streaks of hair gel hellbent on swiping your comfortable corner office away.

You’re being put out to pasture. Why not buy the pasture?

To be a successful country smallholder, you must be three things: rich, able to overlook the fact that ‘smallholder’ sounds like a euphemism for the owner of a tiny penis, and not a farmer. The last of these is the most important.  A smallholder is to a farmer what a white van man is to a proper lorry driver. Each one achieves basically the same thing, but the latter considers the former to be a worthless hobbyist.

Kate Humble

Turn that ‘n’ upside-down, and that’s what 50% of the readership are thinking about Kate.

Actually, there’s a fourth thing. You need to be a big fan of Kate Humble. I’ve got nothing against Kate, you understand – she seems pleasant enough in an engaging, Sunday school sort of way – but she has become this era’s outdoorsman’s crumpet, a position occupied not too long ago by the equally unlikely Charlie Dimmock. Here she is on the cover, there she is writing a page-long column, here she is pictured opening a factory in Somerset. Kate’s even got adverts for her ‘Humble by Nature’ farm courses in the back of the mag, which is a cruel tease to play on men who think that Mrs Humble herself will be guiding them through a day-long ‘Pigs for Beginners’ seminar.

What did you get for your £3.95? Apart from lots of Kate Humble, the overwhelming thing you get is adverts, of which more later.

Squeezed around the plugs for chick incubators and mini tractors are a handful of articles, an ‘Ask the Experts’ page, a show guide listing all the unmissable events for the smallholder’s diary and a whole bonus magazine call Poultry (inserted for ‘free’, an offer that pisses on Your Chickens’ henhouse).

The tone of Country Smallholding is set at a level of whimsy carefully calculated to annoy real farmers. Take the front cover for example. The top story, boasting of ‘HOT livestock’, was clearly written by somebody who considers the congress of man and sheep a bit of a laugh, rather than an occasional product of the crippling loneliness experienced by a true professional.

Features: The sense of ‘have a go’ amateurism continues through the features. Most of these follow a how to guide format – making beer, growing strawberries, choosing a sheep breed appropriate to your modest patch of land. As a slothful assbag of semi-organic matter, my method for completing each of these tasks is simple; have somebody competent do it in a way 100 times cheaper than I could ever manage (after my breakage and legal costs are accounted for).

Neighbour's cat

‘This fucking guy.’

In the beer-making article, I can’t even imagine how I would carry out the basic instructions. I might manage to successfully ‘drain off my second batch of wort,’ but how am I going to ‘clean out the spent grain and put it aside for feeding to pigs’? I don’t have any pigs. I could feed it to the neighbour’s cat, but seeing as he’s on a one-cat mission to turn my front garden into 100% cat crap, whereby he digs a hole in his crap, craps in it, and covers it with his own crap, I’m not keen to provide him with any support.

Meanwhile, over in Poultry, we get a fascinating interview with Marcus Walker, a top chicken breeder. The article reveals that he is known as ‘‘the duck man’ in the exhibition world’, which reveals much about the level of banter to be expected at poultry exhibitions.

One pimp motherducker

Marcus gives exactly zero quacks.

Marcus also touches briefly on the debate surrounding the laying capacity of Orpingtons, which, judging by the interviewer’s reactions, excite high passions in the smallholding world. I’m never sure whether it’s comforting or distressing that human beings – many of whom able to eat unaided – can invest a good deal of their brief window of mortality in arguing whether a particular type of feathery bagpipe can produce 80 or 120 eggs a year. On balance, it’s probably a good thing. They could be working in advertising.

AdvertsCountry Smallholding doesn’t hold back on adverts, with a bewildering array of chicken houses, animal arks, lotions, potions and worming medicines on offer.

X-ray chicken

Ever wondered what a chicken what look like if you were wearing X-ray specs? Now you know.

There’s a real range of professionalism on display too, with efforts ranging from the slickly impressive to the Comic Sans brain dump of the terminally odd. The strange thing about most of the stuff on offer is that it’s mostly designed to make running one’s smallholding easier and efficient. Fair enough, but in most cases, surely the point of having a smallholding to play with is to absorb as much spare time as possible?

Some of the products unwittingly give away their target market’s flighty nature. The beeswax hand cream in particular shouts ‘Greenhorn! City pansy! Your pathetic hands haven’t seen anything rougher than the edge of an Oyster card for fifteen years.’

At the back of the mag is a breeders’ directory, which is just a multi-species lonely hearts column on fast-forward. Some of the adverts have a similar feel too. ‘Organic Tamworth. Splendid characters and good looking’. Has you looking for the PO Box number already doesn’t it?

In the market for something a little more direct? ‘Pedigree pigs. Black weaners and growers often available.’

Letters page: Country Smallholding shuns tales of reader experiences, preferring instead to go with direct questions that seek advice from the magazine’s expert panel. When to plant spuds, what to feed pigs, which hive to choose for your bees – good, straightforward enquiries. So good in fact, that one has to be slightly suspicious as to whether they were actually sent in by readers. Suspicion deepens as you notice the question writers aren’t named.

Regardless of whether the writers are genuine, I still learned some valuable information. It is illegal, for example, to feed pigs with anything that’s been in your kitchen. Illegal, mark you, not just a bad idea. Which makes that ‘how to brew beer’ article – appearing just four pages later – look pretty dodgy to me.

Who knew? I thought pigs just ate mud.

Rating: 8/10

Country Smallholding is a substantial magazine supporting a substantial hobby. I’ve never enjoyed a close-up picture of a diseased sheep foot more.

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