Rather startlingly (to me at least), this is my 80th column and the last for 2018. This time 40 years ago, on 30th December 1978, my dad was reflecting on his time writing Countryman’s Diary since succeeding the ‘Grand Old Man’, Major Jack Fairfax-Blakeborough. He echoes my thoughts precisely when he writes, “It seems barely possible that so many months have been left behind since I took over.”
He goes on to talk about the relationship between himself and his readers, many of whom would send him letters and furnish him with extra facts, questions and interesting details to enhance his ever-growing collection of files. He was delighted when people contacted him, and I too am thrilled to get letters and feedback from readers, although it has to be said that fewer and fewer people actually sit flown to hand-write and post a letter these days. Although I do get some letters, I also receive emails and contact through my blog and social media channels, which I absolutely treasure, even when it is to point out a mistake. It is such a thrill, as it shows me that people are actually reading what I am writing.
And today, with such tough times for local and regional newspapers, we need to encourage even more interaction with our readers. I agree with what Dad was saying back in 1978 and believe it is even more true today: “It is the readers who keep the column alive.”
It’s a sad fact that the future of local newspapers is under threat, and if they go, then columns like this would disappear. With Countryman’s Diary (now Daughter) having lasted almost 100 years, that would be sad day indeed. Looking back over this year’s topics, I wonder where else you’d get discussions over such diverse subjects as goats, mulberries, leeches, roadkill, James Cook, sheriffs, the dawn chorus, rats, horse chestnuts, Mastiles Lane, fox poo, fly tipping and Mischief Night to name just a few. It’s not exactly groundbreaking reading, but I hope it is at least an entertaining break from the more serious stuff (You might have noticed that I didn’t mention Brexit once over the past 12 months!).
With so many media outlets competing over the same news, it is the unique extras like the various columns, the letters pages, the local history features and the farming pages that make our regional papers so special.
I don’t know what the solution is, but we definitely need to find ways to attract and sustain a younger audience and encourage them to spend a little over £1 a week to buy a paper. It is much less than the cost of a takeaway coffee or a fizzy drink, and I wonder what we can do to draw them in. If you have any suggestions, I’d be delighted to hear them!
As 2018 draws to a close, it is normal to have high hopes for the coming year. In days gone by, there were a number of superstitions surrounding that time of the year, one of which was to enter the new year with merriment and high spirits because the traditional belief was that whatever was happening at the very moment the new year began, that would prevail throughout the next 12 months.
So if you were making merry, then you were certain to have a happy year to come. If, however, you found yourself with no money in your pocket, then you would spend the year feeling the pinch. This belief was so strong for some people that they would borrow money, just to make sure they had cash in their pocket at the stroke of midnight.
There was a similar belief around the larder, so there would be much baking leading up to 31st December to ensure it was well stocked as the clock struck 12.
And according to this ancient poem, whatever was happening with the weather as the new year dawned was an indicator of what was to come:
If New Year’s Eve wind blows south,
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If west, much milk and fish in the sea;
If north, much cold and storms there’ll be;
If east, the trees will bear much fruit;
If north-east, flee it, man and brute.
So I shall keep a keen eye on the wind direction as I merrily welcome the new year in with my friends. May I wish you all very happy, healthy and wealthy 2019.
Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug