Rat shit, bat shit, cat shit……

Brown gold is the euphemism, but farming’s awash with shit. It’s the fuel that keeps the whole thing running or so it seems to me. I know nitrates are bad, bad things but they don’t smell as bad as pig shit. The smell of pig shit is a penance that must be suffered, in silence because mouth and nose are sealed with hot wax, if we are to eat good healthy food. The reason that shit is on my mind is  Celi‘s fault. For those who don’t know Celi, she is a legend. She’s a New Zealand version of Annie Oakley living out her life on the prairie with her version of Buffalo Bill. The upshot is that today she got covered in cow shit whilst debutanting as a milk maid. The motor for the milking machine had packed up and she had to switch to manual without a co pilot. Things went badly wrong and Daisy, the cow, showed her disapproval with a dirty protest. Now, I’m not a country boy, not even by a long stretch of the imagination. I might live in it, but I’m not of it. Once upon a time, in my life as photographer, I was shooting a job for an American branch of Diversy, an international conglomerate that makes, amongst other things, sterilising products for the cups on milking machines. We were on location in the modern milking parlour of a dairy farm in the heart of the West Country of England. I was suffering from a dreadful hangover brought on by an international celebration, that’s the American art director and myself, of the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau which had arrived in the West Country in my camera cases. I had never been in a milking parlour before and never since. The cows, connected by their teats to the milking machines, were in a semi circle around me on a raised concrete platform putting their rear ends, which faced me, just about to my head level. I had decided, as it was early morning, to light the scene with electronic flash and had checked out the electric supply with the farmer the night before. Photography, of the kind that I was used to, did not require protective clothing but I noticed that all the people about me seemed to be dressed in rubber from head to toe. Dazed as I was, I took this to be a West Country fashion statement and was therefore happy to be in my Levis and white tee shirt. The moment to start shooting was upon us. The electric pumps hummed and the cows gave their milk, lowing contentedly. This was an idyllic modern milking scene. And then I pressed the camera shutter. An electric current snaked down the synchronising leads to the fully charged power packs, situated all around the milking parlour, causing them to discharge a massive amount of accumulated power through the ranks of carefully placed flash heads. An electrifyingly sudden supernova illuminated the parlour and the cows eyes rolled back in their heads whilst their synapses  sent a perfectly synchronised  signal to their anal sphincters which opened like the mouths of a gaggle of divas hitting their top notes and gave forth, not sweet music, but powerful and accurately directed fountains of hot brown gold, at head height, in my direction. I was in the shit and  the shit was in me. Those in rubber had thought better than to mention to me that cows are very sensitive to shock or change when being milked and their names and faces are engraved on my heart as surely as was Calais on the heart of Bloody Mary. Thinking back I find it strange that I should have ever thought of leaving the safety of the city to live in the country. Yesterday I spent some time photographing farming pursuits. My neighbour. Patrick Liaigre, asked me to take some pictures of him harvesting wheat with a vintage German combined harvester pulled by his 1960’s British Nuffield tractor which suggested a  singularly unsuspected union of Great Britain and Germany in these troubled Euro times. This was a sun kissed,  shit free zone and I felt safe.

About Food,Photography & France

Photographer and film maker living in France. After a long career in London, my wife and I have settled in the Vendee, where we run residential digital photography courses with a strong gastronomic flavour.
This entry was posted in Digital photography, Farming, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, lifestyle, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, summer, Uncategorized, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to Rat shit, bat shit, cat shit……

  1. Mad Dog says:

    Holy shit! I thought that trigger voltage to the nose from the back of the camera was bad 😉
    Great pictures, especially the top one, which looks like WW1 plane! You are quite right about Cecilia, she’s a living legend.

    • It’s an amazing old piece of machinery made by Claas in the 60’s. He’s got it working perfectly. The farmers all collect old tractors and love old English ones. They’d prefer a David Brown tractor to a DB whatever:)

      • Mad Dog says:

        It definitely looks like class 😉
        I’m still chuckling, 45 years later, about my sister falling head first into very deep slurry in a Devon farmyard. I’d love to know how she managed it or why she was standing next to it… I have a vivid memory of the screams and what she looked like – she can’t remember a thing!

      • I’m afraid there’s a lot of truth in the saying that life is a shit sandwich – the more bread you have the less shit you have to eat:)

  2. spree says:

    Roger, you slay me! 🙂 Beyond that, I’m just left snickering and speechless!

  3. That is so, so funny. Sorry, but I am having a good laugh here. Clearly no one told you to step back quickly if a cow rasies its tail….mind you, I don´t think it would have helped as you clearly didn´t stand a chance!

  4. Hahahaha.. sorry, I would have liked to have been there, but your description was close enough! Those b*&*$# couldn’t wait.. My son would have done something like this.. Glad you’re safely on the other side of the food table these days..

  5. Holy crapola, what a story! 🙂

    Thanks for the link to Celi’s blog–I may never complain about my day again.

  6. These are just beautiful pictures, Roger. And your shit story has made my day. I have filed it away for dinner parties where I do not get on with the hostess -D

  7. ChgoJohn says:

    Well, thanks to you and Celi, I now know more about milking cows than I ever wanted and could possibly ever need. Thank the gods that alcohol production is so much more refined.

  8. Ha! I love how you’re blaming Celi for shit being on your mind!

  9. Excellent images of the wheat harvesting – Patrick Liaigre should be very happy. … and that part about being crapped on. Eh. Hope it’s outta your hair 🙂

  10. Tandy says:

    I knew there was a reason I get my milk in cartons 🙂

  11. Really great post. A compelling metaphore of our way of living…

  12. Well, THERE’S an image to carry me through the day! Rakish young(ish) city boy photographer, wearing the De Rigeuer uniform of the day, doused head-to-toe in cowshit….
    Had to throw the shoes away, didn’t you?
    Love the photos…old equipment just has style. Taking the granddaughter to an Ag Fair this afternoon for her first meet and greet with the antique tractors. I’ll remember your post while we’re there…

  13. ambrosiana says:

    Should I say holy cow or holy shit?? I got hiccups for laughing so hard!!!

  14. bellacorea says:

    Thank you for your wonderful story and amazing pictures as well!

  15. thomas peck says:

    Hilarious! Did the camera survive? And did you ever process the shot? Tom

    • We’re talking proper cameras, Tom. I was shooting on an old brass bodied Nikon F which just said “poo” to cow shit! The lens had to be dismantled and cleaned but it was the flash packs that suffered most. Flash packs and liquid are deadly enemies as you know. The picture was processed and was certainly interesting. We did a reshoot with tungsten.

  16. Thanks for the belly ache Roger, with an assist from the legendary Celi.

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