Clothing the Smallholder

Clothing the Smallholder

Clothing the Smallholder

11 December 2014

CLOTHING THE SMALLHOLDER

BY

John Bezzant

 

I have been a smallholder for over twenty five years having practised my craft first on the Bedfordshire-Cambridgeshire border thence to Pembrokeshire in Wales and now I am situated on a five acre holding on a Scottish hill that is sandwiched between the North Sea and the Grampian mountains. This is without doubt the most inhospitable place that I have ever lived. When the winds blow, which they do frequently, they are savage in nature and in winter they bring a chill that slices though a man like a steel blade cooling his very marrow. When the rain comes it never comes gently tumbling from the skies above but tears angrily across the ground in a horizontal nature being driven with force by the wind. I never knew that rain could strike with such force before I came to live here. Uncovered flesh when the rain is hammering, believe it or not, is actually stung by the raindrops as they blast into the skin. But the worst weather is the blizzards. When they come the temperature can drop to –15 and the snow, which rolls across the ground, gathers in the blink of an eye in great drifts 12 to 15ft deep. If you step outside in a blizzard you cannot see your hand in front of your face and in five minutes the snow, which is extremely wet and sticky, covers you from head to toe so that you look like a living snowman. Maintaining a smallholding up here during the winter is a demanding task that takes an iron will, a good deal of physical fitness and the toughest of clothing so when Jack Pyke asked me to test out some of their clothing on my smallholding I was astonished. Are they mad? was my initial thought. It is not uncommon for so called waterproof clothing when used in this location to let the water come streaming through on the very first outing. I remember testing some clothing that came from New Zealand a number of years ago, the jacket alone costing around £200. And on the very first occasion that I wore the jacket the water streamed through it like water through a sieve. I couldn’t of got any wetter standing in the shower. When told the wholesaler of this garment protested that the jacket had been thoroughly tested in New Zealand and not once had it let water. All I could say was that the Highlands of Scotland are not New Zealand. I told Jack Pyke what it was like up here and still they insisted they wanted me to test their clothing.


"Alright." I said, "If we're going to test it lets really test it. Six months, right through the winter, which means the clothing will be worn for 2000hrs of hard, muddy, wet and cold work."

"Fine." Said Jack Pyke and promptly sent me a big brown box of clothing to be put through its paces.

 

Winter on a smallholding consists of the daily management of the holding covering such tasks ask milking, feeding and mucking out - then there is the endless chore of chopping wood. I am a skilled wood gatherer collecting wood from every conceivable source. For example, I have just finished coppicing a patch of woodland for a local farmer and on another farm I removed an absolute stack of broken and unwanted pallets. The local builders merchant is another source of scrap wood, which they bring by the lorry load. Gathering wood in this enthusiastic manner enables us to heat our house for nothing and next year we hope to start heating our water using wood, which will make another saving. Other winter tasks are the preparation of the vegetable plot for the next season, the repair of any damage to the fence line, the maintenance of machinery such as ATVs and tractors and repairs to the barns, which this year means fixing up the roofs. Not my favourite job as I hate heights but I am not going to let a little thing like fear get in my way. So you can see that the Jack Pyke clothing it going to experience quite a lot of action.

 

The smallholder has to work out of doors 365 days a year. When the rest of the country is flat out on the sofa full of Christmas pudding and turkey the smallholder is out of doors no matter what the weather seeing to stock. So the first requirement of any clothing worn by the smallholder is durability a quality sadly lacking in garments these days. I need clothing that doesn’t tear when I get myself harpooned on barbed wire, an all to common occurrence and I need boots with thick soles that don’t develop a leak when I stand on a nail. Gloves are also very important. In the winter the skin of bare fingers is forever splitting like the ripe skin of a banana - creating very painful cuts in the skin that are prone to infection. Warmth is also very important so I need some good fleeces. And of course I need to stay dry and that means staying dry all day long not just for an hour or two. I cannot abide so called waterproofs that keep out the water for a couple of hours then suddenly they let it through like water bursting wantonly through a dam. And another pet hate is waterproofs that keep the water out but soak it up in the fabric. By the end of the day such waterproofs weigh a ton and you can hardly move.

 

The centre piece of the Jack Pyke clothing that I am testing on the smallholding is the waterproof suit that consists of the Countryman Jacket and the Countryman Trousers. This suit is made from heavy duty nylon. I wear this suit not just as a waterproof but also as a coverall in muddy conditions to keep myself clean. It performs this task to perfection and can be quickly sponged down at the end of the day to remove the mud. A lot of people think of nylon as an inferior material but that is because they have only encountered the second rate flimsy nylon used in cheap clothing. Nylon is an extremely tough and abrasive resistant material, which is why it is used in industry to make harnesses and strops. The nylon from which the Countryman jacket and trousers are made is heavy duty and consequently is exceedingly tough. I have used this suit for one month now and it still looks brand new and though I have been doing some rough jobs the nylon has so far refused to rip. A period of two weeks of the worst rain I have seen since I have lived in Scotland didn't scare the Countryman suit one little bit. It just laughed at the constant deluge with not one drop of water making it through the heavy duty nylon. I am very impressed. A couple more comments deserve to be made about this suit. Firstly it is very comfortable allowing for a free range of movement, which makes it easy to perform all manner of tasks. There is nothing worse than waterproofs that cut into you like a tourniquet when doing your work, I’d rather get wet than wear such waterproofs. The second additional comment is that the Countryman jacket is, surprisingly, a very smart jacket so it does not have to be confined to use on the smallholding but can be used anywhere a casual jacket is required. There is no warmth in the Countryman jacket or trousers, they are not designed to perform that function but they are supremely effective at keeping out the wind. Wind chill is a skilled destroyer of warmth but the countryman suit can easily counter the most savage winds the close weave of the nylon providing a stern wind barrier. So the countryman suit is not simply a waterproof suit but a tough outer shell that will keep you clean and dry and keep out the winds to boot. I almost forgot to mention the hood, which is very well designed for the simple reason that it does not blow off thanks to a most efficient draw cord system that closes the hood snuggle around the face and a little peak on the front of the hood ensures that rain does not go in your eyes. I have tried many waterproof suits on the smallholding and I have to say the Countryman suit ranks among the very best.

 

Now every smallholder knows that Wellington boots are an essential piece of equipment as smallholdings are prodigious mud factories. I am testing the Countryman Wellingtons with full length side zips and neoprene lining. Now I could give you a long list of the specifications for these boots but a much better recommendation is to tell you that some years ago I tested a pair of Wellingtons with side zips manufactured by one of the worlds top boot makers. The Wellingtons cost more than three times the price of the Jack Pyke boots. And I can report that the Jack Pyke Wellington is in my opinion the superior boot both in warmth and comfort, which goes to show that price is no guarantee of superiority. The very first time I was wearing the Wellingtons I happened to be breaking up some old pallets and of course I ended up stepping on a darn great nail. A disaster that has seen many of my Wellingtons spring a devilish leak but not so the Jack Pyke Wellingtons due I believe to the generous depth of the sole. A smallholder has to live in their Wellingtons for months on end so they need to be comfortable the biggest problem with Wellingtons being that they don’t ventilate well and so your socks end up soaking wet and wet sock lead to cold feet. I’m sure every reader will recognize the syndrome. Some Wellingtons five minutes after you put them on resemble standing in a swimming pool others will take a day or two before they are soggy. The Jack Pyke Countryman Wellington is not immune to the syndrome but no Wellington is however they take about a week of constant wear before becoming damp inside and if stuffed with news paper at the end of the day they are dry for the next morning.

 

To stay warm on the holding I am wearing the Countryman Jumper which is really a zip up jacket with acrylic wool on one side and fleece on the other. It is, simply put, one of the warmest garments that I have worn taking the sting out of those chilly morning starts. As to the durability of this garment we have recently acquired a Labrador puppy called Nemo, named after a character in the Charles Dickens story Bleak House. One of Nemo’s favourite games is to thunder across the floor jump into my lap and sink his needle sharp puppy teeth into the Countryman Jumper. I reckon to date Nemo has made a good one thousand attacks on the jumper and still it survives in tact. If you ask me that is a pretty impressive demonstration of durability showing that the Countryman jumper is fit for purpose on a busy rough and ready smallholding.

 

If you found this article informative then keep your eyes open six months from now when I shall bring a further report to your attention informing you how the countryman range fared over the 2000hrs of work to which is going to be subjected.