My First Job: Nina Bawden, author, was a farm labourer in the Second World War

'I preferred the pigs to the sheep'

"The war barely touched us," recalls Nina Bawden, recalling her student days. "We had grown up with it." The children in her novels Carrie's War and Keeping Henry share this relaxed approach. It was not until the end of six decades of peace that sudden death came out of thin air. In 2002 her husband was killed instantly and she was seriously injured in the Potters Bar crash. She survived, to be movingly portrayed as one of the characters in the David Hare play The Permanent Way, and to write Dear Austen, a powerful polemic addressed to her late husband, the former BBC World Service supremo Austen Kark.

In school and university holidays during the early Forties, Nina worked as a farm labourer, first for free on the Welsh farm where she was staying and then for wages at a larger farm. She was paid a shilling(5p) per hour, which was more than the official Land Girls; this was because of her highly exaggerated claim to be fluent in Italian and therefore an interpreter for the foreign prisoners-of-war. If she told the Italian POWs what to do in a couple of words and then burst into tears, they leapt to it.

"I was tremendously happy. It was absolutely lovely to 'calve' a cow; I loved ploughing and harrowing." This was ploughing practically out of Gray's Elegy, using a "pram plough" pulled by a horse. "I helped with the harvest."

She learnt that sheep are bright enough to recognise faces: "When I came back from university, they would all run towards me. I liked the sheep well enough but I was fonder of the pigs, which I would clean out."

These days humans have largely been replaced by machinery but the farms then contained almost the equivalent of the cast of The Archers. As well as the farm's family, there would be someone to look after the cows, someone to look after the pigs and, in many cases, an Italian prisoner-of-war who actually lived on the premises, unlike the German POWs, who went back to their camp at night. "I would hate to live in the country," she declares, "unless I was living on a farm."

What would she have missed if she hadn't been a farmer's girl? "I would have missed going to Oxford," she replies instantly. "I think I got in because I wrote an essay for the entrance exam on The Future of Farm Subsidies, which no one else would have done."

At Somerville College she used to argue about politics with one Margaret Roberts, later Thatcher. The railways, of course, were to be privatised by Thatcher's successor, John Major, but that was decades away.

Nina Bawden's latest novel is 'The Ruffian on the Stair' (Virago, £6.99)

jonty@jonathansale.com

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Humanities Teacher

£110 - £135 per day + Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone: Outstan...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 primary supply teacher ne...

General Cover Teacher - Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Qualified Teachers needed for Supply in t...

Nursery Teacher - Grimsby

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Job opportunity for Nursery Suppl...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor