The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Far from the bidding crowd

Written by Mark Lewis; artworks by Becky Blake


Of all the farmers that auctioneer George Haywood had met, Bobby Sowden was the most extreme. Folk treated Bobby as if he were the village idiot but he was far from this, he was well read and articulate, although to look at him you wouldn’t think he had a penny to his name.
At a sale of grass keep one year, just as one of the lots was being auctioned, Bobby ran down the hill towards the auctioneer waving his hands. When he eventually arrived the lot was knocked down to him and he asked ‘What have I bought and at what price?’
Bobby lived with his sister at ‘The Farm’, a holding in the middle of a beautiful and smart village with manicured lawns and cottages with roses around the door. Although Bobby had been approached numerous times to sell for development he and his pigs remained. The smell of pigs can be strong, but at ‘The Farm’ it wasn’t the pigs but the pig dung! The dung heap in winter got larger and larger until the clay fields were dry enough to withstand a tractor tyre, and Bobby would stir up the village by filling his dung cart and driving down the street to his lands.
Bobby was not malicious, but if the people in the village annoyed him he would become forgetful: he would forget that it was anti-social to spread dung on Sundays or forget to close his gate so a few porkers would wander into a neighbour’s garden… that was when the solicitor’s letters started. Eventually an injunction was served on him and the pigs had to go.
George agreed to auction them on the farm and drew up a catalogue of the herd – which ones were in pig? How close to farrowing? How many piglets in the litter?
In the end the catalogue was done and sale day arrived. Usually a great effort is made to tidy up when a sale is held, but at the farm, every pitchfork was out of place and of course there was the inevitable dung heap!
The crowd attending was enormous – many appeared out of curiosity, but most people arrived to buy – for all of Bobby’s unorthodox appearance his pigs were extremely healthy.

' content as a baby'

‘Lucy…as content as a baby’

As the clock struck eleven Bobby went over to his tractor, put some axle grease on his hands, ran them through his grey hair and with resignation wandered, head bowed to the sale ring.
Moving pigs is not the easiest task and boards had to be used which meant that there were inevitably delays as each lot come snorting and squealing in to the ring. Half way through the sale, however, there was an unbearably long wait. George barked at the drovers, asking them to find the missing pig, ‘Lucy’.
‘Can’t find here anywhere George,’ came the reply. ‘Reckon she’s disappeared, ‘cos I saw her here this morning’. George called the next sow into the ring and got someone to look for Lucy.
The afternoon wore on and every few lots George would ask the whereabouts of the missing pig. After the last lot was sold George asked the few buyers who still remained if they would be kind enough to stay and help search; about twenty started to look in all of the buildings.
Bobby’s sister – bow-legged and bent over with arthritis – came out of the house: ‘Wat’s goin’ orn? Thic sale finished then?’ she asked.
‘Well, almost Miss Sowden,’ George replied, ‘but we can’t find Lucy; we’ve looked everywhere but she’s just vanished.’
Miss Sowden chuckled: ‘Lucy b’aint vanished Mr Haywood, she been ‘ere all daze she had, but it ain’t no good lookin’ in them sheds, she be stretched out in ‘ere, in front of thic fire in front room, snorin’ here ‘ead orf!’
Sure enough there she was as content as a baby, oblivious to everything. George looked at Bobby, whose bright eyes glistened with what could have been tears, and suggested selling Lucy where she was. The buyers assembled quietly and bids were whispered, selling her in the end for the top price of the day.
‘Reckon I’ll pick ‘er up in the morning,’ said the buyer…, ‘if she’s woken up by then.’

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