Till the Cows Come Home

There hasn’t been a review of a book appear round these parts in quite a while.  It’s not been for the want of investing energy in attacking the pile of ‘must read‘ books by the side of my bed – hopefully I will get around to reviewing them soon.  But as soon as I had devoured Sara Cox’s memoir of childhood on and around a Lancashire farm – “Till the Cows Come Home” (2019, London: Coronet, Hodder Books), I felt compelled to put that right.

Her book is a warm, intimate journey through her formative years, and family foundations, and I just loved it.  Hankering down over a few evenings to read it with my terrier Poppy was a sheer joy, and provided us with some quality time too.  The book had particular resonance for me – not just because I had the privilege of working with Sara when I worked at in the PR team at BBC Radio 1 over twenty years ago now, but because her book took me back to many similar component parts of my formative years.

Settled down with my terrier Poppy to read Sara’s book over a few evenings.

Yes, it was the same era providing the backdrop, through the 70s, 80s and into the early 90s, but it was also many elements of the story itself.  Much of the book plays out on the farm of her Dad, Len.  My Grandad spent much of his life working with livestock and on the farm, and for much of my early childhood was driving cattle, horses and pigs.  And, like her Mum, Jackie, running things behind the bar, particularly at the club, my Dad was a steward too.  So many of the glimpses of life Sara provides in the book were particularly evocative – I was taken right back to the smell of stale beer behind the bar with my Dad, Tony (he was always obsessed with cleaning the pipes), or the smell of the cattle lorries with my Grandad, ‘Dutch’, so ‘Thank you’!

My Dad, Tony in his natty steward’s uniform, ready to go and serve behind the bar.  We lived upstairs in the steward’s quarters for a bit.

Sara’s style of writing is as lucid and as easy as her delivery on the radio – these days on drivetime on BBC Radio 2.  It came as no surprise to me that as soon as I said I had bought her book, my Mum, my Sister, and my Auntie Eileen were forming an orderly queue to read it after me!  That never happens with the books I usually buy!

And it demonstrates why, at a recent conference I attended, organised by the Rural Services Network, looking at the need for Government to develop a rural strategy, Sara’s name kept coming up as a popular name from the audience as someone who could help rural voices be better heard, rather than the stereotypes which routinely dominate.   Sara is one of those names held with real affection across generations in the UK, and garners real respect because of her wit, warmth and intelligence – and she says it ‘as it is’.

My Gramps (centre) worked on farms much of his life, and drove cattle, horses and pigs.

I don’t often buy celebrity biography type books – I’d made an exception in this case because it was about someone in radio, and by someone I’d had the privilege to work with, and feel a great affection for.  But in any case, it isn’t that kind of book.  There is much about the fragilities of facing growing up, about the nature of friendship, and above all, about ‘home’.

The trucks from ‘B.N. Gray’ which we most associated my Gramps with, transporting horses, cattle and pigs.

Sara demonstrates her talent for making people laugh.  It ends with the story of how she successfully auditioned for what was to be her big break into TV (and ultimately radio) with Channel 4’s The Girlie Show, turning her natural skills to her advantage after a period of modelling which took in time in New York, Japan, South Korea – and on the front of packets of tights in Boots wherever you might find them.

But the book ultimately isn’t about that.  It is about navigating childhood, particularly on a farm (and at times, on horseback).  It is warm, funny and hugely reflective – and the chapter headings are just so well deployed – whether that involves jubblys or perms.  Thoroughly recommend you read this book!


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