Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: John Caulton

‘Driving up the country lanes

The knackermen, we’re here again

A farmer’s gate, lift the latch

Dispatch, collect another batch’

The dead…

Oh, the joys of country living; the smell of sewage sludge, silage and manure! Unfortunately, it doesn’t mask our death-stink. No disinfectant or body spray can remove the ingrained stench of this thirty-year career. Take my mate Knackerdysseus, for example; women avoid him like the plague; he pongs like Hell’s harbour. Livestock can sense the morbidity on us from a mile away. Hear those cows? Mooing already and we’ve only just set foot in the yard.

However, we’re not here for one of their numbers this morning. No, it’s a different kind of brute, lying dead under a hawthorn tree in the back field. Individuals often limp into the undergrowth or scrub to die alone. Sometimes, a clean death occurs, sometimes not. It’s not uncommon to find a body drowned in a pond, shock-burned by electric cables or impaled on barbed wire. And occasionally, with the farming economy being as intensive as it is these days, a lost beast might not be found for several days. Like this one.

‘Bleedin’ ‘ell,’ says Knackerdysseus, ‘look at all these maggots!’

He scoops them up by the handful and fills his trouser pockets.

‘Goin’ fishing tomorrow. Best not be wasteful.’  

The eyes have gone. The half-eaten tongue lolls out of the slackened jaw and the bloated body is swollen like an inflated rubber glove.

‘La ressemblance de votre père,’ says I.

‘Non, ta mère!’ replies Knackerdysseus.

We lift the deceased onto the wheelbarrow.

‘How heavy?’ I ask.

‘Approximately 150 pounds.’

In the yard, we throw the carcass into the truck. Knackerdysseus goes searching for payment. He returns ten minutes later.

‘Like getting blood out of a stone,’ he says.

Thing is, once upon a time, we used to pay the farmers but now they pay us. The world’s changed and so has farming. Don’t blame us though, it’s not our doing, we’re only simple Knackermen.

‘Need to get goin’,’ I say, and put the truck into gear. We say goodbye to Honeysuckle Farm and head up the dirt track towards our next calling.

‘Fully licensed, certified

A vital service we provide

The dead, the sick and the lame

The knackermen, we’re here again’

The sick…

With a hundred-mile radius to cover, we’re always employed and this time of year is our busiest. By the end of February, winter seems to have done its worst and many creatures have given up on life. This week, there’s been a sudden drop in temperature and relentless rainstorms, just when it looked like Spring was gaining a hold. It’s been too much for some.

‘Where next?’ asks Knackerdysseus.

‘Across the dale to Cherry Blossom Farm.’

‘I’ve time to eat my sandwich, then,’ he says.

Half way through his lunch, he asks if there’s anything to wipe his hands on. Licking his fingers, he grumbles, ‘This cheese spread is messy.’

‘Try the rifle box,’ I say.

Back on the job, we’re taken to a sheep pen by a farmer’s wife. The diseased animal trembles and its big, sad eyes stare pathetically up at us.

‘It’s no use,’ says the wife, ‘I’ve been up the last three nights nursing it. It’s been a good ‘un, poor thing, but its time’s up and needs destroying. I can’t bring myself to do it, though. I was the same with the old dog.’

Clearly, it’s of hardy stock, but definitely a hopeless case. Animals often perk up when they sense they’re being singled out for special treatment, but not this one. Instead, it turns its head away and groans.

‘Bolt gun, monsieur?’ asks Knackerdysseus.

‘Qui, s’il te plaît,’ And to the wife I say, ‘You might want to turn away.’

‘I’ll go and get the insurance papers from the farmhouse,’ she says. ’Have it done by the time I get back, understand?’

This suits us fine; no knackerman, waiting for a piece of paper, enjoys standing beside a creature in distress.

On her return, the wife stares down at the corpse and shakes her head. She says, ‘I’m getting too old to run this farm by myself. D’you know where I might find a replacement?’

We both shake our heads. ‘’Fraid not,’ I say. ‘They’re a dying breed.’

On route to the next job, Knackerdysseus asks why there’s been so many similar cases lately.

‘Dunno,’ I say. ‘Bigger herds and flocks, maybe. Bad weather, falling incomes, market fluctuations and so on. You know farmers, they keep it to themselves. That’s their biggest problem, if you ask me.’

‘Still, all this blood keeps our hands occupied, Knackilles!’

‘It certainly does!’ Pass that rag over, will you? My palms are filthy.’

‘The knackermen, we’re here again

Remove you from this life of pain

The oldies and unwanted too

We’re here to take good care of you’

The unwanted…

Just when we think we’ve finished for the day, our boss Knackermemnon rings to inform us there’s one more job to do.

‘Sorry, chaps,’ he says, ‘but it’s the type you both hate.’

‘Shit!’ says I.

‘Shit sandwich!’ says Knackerdysseus.

In low gear, we force the truck over the upland heath, across the blanket bog and finally arrive at Daisy Meadow Farm.

A young farmer strides out from a barn towards us. Muscular and handsome with a glossy head of hair.

‘Nice to see you again, gentlemen,’ he says. ‘But there’s no business for you here today.’

‘Well, I have to contradict you there, young sir,’ I say. ‘We’ve instructions to slaughter a creature that’s been determined surplus to requirements. A beast that’s costing more to keep than its pre-requisite economic return.’

He quickly maddens. ‘Really. And on whose instructions?’

‘I’m not sure,’ I say, ‘but this is a corporately owned farm, isn’t it? Your boss has probably requested it.’

This immediately sends him into an apoplectic rage; and all the anger he feels for his superior is re-directed our way. Such colourful language is enough to make a bullock blush. We don’t take it personally, of course; this type of invective comes with the territory. The hatred farmers have for their faceless employers often gets aimed at us. Farmers rarely show much emotion but are happy to direct their anger towards a lowly knackerman. We don’t mind, though. In general, we’re sympathetic, passive listeners. You could say we provide a type of agricultural counselling; a little extra service, free of charge.

However, this young farmer’s fury is silenced by the rifle suddenly aimed at his head. The colour from his reddened cheeks quickly drains away and his mouth almost drops down to his wellies.


‘We’re awfully sorry,’ I say. ‘This is nothing personal, you understand. We’re only following orders. If it means anything at all, your physical condition is better than any individual we’ve had to collect this week.’

‘Devrais je, monsieur?’ asks Knackerdysseus.

‘Qui, sois mon invite.’

And that’s it, job done. The Marines couldn’t have been any quicker than us.

But this last assignment ruins the atmosphere on the return to the depot. We take no pleasure in having to destroy a perfectly healthy specimen. It’s a downer, it really is.

Knackerdysseus is curious. ‘The way things are going, who’ll be left to run these farms?’

‘Not our concern. Our duty is only to serve.’

‘Click and collect.’

‘Nice one!’

‘Shall we sing a song to cheer ourselves up?’ he asks.

‘And which song shall that be?’

‘Oh, I think you know which one, Knackilles! Ready? A-one, a-two, a-one-two-three-four…’

‘Attach the carcass to the hook

Winch the stiff into the truck

The knackermen, we’re here again

From Sunday to Sunday, Amen!’

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