In today’s English listening lesson we talk about someone who is famous and who has made much of their money being a clown, suddenly try to be taken seriously. The UK has a great climate for farming, but the climate is changing and that brings many challenges to an important part of British life.
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Bureaucracy Sarcastic Farm Crop Endearing
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One of the series on television that we’ve been watching lately is on Prime – and it’s called ‘Clarkson’s Farm’. The ‘Clarkson’ in question is the well-known UK ‘petrolhead’, famous for Top Gear across the world – Jeremy Clarkson.
Top Gear had an audience of 350 million viewers across the world at its peak. And a ‘petrolhead’? Well, that’s a compound noun made up of ‘petrol’ and ‘head’ and it means someone who is enthusiastic about cars and apt to drive very fast.
Now people’s reactions vary when you say the name ‘Jeremy Clarkson’. He’s ‘Marmite’ – that means some people love him, some people hate him. Top Gear is probably what he’s most famous for and you may know him from this series with Richard Hammond and James May.
Three grown men playing around with cars! Again some people liked this programme, some people hated it and saw it as self-indulgent – or even ecologically irresponsible. Top Gear was ‘of its time’ – and it was extremely popular.
Jeremy Clarkson was famously sacked – that means he ‘lost his job’ from Top Gear in 2015 – because he punched his producer in the face, following an argument in a hotel, while they were filming in Yorkshire. The producer didn’t report the incident, but Clarkson reported himself and was duly sacked by the BBC.
So that was the end of Top Gear on the BBC for Jeremy Clarkson. There have been several different people presenting it since, the most successful and well-liked of which is probably Matt Leblanc of course, famous from the series Friends.
Anyway, Clarkson’s latest series on Amazon Prime is called ‘Clarkson’s Farm’ – and so far 8 episodes are available, documenting Jeremy Clarkson’s efforts to become a farmer and a second series has just been confirmed. So a farm, FARM is a piece of land used for growing crops or for raising animals – to produce food usually.
You know, farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.
⭐ Dwight D. Eisenhower
A ‘crop’, CROP is the product, the end result of growing. If I grow tomatoes, then ‘the crop’ is the tomatoes I get from my plants. And a farmer, FARMER- that’s the person who looks after the land and the growing. So Jeremy Clarkson bought a farm in 2008 with rather a lot of land – 1,000 acres – in the area of the UK known as ‘The Cotswolds’, which is beautiful and a rural farming area in England.
He only recently decided to farm it himself and reached an agreement with Amazon to make a documentary series about it, for a handsome payment I think. So the programme documents his experiences as a novice farmer. ‘Novice’, NOVICE means someone who ‘doesn’t have a clue’, who knows nothing about farming.
Sometimes is it silly and a bit annoying – Clarkson fooling around on tractors and farm machinery or doing things which clearly aren’t going to work. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s joyful because the environment is beautiful or the animals ‘have attitude’ but are rewarding.
The sheep like to ‘do their thing’ for example and they keep escaping, much to Clarkson’s exasperation, but he ends up liking them. And sometimes Clarkson is actually making a more serious point about the problems which farmers in the UK face. This is the case anyway, but even more so as the filming time covered part of the pandemic period, and things became even more difficult.
Clarkson’s farm is called ‘Diddly Squat’ – which is bit of a jokey UK expression means ‘hardly anything at all’ – which is the amount of money that Jeremy Clarkson expects to make from his farm, because farming in the UK is so difficult.
And there are some endearing characters in the programme. ‘Endearing’ means ‘you tend to like them’. Not least Clarkson’s long-suffering partner, Lisa who puts up with all kinds of antics and tries to support him. And then there is Gerald, whom Clarkson calls ‘his security’ because Gerald builds and maintains the farm’s stone walls – around 40 miles of stone walls around the farm.
Gerald is 72 years old and has never been outside the village, but he’s a great ‘dry stone waller’ which is what we call ‘a dying art’, a skill that’s being lost and replaced. And with Gerald, if you ever wanted proof, evidence that British accents are hard to understand, he provides this proof! Gerald is impossible to understand, even to UK native speakers - I can only understand a tiny part of what he says! And although it’s never said specifically on the programme, it’s pretty clear that Jeremy Clarkson doesn’t understand him either. He just nods and agrees – but this doesn’t appear to stand in the way of a good friendship!
Another character is Clarkson’s farm management adviser. He’s an expert in farming and farm accounting, whom Clarkson sarcastically calls ‘Cheerful Charlie’, because he’s always arriving to tell Jeremy Clarkson why his foolish decisions aren’t going to work. ‘Cheerful Charlie’ also tells Clarkson what the rules are that he must follow or why some of his choices don’t make good business sense.
If you know Jeremy Clarkson, you can imagine how he gets ‘wound up’ at these rules! He insists on buying for example, a Lamborghini tractor – which costs a lot and is often too big for the jobs they need to do. A tractor, TRACTOR is the main vehicle that farmers use. A tractor will pull along all kinds of farm machinery at the back to get the farming jobs done. A much cheaper tractor has to be brought in to do some of the jobs.
A photograph of a family watching TV. English listening practice lesson on some great British TV.
But the best character in the series, is the 21 year old farm worker Kaleb, who comes to help Jeremy Clarkson – and who evidently knows a lot about farming. Kaleb is like a young man from last century in that he is not well-travelled, He says he ‘went to London once on a school art trip – and was so scared he didn’t get out of the coach!’.
Like Gerald, Kaleb prefers to stay in his home location – the area around the Cotswold village where he lives, which he clearly loves. And he clearly loves farming. Kaleb’s expertise is impressive for someone who’s only 21 years old and he runs his own farm in the area too. What’s funny is that he has no fear of Clarkson, the big celebrity and Kaleb gets angry with him and tells him off, especially when Clarkson has decided to do something his own way.
Kaleb is also amusingly prone to being embarrassed. If other farmers in the area can see what a mess Clarkson has made in his fields, Kaleb will be laughed at in the pub, so he gets quite annoyed sometimes. And it’s not as though Clarkson’s driving experience particularly counts here, either. In one episode, Clarkson gets the tractor stuck – and in the end after a long time trying, he has to concede that the best thing is to ‘let the 21 year old sort it out’. Kaleb has the tractor unstuck within a couple of minutes!
The more serious side of this series highlights some of the challenges for UK farming. Farming is somewhat ‘under the spotlight’ since Brexit. It’s been clear that we really need to get about producing more of our own food. And ecologically, it makes sense as well, to grow and consume our own food much more.
Flying in apples to the UK from New Zealand is one of my pet hates! We have a climate here, which is ideal for growing apples – why do we need to ship them from the other side of the world? Farming generally needs big changes – we can’t continue to do it the way that it’s done at the moment. It’s not ecological, it isn’t fair on farmers and it doesn’t work well.
Clarkson’s Farm ‘Diddly Squat’ highlights just how much British farmers are at the mercy of the changeable and inconsistent and unpredictable British climate – our weather, in other words. He experiences weeks of rain when he’s hoping to plant. And when his crops need water, there are weeks and weeks of high temperatures, sun and no rain.
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Jeremy Clarkson rears sheep and then learns that because all the restaurants are shut down because of the pandemic, the value of lamb has halved. And when the sheep are sheered – that means that their wool, WOOL is taken off – he expects to get some money for the wool. But the amount of money that he would receive for a sheep’s fleece, that’s FLEECE? Around 30p. It’s really difficult to make any money from farming.
Clarkson also highlights the amount of what is called ‘red tape’. ‘Red tape’ is a saying in English, which refers to the dark pink coloured binding that lawyers or solicitors used to wrap around legal documents. So when we say ‘red tape’ we usually mean it as an idiom, meaning ‘lots of legal requirements’, which can feel like an obstacle, which feel as though they get in the way.
Another word we might use with a similar meaning, (but less in a legal context) is ‘bureaucracy’, that’s BUREAUCRACY. And if you’re a farmer, your life is full of red tape and bureaucracy! So although Clarkson fools around at times for the sake of the camera – his fans would expect nothing less - his fame also means he’s perhaps a useful voice for British farming.
The series has certainly got people’s attention, made them more sympathetic to the challenges of farming and made farming much more interesting to many people.
So hopefully that’s been an interesting review of the programme ‘Clarkson’s Farm’ and it’s exposed you to some different vocabulary.
Anyway, enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
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