Tuesday 15 April 2008

Remembering Ian Windel

Ian Windel, photographed by Danny Howell, at a farm machinery sale,
at Shelley Lane, Ower, Hampshire, on 1st July 2005.


I first met Ian Windel when I went to a cattle sale at Roundhill Farm, Horningsham, but that was only the first of many encounters. I regularly used to see Ian at farm machinery sales, agricultural shows and rural events. He would talk of old tractors, like the imported International his father used to own, and he always seemed very knowledgeable about real horsepower – the Shires and the Punches and the other breeds which once did dray work or toiled on the farms. His knowledge of equine matters was such that he was a familiar face, as a steward at the Horse Ring at Frome Cheese Show, serving also as a Committee member.

My meetings with Ian usually meant two things – Ian would tell jokes and I would take his photograph. He enjoyed spinning a yarn and I couldn’t resist snapping his picture – he had a presence that would have appealed to any photographer: he was usually puffing on a pipe, and his face with its distinctive sideburns and moustache was sure to lure the lens of any camera. He didn’t mind having his photo taken, quite the contrary; unlike the majority of people, he seemed to revel in it. He was very pleasant company to be with.

I’ll give you one instance. I bumped into Ian, with one of his friends and employers, Mr. Green, from Baycliffe Farm, Maiden Bradley, at a farm machinery sale at Shelley Lane, Ower, just off the A36 near Southampton. I’ve checked in my diary when that was - 1st July 2005. It’s nearly three years ago now but I can, for some strange reason, remember one of the jokes that Ian told to me that day. He was stood by a County tractor when he said "Two bulls were in a field on top of a hill, overlooking a meadow in the valley below and in that meadow was a herd of Friesian cows. The younger bull said to the older bull, "Dad, if we run down there we could have one or two of those cows." The older bull replied, "No, son, I’ll tell you what, we’ll walk down there casually; that way we can have the blummin’ lot!"

"Ian loved telling jokes like that, but it might be fairer to describe Ian as a story-teller and his stories were often about things that had happened to him. More often than not he gleefully regaled the incidents that amused him.

I particularly remember one tale he told me concerning Bishopstrow. Ian said that one afternoon he was driving a tractor through the main street in Bishopstrow, towing a rather wide farm implement. There were cars parked either side of the street and Ian couldn’t get through. So he stopped and knocked a cottage door, hoping that the occupier would be the owner of one of the cars. A woman answered the door but when Ian enquired, she said it wasn’t her car and that the car belonged to a neighbour, another woman. "I think she’s in, and she won’t mind moving her car for you," was the obliging response and the woman told Ian to follow her, around the side of the cottage, to the back of the next door cottage. At the rear of the cottage was a conservatory or a kitchen or some extension with large windows – and Ian and his chaperone were greeted by an unexpected sight. The owner of the car was in the conservatory or whatever it was, with little in the way of clothes on, having sex with an equally undressed and rather burly man, presumably her husband or boyfriend! Unabashed, the woman who had escorted Ian to the scene of the couple caught in flagrante delicto, did not turn back. Instead, to Ian’s amazement, she tapped on the window, calling ‘Coo-ee, can you move your car? This man can’t get by!’ Ian, telling the story to me, thought it was absolutely hilarious, and I expect he dined out on that tale for a long while afterwards.

The last time I saw Ian was one Thursday morning in October 2007. I had taken my mother into Warminster so that she could do her shopping. When we returned to my car in the car park adjacent Warminster Library, Ian’s landrover was parked next to my car, and Ian soon appeared, having got a short-stay free-parking ticket from the ticket-machine. I don’t know for what purpose he was in town, but it couldn’t have been anything urgent, because Ian immediately started chatting to my mother and I. Half an hour later, still chatting, Ian told a tale about the current Lord Bath (the 7th Marquess) and the wifelets – a tale which was very amusing to him – and the reference to Longleat prompted my mother to tell Ian that her grandfather had been born on the Longleat Estate, at a place called King’s Bottom. The mere mention of those two words – "King’s" and "Bottom" was the instant cue for Ian to tell a joke concerning the posterior of a certain member of the Royal family. He seemed to have a treasure-chest of jokes and anecdotes, the lid of which could be opened at very short notice.

Jokes and funny stories aside, there was another side to Ian. He could be serious about things like tradition and respect for other people and their feelings. I remember him telling me of the time when the great storm (I suppose he was referring to the gale on the night of 15th/16th October 1987) wreaked havoc on some trees in Longleat Park. Ian met the old Lord Bath (Henry Thynne, the 6th Marquess) in the Park, looking at the damage. Lord Bath had tears in his eyes and kept repeating "Look at what has happened to my lovely trees." Ian told me it was a very poignant moment and he, seeing Lord Bath upset, was holding back the tears as well.

Ian would always support the events I was involved with, like the Plough Sunday Celebrations at Corton, and the Wylye Valley Plough Match. Beforehand I would write to him, telling him about what was planned and inviting him to come along. When he came to those events he always made a point of thanking me for sending him the invitation. He never once failed to thank me. Never. He was very sincere, like that, and I always got the feeling he would do anything to help me or anyone else.

I know that Ian used to get in the Bath Arms, at Horningsham, where he would soon find himself engrossed in conversation with locals and visitors to the village and Longleat. He told me, more than once, of something he used to say to visitors. He said "Visitors often ask me in the pub if I have lived in the village all my life, and when they ask I always say ‘Not yet!’"

Ian’s sudden death in early February 2008 has put paid to that particular quip and has stole away a real country character. I am pleased to have known him, I am glad I was able to photograph him and also film him on video; I only wish that I had placed a tape-recorder in front of him to record some of the things he said. He was delightful company, a pleasant raconteur, and a lovely man. I shall miss him very much and the lives of all of us who knew him are diminished greatly by his passing.

Danny Howell.