Hae a fly cup & blether

1 Jun 2024

Every other day, or so, when I’m out walking my dog, I meet a farmer neighbour on the road. Almost always, they stop, turn off their engines, and ‘hae a news’. Mostly it’s about the weather, farming, what I know, where I’ve been and what I think about beef, barley or fertiliser prices.  

From our blethers I’m an expert on where you can get the best breakfast locally – and it’s a toss-up between the Huntly Mart Café and ANM Thainstone’s ‘The Bothy’, depending on who you speak to.  

Importantly, these conversations often stray into what’s worrying or annoying folk, or them asking if other folk are OK, because they haven’t been seen on the road or at the mart café.  

I’m a big believer in the importance of talking and the joy of impromptu encounters, it removes us, even if only for a short time, from the ‘washing machine’ of our minds, from our concerns and from the urgent things that can almost always wait awhile.   

It’s only recently that I’ve felt the shift within the farming sector, from a community that stoically endures all, whatever the cost, to one where it’s OK to admit that you’re not OK. I think this is a very good thing.  

Our team has been very fortunate to speak to a lot of farmers, crofters and rural people about mental health and wellbeing, through the communications work that we have done in the sector for nearly three decades. Most recently as Farmstrong Scotland’s comms partners we’ve heard emotional, honest, and raw stories, which are also incredibly uplifting.  

I have huge admiration for people like John Scott and Jock Gibson, both Farmstrong Scotland founders and board members, who have a shared and dogged belief that we all need to focus on our wellbeing for a positive state of mind.  

Their approach includes taking time off the farm, talking, walking and socialising, learning or doing something new, and to eat well. All obvious, but often forgotten when times get busy, depressing, or tough.  

Both John and Jock also talk about taking notice – something that other farmers have told me helps them too – like standing in the middle of a field and listening to the skylarks, watching a sparrow feed its young or examining the intricate perfection of a tree leaf or flower petal.  

What I love the most about Farmstrong – which originated in New Zealand – is the repetition of ‘five steps to wellbeing’ – to connect, give, take notice, keep learning and be active. The Farmstrong approach is to share farmers and crofters’ own stories, which are all positive and can-do – whether it’s Hazel Moss’s elation from cold water swimming from Orcadian shores, or the melting away of embarrassment to belly laughter in Stuart McNicol’s sauna or the gathering of a community in an annual rugby game to celebrate a Caithness life cut short by mental ill health.  

There are things that come up repeatedly from the conversations that we have had – all of which can help on the not-so-happy days, like a reset that comes from a change of scene or a chance conversation, the old, truism that a problem shared is definitely one that’s eased a little and that most difficult tasks will wait, but can’t be put off indefinitely.  

So next time someone stops to have a blether, invites you in for a fly cup or sits with you for a news in a mart café, don’t rush away, dwell a while. It really can make all the difference.