In 1951 Buster Johnson moved from Surrey to Exmoor with her husband Johnny, four children, a couple of dogs and a vanload of pigs and poultry. Naturally gregarious, she exchanges a life of domestic servants and bridge parties for a remote and spartan existence at West Nethercote, a farm in the heart of Exmoor national park. Alas Poor Johnny, written some ten years later, is her vivid and fascinating account of their life there, and of farming on Exmoor in the fifties, told with a strong sense of drama and of the absurd.
The void left by her lost cultural and social pursuits becomes filled by the minutiae of everyday life, and by her husband Johnny and their four children. Above all, it is filled by the animals. These take the place of absent friends in her affections, their personalities permeating the book. There is a small but strong supporting cast, including busybody Mrs Stevens at the next door farm; Arthur the ex-cowman who moves with them from Surrey; SRN Tommie, the butt of an aggressive ram – and Alby the rabbit catcher, who plays the mouth organ and dances wild dances, enchanting the children.
Finally, threading through all this with a glint of steel, is Johnny. He is her antithesis; strong and undemonstrative, generally preferring animals to people. Their relationship is the heart of the book.
Alas Poor Johnny is a first-hand account of life on a farm in the 1950s, written at the time but reading with the freshness of the present. It will appeal to anyone, whether interested in Exmoor and old farming practices, a lover of the countryside and of animals, or just wanting to cheer themselves up with a good story, well told. It is a delight to read, hugely funny and, at times, touching.
Buster and Johnny spent the rest of their lives at Nethercote. She died in 1987, without ever publishing her book. Her daughter Birdie, who herself lived there for many years, has now done so on her behalf. Boris Johnson, Buster’s grandson, has written a foreword.
Featured in The Bookseller, March 2015 Non-Fiction picks, Biography & Memoir.
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BORIS JOHNSON’S GRANNYFESTO
West Somerset Free Press
The Exmoor Magazine
Boris Johnson's 'Grannyfesto'
Mail on Sunday
North Devon Journal
North Devon News
Western Morning News
Mid Devon Gazette
Western Morning News
Congratulations - this book is excellent! I received it last week from the Publisher and read it in one gulp! I highly recommend it to everyone interested in Farm life
by Johanna Jaenne
A memoir about life on an isolated farm on Exmoor. The writing style seemed a little unpolished, but this is only my opinion.
by Polly Halicki
Welcome to Exmoor and to the life of a farm in a remote valley during the 1950's. Read about the highs, lows and everything in between. The world of animals and the people passing through. A lovely, lovely book!
by Irene Appleby
With Boris Johnson not being my favourite person I approached this book with a bit of a negative attitude...especially when I realised he had written the forward. However it completely won me over. Held my attention and interest throughout with the most interesting part being the history of the area and I loved some of the very funny anecdotes.
It was surprising in many ways and very refreshing.
by Collette McGaahan
Irene (known as Buster) was a French war bride who married Johnny, a no-nonsense Englishman in 1936. She traded her higher education and upper class life to undertake life on an out of the way farm in Exmoor, England. You wouldn't expect Buster to adjust to this primitive life but she does so whole heartily and with undying determination and good humor. This is a delightful description of their life on the farm as told by Buster. It was in 1960 that she was invited by her sister to join her in the West Indies for a four-month holiday during which time her sister painted and she wrote about their life on the farm and what a wonderful author she is! It wasn't until years later that her long-forgotten manuscript was taken from its place on top of a cabinet by her grand-daughter, Birded, and submitted it to a publisher. Unknowingly, Buster has written a family treasure to be read and enjoyed by all. I'm only sorry Buster never lived to realize her talent but you can be sure she would be proud.
by Mary Hughes
LOVED THE BOOK ABOUT BUSTER JOHNSON WHO CHANGED HER LIFESTYLE TO LIVING ON THE FARM IN EXMOOR WITH HER HUSBAND, 4 CHILDREN AND ALL THE ANIMALS WHO BECAME LIFELONG COMPANIONS. HOW EACH OF THE ANIMALS HAD THEIR OWN PERSONALITIES, ITS SET IN THE 50S WHERE THERE WAS ALWAYS A SENSE OF CAMARADERIE AMONGST THE FARMING FOLK.
by PAM THOMAS
Such an amazing woman to learn to cherish a life so different. Her story is quite inspiring and the English countryside delightful!
by Jennifer Brown
3 out of 5 stars
I was captivated by this book; such an interesting story. From a life of privilege to living in a remote place in a basic and spartan way, this is a tale of life in the 50's on England's Exmoor. An interesting twist is that it is the life of Boris Johnson's grandmother; the book was published, after her death, by her daughter.
A touching a remarkable account of a life gone by. I highly recommend it.
by Patricia Bishop