Published: 28/03/2015
eISBN: 9781784628444
Format: eBook



‘Buster Johnson came by accident to the long, low farmhouse called West Nethercote and decided never to leave. Her evocative memories gather together an array of family and neighbours, plagues of rabbits, a mutinous ram and the shepherd calling to his dog from across an Exmoor valley. She vividly describes a way of life that was already passing away. Alas Poor Johnny is a splendid book. It deserves to be widely read.’
Tom Mayberry, Head of Heritage, South West Heritage Trust

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About the Author



Irène Johnson (known as Buster) was born at Versailles in 1907, to a French mother and English father. She was 29 when she married Johnny, swapping her cultured upper middle class life for one of freq... read more

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Alas Poor Johnny
A Memoir of Life on an Exmoor Farm: Foreword by Boris Johnson
by Buster Johnson (edited by Birdie Johnson)

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


Boris Johnson announces his ‘Grannyfesto’ to a packed and appreciative audience of friends and family at the launch of Alas Poor Johnny, a memoir of life on an Exmoor farm written by his grandmother Buster (Granny Butter), Dulverton Town Hall, Easter Monday, 6 April 2015


“It is fair to say that no one in our family has much of a reputation for meeting copy deadlines – and indeed one of the reasons my brother Jo has had to zoom back to London this morning is that someone rang him before breakfast and reminded him that they needed 4000 words by 7pm for the Tory election manifesto – don’t worry – it’s going to be superb.

But Granny Butter has today beaten all comers by producing her book not just late but fully 28 years after her death – to call her the late Granny Butter is an understatement, my friends – and it is a triumph.

Her memoirs have been brilliantly edited by Birdie and every page of them evokes a world that has almost vanished – Exmoor in the 1950s. A world without television and the internet, a world without central heating and mains electricity. Where life is an elemental struggle to start the fire and light the tilley lamps and pull the cows from the bog and save the sheep from an appalling disease called blackleg, to which they invariably succumb.

And yet I am sure that Jo would agree with me that there is so much we can learn from this book. And in this tense pre-electoral period I believe it is time to cull the 10 key points and put them to the people.

Yes; here it is – the Grannyfesto.

1. Abolish VAT on hearing aids.

2. Apply to the UN for immediate recognition of the superior intelligence of rats, geese and other animals.

3. Create a fourth emergency service, staffed by volunteers, to perform that humanitarian function essential to any civilised society of pulling your husband, and his landrover, from the river when he has had one too many at the Royal Oak.

4. Institute forthwith an NHS for animals, funded out of general taxation, to help cope with the appalling and vaguely obscene consequences of terrier tail baldness.

5. Admit asylum seekers from Italy and other Eurozone disaster areas on the strict understanding they speak English and help with the lambing.

6. Bring back hunting to Exmoor. While always respecting the feelings, and indeed the wishes, of all animals involved.

7. Relax planning bureaucracy so that hard pressed hill farmers can build attractive tractor sheds for machines that ceased to function at least 20 years ago.

8. Negotiate an immediate opt out from all burdensome and intrusive EU legislation on vacuum cleaners and other electric appliances, because sometimes the wood is so wet that the only way to get the fire going is the old Electrolux on reverse thrust, and put it to the people in the form of an in-out referendum.

9. Make scrabble an Olympic sport, provided that joey with a small j is globally recognised as a valid term for a baby kangaroo.

10. Finally, above all, bring back MANNERS, in young people. So that they stand up when all grown-ups, particularly ladies, enter the room. And so that they eat crisps in the proper way, with a knife and fork, as Granny Butter was taught to do when she was brought up in the Pavillon du Barry, Versailles.

That is the Grannyfesto my friends, these are the ten key policies that I think will carry this country, or indeed any country, on May the 7th. If you seek any further elucidation it is all here in this wonderful book, for which we thank Granny Butter, as indeed we thank her for so much else. So well done Birdie on a brilliant job – and forwards to victory with Granny Butter.”


Alas Poor Johnny by Buster Johnson
Edited by Birdie Johnson, with a foreword by Boris Johnson
paperback £7.99 and ebook £3.99. For more information go to www.troubador.co.uk/shop

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