Inside the New Older Men’s Countrymen Club… (It’s Not What You Think)

Whether this is an all-male club is not obvious at first sight. Teenagers circle the farm (many of them participate in the Future Roots program and follow their own animal care programs), and wives and volunteers move in and out of the open barn that serves as the Countrymen’s daytime HQ .

Their club room, furnished with a tea table and battered chairs, has nothing to do with the Garrick or the Reform. There is a workbench where, on a rainy day, they build bird feeders. Or they can just sit with a cup of tea within earshot of the farm.

Back outside, Ken heads for the vegetable garden, hoe in hand, to make himself useful. Andy heads to the polytunnel greenhouse, where the aroma of ripening tomatoes is almost intoxicating. Farm staff are there to provide discreet support, but that is part of the fact that fellow countrymen can undertake whatever activities they choose, depending on their abilities and interests: they are safe, but never fed.

Mike and Tony, meanwhile, spend time with the resident donkeys, Milly, Max and their son Murph. With impressive car skills. Tony parallel parks his Tramper against the paddock rails and hands a handful of apples to Murph, a spirited young man with a skewbald coat. He had a lot of trouble, observes Julie, until he was castrated.

“That makes sense,” Tony nods. “When that happens to you, you’ll do anything.”

Murph nibbles the apple with his hand with big yellow teeth. “Isn’t he adorable?” Tony said. “Just look into their eyes and it’s wonderful.”

Tony has spent most of his life in this field since being posted to Sherborne while on National Service with the RAF.

“I met my lovely wife Angela here and we have been married for 60 years.” He’s smartly dressed for his day on the farm, in a crisp black jacket and Chelsea boots.

“I was a footballer, you see,” he says. “Footballers always look after their feet…” The great advantage of the Trampeur, he adds, is that he can feed donkeys without soiling his suede boots.