Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

A farming empire built on seaweed? You’re kidding, or acting the goat...

Nick Hewer with farmer Charlie Cole (right)

Cecilia's jacket is hanging off her like a Palmer-Tomkinson from a trust fund — an unusual sartorial error for the Beeb's fave fair-weather presenter, but an eerily prescient marker for the latest genteel instalment of The Farm Fixer.

Yes, it's the Apprentice's fifty shades of frown Nick Hewer and his one man crusade to turn struggling local family farms into thriving economic drivers, or something.

Last week’s inaugural episode had the God-petrified Harrison family not taking kindly to the business Gandalf's tinkering, as he tried to get them to open on a Sunday.

Being savvy sorts and aware that God doesn’t really take Sundays off, and He would be watching, they politely declined his advice.

But that was then. Monday night’s farm that needed fixing was owned by a young Ballycastle landowner with “big dreams and plenty of ideas”, and more rounded vowels than a Duchy of Cornwall.

Young ruddy-faced Charlie Cole ticked so many ‘broke toff’ boxes, he could have been a repository for shop-damaged Werthers. It didn't help that his equally well-spoken mum was called Camilla.

But no matter, times is tough for all these days, and Charlie was determined to come good — through the harvesting of seaweed.

Nick was unconvinced, especially as it was just work of eight days a month. But Charlie had a second strand to his stratagem. “Kids!” he declared cheerfully, for a moment confirming centuries of lower order suspicion about the dining habits of the gentry.

Kids, of course, are baby goats, which Charlie was convinced would make for a trendy lamb substitute.

Nick, being Nick, pulled a few quick faces and then determined that cheery Charlie drill down into his plans.

In fact, so anxious was he for drilling to take place, he almost brought over his own toolbelt. Charlie's downwards Black and Decker deployment eventually revealed that he hadn't really thought any of this through.

“This is a man who bought a swarm of bees on a whim,” Nick tutted.

“Boy kids are a waste product,” said Roy Colvin of the Northern Ireland Goat Club, who was also concerned about the goats “beefing out” in time, conjuring up images of deadly experimental gene-splicing in the Ballintoy area. Alas, we didn't get to the bit were Roy talked about the rules of Goat Club.

Months down the line — and the most successful business visit to London by a north Antrim farmer ever — plus a successful goat-tasting with Paul Rankin, and Charlie's plan was back on track. His goat caravan was rocking and the seaweed side of things was looking a sight more lucrative than rotting aquatic cabbage has any right to be.

Nick and Charlie had a reflective final meet at the goat caravan and Charlie told an affectionate anecdote about his favourite kid, which ended with the “killing one off a month”. You really can't afford to be sentimental about your kids these days...

Everybody celebrated in style with seaweed and goat surprise and Nick left us with an enigmatic aside: “I'm not saying he's up and running, but I know where he's going.”

It's not certain if the same could be said at this stage for this light but likeable curio.

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