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‘How are you keeping, double four nine five?’

‘One mustn’t grouse as long as one’s alive.
I know it’s only milk that we produce,
but still one likes to feel that one’s of use.
It’s better now the cooler weather’s here.
Don’t you agree, four two eight three my dear,
that summer is unbearable? The flies,
disgusting creatures, crawling in our eyes;
the dry grass, tasteless; no shade in the field;
and then the farmer moans about our yield!
He’s just a brute, that man, all take take take;
and stingy, with his low-grade cattle-cake —
an insult. When it comes to quality
I know a thing or two. He can’t fool me.

You see poor four six nine eight over there?
Don’t say I told you this: she’s in despair
and here’s the reason — it’s a frightful shame.
This morning, when our lord and master came,
he found her number badge and bent her ear.
I heard him tell her (I was standing near):
“If you don’t pull your socks up and lactate,
I see your future on a dinner plate.”
Can you imagine it? So coarse! So rude!
I’m not surprised it’s put her off her food.
She says her life’s just not worth living now.
She’d rather get it over with, poor cow.
What can one do? The bar code doesn’t lie.
She’s heading for that cowshed in the sky.
One can’t but feel a certain sympathy.

And how’s life treating you, four two eight three?’

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by Peter Hetherington