I lived in West Sussex until I was 12 and then moved to the Cotswolds for the rest of my childhood. I was lucky to grow up in such an idyllic setting and I now live in the Chilterns – rural enough, when having to commute daily to London.
I like hills (partly because I love snow and you don’t have to be a weatherman to know that snow is found on hills!). I have a soft spot for the gentle downs of southern England, due to childhood memories. But find me a mountain to climb with a stunning view and I’m happy. The Peak District, Snowdonia and Highlands are favourites, but I regret that I haven’t visited the Northern or Western Isles. There’s so much of Britain we should discover.
When I was a young teenager, I was mowing the field above our house with the old Massey Ferguson tractor. I hopped off the tractor to reconnect the silencer that had fallen off. Behind my back, the tractor started rolling down the hill. With me frantically running after it, the tractor smashed through the fence, across the lane and into our garden, coming to a halt a few feet from where my mum had been weeding the flowerbeds. A near miss!
My rural hero (after John Craven) has to be my grandfather, Harry Ingles. Through arable, beef, dairy, sheep and soft-fruit, he worked through the huge changes in farming that happened in the 20th century. He was a wise man with a gentle smile, and I have such fond memories of the hours helping on the farm or sitting at the fireside, listening and learning from his tales of Cotswold life.
Anecdotally, I know farmers often feel EU regulations are over-complicated and can inadvertently reward poor and inefficient farmers at the expense of the better ones. However, I know there are always two sides to every story. On a personal note, the regular weekend battle for supremacy between cycling groups and 4×4 motorists makes me wince. Throw in the odd rambler and horse-rider and it’s a worryingly lethal concoction. The question is: who has right of way?
I struggle with flat scenery – to me it lacks drama and mystery. A coastline gives context to that scenery, so the East Anglian seaside has a charm of its own, but my least-favourite setting is flat suburbia. Even here, however, one can find nooks of natural wildlife. Thankfully, with the help of volunteers, local nature reserves are springing up even in larger towns and cities.
Even at an early age, I was fascinated by the weather. I wrote to BBC Weatherman Bert Foord when I was just four or five years old. He gave me some encouragement, but also sound advice that I would have to work very hard. There’s a lot of complex maths and physics involved in meteorology. Of course there are hundreds of meteorologists, who do all sorts of jobs for the Met Office. So I was very lucky to be chosen to work on television and radio – first on ITV and then the BBC. It’s a real privilege and great fun!
When I started out, you had to have a fairly hardcore science degree to work at the Met Office. Thankfully, it has now been recognised that successful communication of weather information takes more than being a science geek. Some of our best weather presenters are not meteorologists. So if you have personality, proven communication skills and a willingness to thrive in a fast-moving news environment, the rest is up to determination (and a bit of luck, too).
Climate change is being taken seriously by farmers and others who work in the countryside. Country-dwellers observe well. We have to take the rough with the smooth of our quirky weather patterns. It’s the longer-term trends that are of more concern. Farmers are in the best position to recognise these and, if necessary, adapt their practices to protect their livelihoods.
If I weren’t a weatherman, I’d like to work outdoors in the countryside. Perhaps in the future, I may be lucky enough to get some livestock, but I could only be a hobby farmer now. I’ll leave the big stuff to my son, who is currently at agricultural college. I also like to do landscape painting – it’s a fantastically relaxing pastime, but I’m far too slow at it to make a living from it. I average about two paintings a year.
John Hammond appears regularly on Countryfile and BBC News