If anyone could represent the ‘wise old man’ persona, then surely hop farmer the late Barry Parker must be it. His memorable, delightful, and philosophical phrases are remembered long after his interview has finished. Philosophers are far more likely to be seen wondering university courtyards, scratching their head and thinking about the meaning of life than they ever will in any of our county’s hop yards. But, should they ever want to pursue a modern-day Socrates in the shape of this hop farmer, they might want to think again and book that train ticket to the shires and tread in his shoes and learn a thing or two.
For many of us, it’s easy to view philosophy simply as a bit of naval-gazing, somewhat rarefied and privileged, and confined to comfortable spires of academia. But the beginnings of at least one of the great philosophers was a humble one. Socrates wasn’t from a noble family, received scant education and was the son of a stone mason and midwife. How extraordinary then that the words of someone born two millennia ago continues to have such influence today. But on closer inspection, it’s easy to see why his words still have currency. Socrates believed philosophy should achieve practical results for the greater well-being of society and that ultimate wisdom came from knowing oneself i.e. the more a person knows, the greater his or her ability to reason and make choices that will bring true happiness.
It’s almost certain that philosopher would have been the last thing friends and family would have called Barry (or even Barry himself probably) but ‘philosopher’ he was. His words of gentle wisdom prevail throughout ‘Stories from the Hop Yard’ and beyond. One of his more memorable phrases in the film is, ‘it is far better to lick than to bite’. At each screening those words are greeted with loud murmurings of agreement and recognition from audiences. Such sage and sound advice from a man who has probably seen and done it all on his hop farm, sometimes successfully, other times less so.
Barry died earlier this year at his home, a place he never ventured far from. His son and his family live there today. When we interviewed Barry for the film, we sat in his living room, staring out at the same views he had enjoyed for over ninety years. The windows framed a beautiful landscape that must have at times in his long life brought both inspiration and despair. Nonetheless, it was a land he knew inside and out, noticing changes, big changes in some cases, and others that were also imperceptible, and developments that challenged and threatened. But over the many decades of his life this experience amounted to a knowledge and intimacy of his land – and himself - that stood him in good stead. What Barry was doing was echoing the words of Socrates: ‘the more a person knows, the greater his or her ability to reason and make choices that will bring true happiness’.
We thank Barry for his wisdom and raising a smile.
By Marsha O'Mahony
Barry’s full interview