Tuesday, 14 January 2020

The emperor has no clothes


   Old Mr Frazier had a farm, eieio. And on that farm he had some cows. And he ate lots of them and lived very healthily until he was 88 years old - and the weather was the weather. The end!
   So please will the media, both social and anti, stop telling me to become a vegan. Your arguments are inherently flawed, as is your complexion. Despite the propaganda being driven by massive corporate business, who have a lot of money to gain by it, meat is good for you and the planet, especially if it is UK produced. If you must eat imported avocados, lettuce (in winter) and almond milk, take a good look at where it comes from and how it gets to you. I mean properly research it, don’t just ask your sycophantic smug vegan friends. Seek out some real science, not the one-sided BS you see on TV.
   Oo, that feels better. To the rest of you, welcome officially to a new decade, possibly one where I become even more grumpy than the last one. At present we are still in Fife, enduring Storm Brendan battering our windows and keeping our occasional builders away. I have to say it is quite satisfying to see some of our pile of 150 year old bricks now built around our wooden framed extension but we are still a long way off the mark, with the roof leaking faster than Julian Assange  and the pressure mounting. Shortly we will be away back to Chauffour in time for lambing, hoping to take in a 6 Nations rugby game in Paris en-route, in our old camper. Just a few weeks ago we took 'Libby' on a winter trip up to the frozen North, spending a weekend in the cute village of Braemar. Sadly though, for the first time in the 3+ years we have had her, the engine decided to splutter while we were climbing the long road up towards Glenshee ski-slopes. As we dropped to a walking pace, the coughing got louder and for a minute of two, it looked like we were to spend a night in one of the highest points in Scotland, in mid Jan, in a tin-can with no heating - not an ideal situation. Thankfully we managed to get over the summit and freewheel the next 15 miles or so to our destination. The machine is now in dry-dock awaiting news of her intestinal trauma. Hopefully it is all repairable else it might scupper our travel plans somewhat.
   Whilst on our visit, after a quick distillery sortie, we popped into the splendid Fife Arms hotel - the irony that we actually live in Fife, some 120 miles away, not lost on the breeze. What used to be just a local hotel for tourists, skiers and the odd deer-stalker has now been bought by a pair of art dealers from Switzerland, who have spent 4 years and a lot of millions turning it into not only a luxury place of rest, but an art gallery to boot.  In fact they have done it so well it just won hotel of the year 2019 - quite a coup for a tiny backwater in the Highlands. As you enter its vast ornate vestibule you are faced with an original, if not ghastly, Picasso overlooking a Steinway piano painted in bizarre colours and imported from LA, having previously been played by some jolly famous musicians. In the courtyard a giant spider spans the entire area which was sculptured by Louis Bourgeois, who evidently did a massive amount of drugs, since a plaque explains it was created an ode to his mother! Try as I might to love abstract art, why is it I always see the emperor as just a naked man having a laugh!
   Anyway, the subject of skiing has now thrown its gauntlet on to the table and, after a 3 year absence, I quite fancy going this year. Obviously, since we used too many plastic straws, the climate is no longer cold enough for snow in Scotland, so subsequently we have booked a trip for early March to the Pyrenees. This now gives me precisely two months to lose about four stone so I can fit into my ski-suit. Couple this with trying to persuade my thighs and knees that they soon have some official duty to perform, and my daily and somewhat lazy routine has just been turbocharged into breathlessness. As a precautionary measure I did drop into the docs to check that I was fit for purpose which met with a few sighs but, finding nothing more wrong with me that a half-pickled liver, he gave me the green light for another year.  If you don’t hear from me next month, send plaster - or perhaps flowers!
   Whilst on a grumpy note, I have to raise a questionable eye on a profession that I consider even more despicable than plumbers: yes, you got it, estate agents. We currently have a few properties on the market and, over the last few years, have had dealings with dozens of these people, each and every one who have been about as useful as a one legged man on a five legged horse.  Yes I am sure there are a few reading this column that may raise an eyebrow at this but I can only speak as I find, and what I find doesn’t seem to work. Today I have met with yet another one full of promises and science, far better than those before him, apparently. Whoopie-do, should I hold my breath that this year might be the year of the house-sale so we can all prosper once more? Let's see, shall we.   

Thursday, 9 January 2020

The future of our industry is already out of our hands


    A few weeks ago, a chance meeting with an auld adversary of mine opened my eyes to something that has left me sleepless ever since - a subject that I cannot now un-hear. I have sat on it for a few weeks, but would now like to share a situation that is as scary as it is unavoidable.
   I didn't see the programme on C4 last night but I gather it was more propaganda from the plant based corner. Now many folks, farmers particularly, might see these eco-activists as bunch of lefty crackpots shouting out for their faddish cause. What most folks don’t see is the future of the food industry being rapidly shifted in to the hands of power, and away from the small supplier, but not quite in the way we currently believe.
   I am reliably informed that Fake Meat is the new techno holy grail in California's Silicone Valley and the giants are piling millions upon millions into R&D in hopes their company will become the next Google, Amazon etc within the food industry. A risk so worth taking that Bill Gates has chucked in £250m and, of course, Google themselves are forefront investors. To quote my source, the whole industry is awash with cash to fund its research.  
   Now we are all aware Fake meat exists, but it's not the chemically produced plant based shit such as pups-in-blankets and tofu sausage rolls that should concern us. I am talking about real meat, grown from stem cells in factories, looking, tasting and, in fact, totally resembling the real thing in every way. At present, the cost of a 'replica' sirloin or tuna steak is 100 times that of the real product but.... and here's the thing....it doesn’t eat grass where trees could grow, give off methane, get killed or endure factory living conditions, or become unsustainable (vegan's ethical arguments, not mine). And it sure is better for the climate, huh?
   As with all R&D, it is about getting the product right before going to mass production, in the same way the silicone chip did or, say, the car. The clock is now ticking nicely for the big guns, as to who gets it right first, builds a big f-off factory and starts growing our food on a massive commercial scale at a price far, far less than us farmers, can compete with. The process requires no labour, feed, not even water, just electricity.  So why build the 'farms' in the west when they can be stuck out in the desert run on solar power? Or Africa where land cost next to nothing? And most of all, corporate business has complete control.
   Of course, before they start mass production, the product will need to have a market, which is where we go back to the ethics of brain-washing ill-informed intelligent people into believing meat is bad for us, and the planet. Starting to make sense now?
    Will our gripes with a TV show reverse this process when it is driven from the top? I am afraid not.
   Inevitably, at some stage the 'modern' vegans will need to be persuaded over to eating 'fake-real' meat instead of their current fake-chemical diet but, with the power of the media, I am sure that is just a matter of hitting a political switch when the time is right. The media will be fed news of how unhealthy vegans are becoming, dying on our streets from a dozen side-effects of malnutrition. Vegans in it for the bragging rights, such as our teen generation, will soon switch allegiance to meat which is ethical, healthier and cheaper than their current chemical intake.
     Unfortunately, by the time this reality hits us like an oncoming train, within a decade at most,  we will be completely powerless to defend our industry and proper grass-fed beef and lamb may become a commodity that only the wealthy can afford.
    Now can you see why my sleep has been disturbed?
   I would apologise for proffering such gloom in an already dark January, but burying our heads and/or making enemies of the consumer won't really do us much good either.
    I wish I had a counter solution, but this is where my information runs out.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Rats


   Happy Hogmanay one and all. It is hard to believe but, as of this month, this column will have spanned three decades, for which I would apologise for my controversial and often insulting words. But I won't!
    We are currently still in Scotland, a place of political turmoil, inherent divide and continual argument - but enough about our household! Actually we are all quite harmonious just now, as neither of us have work to do: my wife by choice, myself by default, as a cock-up in communications has brought the building of our extension to an alarming halt, the knock-on effects of which may unbalance our life well into early summer. But, in the words of Joan Baez, we shall overcome!
    By the end of this month we should be back in France, in time for lambing, albeit our diminished flock of just 6 ewes. That is, of course, if they will let us in after Boris has 'done the deed' in accordance with his promises - one can live in hope. But the upshot of the above is that it looks as though we - well I at least - will return here again to crack the metaphorical whip (the use of a real whip being made unlawful in Fife just a few years ago!) in March. Couple this with Brexit, independence referendums and impeachments of world leaders, it all points towards yet another unsettled year ahead for us.
    As a new year comes in, I took a quick look to find that it is, according to China, the year of the Rat. This would of course give me plenty of material for a political rant, but I will avoid that tediousness for now, as I am sure there will be many more months when I can use it. However, I also came across a 'Sheep' horoscope which, as a lifelong shepherd, intrigued me. It appears to be only relevant to those who were born in the year of the Sheep, which sadly I wasn’t. Thankfully some of my sheep were though, in 2016, so this really only applies to them. According to my sources, they will 'get hot and passionate this year, and may even get married!' I'd better start saving for the occasion then. But no! They will also apparently earn enough money to settle all their expenses: which hopefully includes the mortgage being paid off? Unfortunately, the next year of the sheep - the Fire sheep, to be precise - is not until 2028, so it maybe a while before we get any more lucky ones. Doubtful that Daisy Death-wish will be around to contribute to it either. In fact, I am pretty sure she was born in the year of the Runt!
    I mentioned in this piece some time ago about the 'Internet of things' and how smart objects have become part of everyday life for some. Well, this year we have joined the 'some' as I have wired the place with smart speakers and light switches. It all started when I had to replace our TV after some reasonably innocuous holiday-makers stayed for a weekend in the house, got helplessly drunk and kicked the place up. As well as holes in the walls and smashed furniture and pictures, our 50 inch TV got demolished in their brawling.  Along with its replacement came a free voice-activated gadget that can facilitate just about anything I ask it. As a new decade begins it is comforting to think I now have the aid of something so technically advanced in my armoury, that is, until I take a moment to scrutinize its usefulness. Is it really a saving to get someone else to switch on the radio, lights or telly? Or is it just called being lazy? Let's face it, I can't say 'Hey Google, take the dog for a walk, or dig the garden'. Well I could, but it won't.  In the same way that greed can hide behind religion, I am not really convinced that the involvement of these gadgets in our lives can really conceal our increasing tendency towards inactivity.
    Based on the above, it's time for a jolly good festive walk on the beach for me today, a route which thankfully passes a couple of good local pubs. Unfortunately, or otherwise, the location of said hostelries negates any mobile or internet signal, so I can get a pint of incommunicado in peace. Don't call me, I'll call you - next year!
 





Swally time


   So here we go again, making things up to pass the 2 hours it takes to fly from France to Edinburgh and typing them into my phone for you to read. Well I don’t exactly fabricate all my paragraphs, consider it more of an embellishment of the day to day mundane, and an exploitation of the bizarre. 
   You will, of course, by the time this hits your doormat, be gearing up for the horrors of Christmas shopping and a general election. And perhaps a little intrepid - or jubilant - that if the communists get into power they will ban all things holy and you will never have to listen to Jingle Bells or Noddy Holder ever again, let alone queue up in Argos for the latest throw-away toy. Were it not that I believe that what masquerades as a labour government would also force everyone to become vegans, I might even be tempted to go along with the anti-Santa idea myself. However, both history and common-sense advocate that extreme leftism is about as practical as a cardboard oven, yet nonetheless it is as close now as it ever was during its halcyon 1970s decade. Of course, extreme rightism is hardly much better, in fact extreme anything only ever satisfies a small minority. But there are a gathering number who are either fed-up with middle-of-the road politics, or really do believe that a man with a white beard and red trousers will bring joy down their chimney.
    It is 10 years to the month since the editor asked me to pen this regular column and, during that time, we have seen a few ups and downs when it comes to political surprises. Back then smiley Mr Blair was promising us all that Britain would be nuclear-power sufficient within a decade, house prices were on an ever upward trend and Donald Trump was a mere TV presenter. I could have quite rightly predicted that these and other certainties of the time would change.  But never in my wildest dreams of cynicism did I predict that a has-been forgotten student activist such as Corbyn had a realistic chance of getting the keys to the country. Clarkson once described him as the “Ebola virus, on a bicycle!” In hindsight, even that was tame!
   Anyway, parking my fears in the dark space away from the streetlight, let me raise the tone a little to announce that the reason for my carbon-producing flight today is that I am off on a jolly. Although hard to believe, it has been four decades since my wife first attended Edinburgh university, but I am sure she won’t thank me for sharing that fact. To mark the occasion, she has gathered all her fresher friends from that era so they can embark on a pub-crawl of student proportions around the city, and, possibly to their detriment, have invited me to tag along. It may, to coin a phrase, get messy. Realistically, it will probably just involve a few pints of heavy, and a nightcap dram, and we’ll all be tucked up in our onesies before closing time but, in our own heads, we will have painted the town in rainbow colours and showed our younger selves a lesson or two.
   As it is still only mid-November in real-time, the city will be just gearing up for the festive season and hopefully not quite so OTT as its southern counterparts. Also, because it is November, I can no longer fly directly from one place to another in a straight line – Ryanair only do that in the greedy months - and hence a 90-minute stop-over in Stanstead complete with all the rudeness it purveys. Having been through one set of security checks in France, wouldn’t it be nice just to seamlessly merge into a queue for the next flight without the hassle of a second round? But no, as we are herded through a maze of seatbelt tape and glared at, my turn eventually comes to put my stuff on the conveyor and off I go through the hoop of shame only to set off the metal detector alarm. Why me? Stand over there. Why me. Raise your arms. Look, no belt, no shoes, my pockets are empty? But somehow the machine decided I was carrying a bomb, or even worse, a tube of moisturiser, and singled me out for a whole-body search. Was I not within my rights to demand an apology from the man who put his hands down my trousers? Or at least an explanation for why the bloody machine went off and delayed me 10 minutes, despite me being as clean as a washed sock. Nope. Nada, zip. In this cry-baby world where everyone is offended by everything, I find this offensive. But what can I do? Sadly, I am not one of Greta Thunberg’s chums, so I don’t count.
   Anyway, I am now safely reunited with my wife after a week’s absence, in the chilly but cheery north. Never mind the gluhwein and carols, break out the Macallan and haggis - and, for a few days at least, all will be right with the world.




Monday, 4 November 2019

Building for life


Late late late again. Where does the time evaporate to? 
    This month's excuse is that we were at the time travelling to England from France for my niece’s wedding in Rock church and, coupled with an endless list of problems around our building project in Scotland, things all got a wee bit fuzzy.
    Anyway, the wedding was superb and went off without a hitch, culminating in a great party at Hopleys Park in Bewdley. I would like to wish Adele and Ade, a long and happy life together. It was nice to see a few familiar faces around the village including Sheila Nott who was ‘on duty’ during the service, and the editor who furnished me with a pint in the local!

     I had mentioned earlier in the year that we were planning to head to Japan for the Rugby World Cup this month. Unfortunately the above mentioned building project urgently required my presence here in Scotland, dealing with some quite technically challenging issues spurred on by constant reform of building regulations and technology, so we cancelled the trip last minute. We now have a floor, 4 walls and a ceiling on the downstairs area and, as I speak, the upper extension is underway and awaiting the arrival of a rather expensive 4 metre wide window. This in itself has highlighted yet another problem as it is dubious whether we can fit the panels down the alleyway to our seafront position. With a street too narrow to take a crane, the latest suggestion is that we deliver it by boat and carry it up the rocky beach. Not an easy thing to schedule during the windy season! During my 3 weeks here I have walked 240 kilometres, climbed 800 floors, done 46 hours of hard labour and burned 75,000 calories. This information I gleaned from the Fitbit (or in my case, Fatbit!) device that Wendy bought me for my birthday which has the sole purpose of shaming me out of being a lazy B as I enter my later years. It also advises me of how much sleep I have had, or in this instance, not, as I constantly wake in a cold sweat at 3am imagining the waves and rainwater cascading into our new unfinished bedroom!
     On the subject of wind, I think the postponement of our trip to the Far East worked out rather fortuitously, as it would have coincided with the arrival of typhoon Haggis, which delivered gusts of up to 150mph around Tokyo’s stadia. Thankfully not too many tourists suffered and a plucky performance by the host nations on the pitch that weekend put paid to my wife’s national team, Scotland, in quite dramatic fashion, leaving only hot air from their coach in its wake! As yet, I am unaware of the fate of my own team, England, who will have either held aloft the Webb Ellis trophy, or predictably crashed and burned in their chariot!
     Also, by the time this gets to print we will once more be back in France for a short while, tidying up before winter. During that time Halloween will have been and gone and, perhaps, things around the ‘B-word’ may have settled down a tad. Or perhaps not.
     As we plan to return to Scotland in late November, it is with some trepidation that we suspect we will be met at the ‘hard’ border with vehement hostility, and have our wine stocks and dogs confiscated. Then, of course, the trip North will inevitably be hampered again at Hadrian’s Wall, as Nicola Sturgeon bullies the Scottish public into a new bid for Independence, and the country’s economy nose-dives into whisky-enriched oblivion!
     Our final news this month is even more exciting. After more years than she cares to admit working in the computer industry, my wife Wendy will be taking well-earned retirement at the end of this week. This will, of course, leave us in a hopeless financial predicament but at least we will be able to share the worry together! Inevitability it will incur a few changes ahead, but we are both looking forward to taking more time to travel once we have everything settled down and the roof back on.
See you all on the road!

No such thing as a fish


     And breathe! After 45 nights, 3200 miles, 6 countries, 8 ferries, in a variety of weather, in a tin can on wheels, we have finally landed back at Chauffour. For a change it is not the usual week long slog of catching up with chores and excavating a path to our front door through the undergrowth that awaits me, as we have been fortunate enough to have some very bored house-sitters. As a family of 4, they must have toiled day and night to cover the amount of work they have done during their stay, which included tackling ten years growth of honeysuckle and conifers, rebuilding our barn doors and laying an impromptu patio. I have to admit that none of this was pre-planned nor even requisitioned, but it is gratefully received.
     Our trip through Ireland was nothing short of magical. Firstly a weekend at the British Open golf, despite periodic torrential rain, set up a wonderful atmosphere in and around the pretty town of Portrush, which was crowded to bursting point. A win for an Irishman and bumping into a few old friends completed the event for us in style. From there it was across to Donegal, a place I had never been but somewhere I would surely head back to in a heartbeat. I know we shared our time between rural France and a backward town in East Fife where the pace of life in both spots is half that of England, but in Donegal, divide that by five. It was as though time stood still for the 2 weeks we were there, where farmers still pottered around their fields on antique tractors, and sheep grazed the roadsides. Not that the place was poor; to the contrary, the scale and style of the brand new holiday homes on every hillside was of the highest luxury. Around each bend was another cove with a white sandy beach with nobody on it. On numerous occasions, as we parked by the shore, locals would come along for a chat about this and that. Some had even heard of Brexit! After one of my regular unfruitful days fishing in a stream, one chap took pity on me and scooted off in his van, only to return an hour later with a bag of smoked mackerel fillets, such was the generosity of this forgotten corner of Europe.
     When we were children, our family would visit the county of Mayo for our annual holidays. Back then I can recall some of my earliest memories, of high hedges of fuchsia and a large dining room full of waiters in waistcoats. I had since heard that the Great Southern hotel in Mulranny had closed down so it was to my pleasant surprise when we rounded the corner to reminisce and found it not only still there but open with rooms available.  As this happened to coincide with the electrics failing in our camper, we jumped at the chance of not just some nostalgia but a bath with a sea-view. A short trip from there saw us on Achill Island and a pint in what they claimed to be the most westerly pub in Europe, an accolade that is disputed by at least two other establishments in Southern Ireland! One of my other memories of this place was sharks. No, not the sort who want to relieve you of your hard-earned, but great big real ones! This was quantified when we parked up in the small Keem harbour and saw a monument to what once a prosperous fishing industry when in the early 60s as many as 2000 basking sharks per year were caught here. Now the odd one can still be sighted and it is reported there was a ten metre long beast out there in the bay. Apparently it had grown at least 3 metres since it was last sighted in May!
     And finally, the leg of our trip that was to be our destination, Galway Races. A lively event spanning an entire week, this is possibly one of the largest gatherings of Irish in the calendar year. We only had tickets for one day, my birthday, but so it seems did everyone else. As we jostled amongst the revellers, trying to get a look at the action, I managed to get a few bets on but narrowly missed out on the winnings every time. My wife, on the other hand, seemed to have the knack of picking winners just by looking at them, so the day didn’t turn out too costly. After a few evenings in Quay street, where the party-goers spilled from pubs aplenty, our ill-gotten gains were soon exchanged for pints of the black stuff!
     We then ended up in Wales, on Anglesey to be precise. It was particularly busy, mainly with Scousers, and I have to announce that, in comparison, the service was as shocking as I remember it. Swiftly heading south east through Snowdonia we reached Bala and once again I tried my hand at catching a fish on the lake, this time adding more equipment to my tackle bag. Still nothing. A few more stops in Shropshire, Somerset and Dorset were all pleasant, principally because we realised pubs in England don’t mind you parking on their car-park for the night, free of charge, as long as you have a meal in their restaurants and drink a few ales, a proposition that suits me fine - especially when I am so uselessly adept at catching my own tea!
Then finally a few days in Brittany which was also very busy in their peak holiday period. We avoided the seaside, choosing a few inland rivers to park by.  At last I managed to snare a fishy (fanfare!). I would send a photo to accompany this piece but it wouldn’t be a very big one!


 

The western front


Never being one to canvas envy, it would be churlish of me to mention that I write this column today from a beautiful white sandy beach in blazing sunshine, with a backdrop of heather-clad mountains soaring towards blue skies. But I will. No, we are not in France, nor even the wonders of Spain or Portugal, but bonnie Scotland. For those who have never ventured to its west coast, just read this as an advert for its unrivalled splendour and make a mental not to do so. It is over two weeks since we left France, initially to attend a wedding in St Andrews, Libby our old campervan chugging tirelessly up the M6 with baited breath awaiting her annual check-over. Thankfully she got the all clear, and a certificate for another year in service. On our arrival in Fife we were met by a gaggle of French ex-pats and between us we partied in our wee cottage for nigh on a week. As my intentions of instigating the start of our building works were scuppered by the life-long procrastinators of Fife council, who have still yet to issue our building warrant, once the throng departed, so did we, heading West. A night in Glencoe on what is known in these parts as a ‘driek’ day, the low cloud and occasional drizzle was almost fitting, setting an eerie atmosphere to this place of historic battles steeped in its Pictish past.
Heading an hour south took us to Port Appin, a sleepy village on the shores of sunny Loch Linnie, boasting one of the best seafood restaurants in Europe. I have frequently been labelled as cheeky, not least by my late mother, and it certainly stands you in good stead when it comes to travelling with a house on your back. A quick reccie discovered an old farm track leading out from the village and a spur heading off through the thick bracken opening up to a cove so private we could have been on our own island. Two days here and the concerns and headaches of the past week faded rapidly into bliss as we parked within a few yards of the water with only an equally cheeky seal for company. Sadly he stole our dinner, mopping up the few fish in the bay that had evaded my fishing line for half a day, but his/her needs were far greater than ours as one assumes that, unlike us, he had no access to the self checkout at Tescos the previous day! I admit we had a slightly hairy moment getting the vehicle back up the aforementioned dirt track and at one point thought we might have to use ‘dial-a-farmer’ to tow us out. But we made it, continuing south to Seil Island and the beautiful if somewhat unpronounceable village of Ellenabeich and its tiny island of Easdale. After a few too many drams in its local pub, debating climate-change for an evening with a chap who spent 40 years researching it inside the Arctic circle, I have sent a photo of the scene we woke up to the next morning which even I, as a man of many words, fail to do justice to when describing its beauty.
A couple of ferry rides brings me to the now, where we are parked on this blessed beach, counting down the days until we exchange Scotland for Ireland and all that it beholds. Watch this space for that episode.
Meanwhile, back on planet normal, I feel I have little to complain about for once. Except maybe that UK’s airport staff are planning to hold the country to ransom during its busiest period over a 2p per hour pay dispute. To quote the Telegraph, the only access I have had to part-reality in the past fortnight, their union spokesman says “our members are essential to the smooth running of the airport and hence should be paid more!” Pardon? That’s like saying gravy is essential to my Sunday roast and therefore should cost a tenner? Or politicians are necessary to the smooth running of our daily lives and therefore we need lots of them. Which brings me neatly round to the horrific fact that by the time this goes to print ‘Boris Trump and the Lunatics’ really will be running the asylum when realistically they would be more suited to the comedy stage at Glastonbury!
See ya’ll back in France!