Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Storm Eddy


Clara and Dennis? Sounds like the landlord and lady at the Rovers Return! But boy, did they do some damage between them, storming their way through UK. Not that we were there to witness any of it, having got out just in time a few weeks ago. And just in time it was, as our camper coughed its way from Scotland to France at 50mph and we arrived about 10 minutes after our first pair of lambs were born. Call it irresponsible if you like, but it was a failure of mechanics that caused it. No, not the machine itself, but they who were supposedly repairing it, who were about as reliable as our builders had been. Anyway, we are here now, and my local mechanic in France is coming soon to scratch his head over the problem. Having just had the turbo replaced, he'll probably say we need a new shu-shu valve, or engine, or whole camper! If only I had listened when Tony Butcher used to spanner our farm diesel engines when I was a teenager, instead of racing round the farm tracks in the family Land-rover!  He'd have it fixed in a jiffy!
Back to the subject of flooding, I do have a theory and that is that Chris Packham is to blame! Yes, he of the do-good, save-every-animal, BBC-warbling persuasion. You see, farmers who have lived and worked the land near rivers and low ground will tell you that ditches and main water-courses not only need dredging, but the banks need keeping clear so the water can flow freely. Every tree that hangs into the moving water will slow it down with eddy currents. See, I did listen in physics at school. So basically, we need to clear the river banks so Dennis's rain-water can shift itself quicker towards the sea. Except we can't do that because, as we all know, rivers harbour a whole eco-system of wildlife, including voles, mice, rats, and those lovely looking otters which would steal fish from your table faster than my greedy cat.  And, obviously, wildlife is far more important than human endeavour, especially if you live in a city and watch Countryfile every week, where the only flood you endure is the tears of politicians.  Good people of Tenbury, if you are in the midst of building an Ark, never mind saving the animals two-by-two, save the people first, except Packham and Kate Humble, obviously. 
Yesterday morning, a black cat crossed the road just missing my wheels, and then I found a four-leaf-clover in the sheep field. And last night a beautiful rainbow poked its glorious colours into our other field. Today, with fingers crossed, I am hoping to get lucky, because we have a plasterer starting work on our never-ending extension in Fife. Anyone who has employed a plasterer will concur, those guys are harder to find than plumbers, who, as it happens, are also at work in the same building. Our massive window is now in place, and sealed against the next stupidly named storm to arrive, although it was quite a Herculean effort to get it there, using enough man-power to build a pyramid. The inner wall has been removed and, although the house is un-inhabitable at present, the pictures look magnificent. To you un-believing locals Fifers, I quote James Baldwin:  'Those who say it can't be done are usually interrupted by others doing it!'
As I write, today is the nineteenth anniversary of the first outbreak of Foot-and Mouth earlier this century. There are many who will recall the sights and smells of dead animals around the country at that time, and many more who would rather not. As a sheep breeder, I had some pretty first-hand experience of the disease both in Cumbria and nearer home when it hit in the middle of lambing. For days, the stench of carcasses burning at Heightington drifted through Rock village and into our sheep shed. Through a contact I got a daily slot on ITV's 'Good Morning Britain', speaking on a web-cam from the farm about the management of the problem. The patronising presenter was so desperate to see my tears when all our animals were lined up to be shot, she was practically peeing herself.   Thankfully our pedigree flocks did survive the disease itself, but then we were imposed with a curfew for nearly a year which negated us from moving or selling stock, something which added a massive expense to us and many more. In discussion with a substantial network of friends around the country back then, I pointed the finger of mishandling of the situation, that let it spiral hopelessly out of control, directly at the government. In the end, 6 million - yes SIX MILLION! - animals were slaughtered, most of which could have been prevented, and the cost to the country was estimated at eight billion pounds! I promised my father than one day I would reveal the truth, as I saw it, about that time. I am quite pleased to announce that my short book, entitled THE HOLE,  a reference to the massive hole in Cumbria that was dug to bury the dead, goes on sale this week on Amazon. It may get me into hot water, but it certainly will tingle a few nerves.
Back to calmer times, I am pleased to state that we have had eleven lambs this year from our six ewes and that, miraculously, in her seventh lambing Daisy Death-wish has had twins for the first time. With the daffs in full bloom and squadrons of cranes flying overhead, I think spring has arrived a little too early this year in France. Would it be provocative of me to predict that storm Emmanuel may arrive in mid-summer to compensate?

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.