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?