We had some friends over last night. The talk turned to the recent Panorama programme, where apparently great pains were taken to show intensive cows being cared for well. Every aspect of their environment, feed and well-being controlled; even a vet in situ. Of course it is in the best interests in all those with a stake in the proposed huge Nocton Dairies unit, to convince the public that there is nothing wrong with the idea of thousands of cows kept in this way. No doubt, pulling some strings too somewhere are the supermarkets who want the guarantee of a milk supply without having to put up with the occasional disgruntled protests of under-paid dairy farmers.
But we spoke last night about the day (usually in April in these parts) when the cows are put out for summer. Once seen never forgotten. They are joyful - they run and jump and kick their heels. They rediscover the taste of grass. No zero-grazing system could replicate that. None of us last night are sentimental about farming, but all smiled at the thought of that - and all of us were indignant that this natural cycle - the time when the cows go out, the time when they are brought in for winter - should be eroded.
Monday, 27 December 2010
As I was working outside this morning, Brian called me to tell me about something he'd heard on the radio. Tesco in Coventry have easter eggs on the shelf and are selling them today. Words almost fail me. I find this deeply depressing, and it makes me angry. It is the 27th Decemeber - not even halfway through the 12 days of Christmas. How can we allow ourselves to be manipulated in this cynical way? Talk about naked consumersism. Have they any shame? Obviously not. Can we do anything about this blurring of the seasons, this taking away of the natural way of things? It seems we cannot - or do we care enough? Do we really take this lying down, or do we do something that challenges this blatant abuse of the power the big supermarkets definietely have?
Sunday, 19 December 2010
There is a saying about everything carrying the seeds of its own destruction and this, I think can sometimes hold true for countrylife. John B. Keane, a wonderful Irish writer (and uncle of Feargal Keane, the broadcaster) wrote much of his best work around Irish farmers in the 1950s and 60s who had missed the boat on love and adventure, and suffered in silence. That may seem like stories from a different era- but here in rural England in 2010 there are still rural dwellers who have missed out. Sometimes, the medicine of solitude and hard work, can, in this situation become part of the problem. The most and the best any of us can do for a person in this situation is to give him time, let him talk, and to listen.
Saturday, 18 December 2010
Country-dwellers do not fit into square tweed-covered boxes, but it would be wrong to say that farming people, in particular, do not share some traits. To a man, or a woman they are practical. Any farmer worth his salt can reverse any length of vehicle, more or less anywhere. The women in this area are born with the knowledge (or so it seems) needed to grow, to make and to make do. It's comforting and reassuring somehow, particularly if it came to a choice of being stuck on an island somewhere...you know those questions? Would you be better off with a deep-thinking intellectual, or someone who could build a shelter and get the two of you fed. Meanwhile, back on the farm, it has been a day of surrogacy and swapping as calves and their mothers are sorted - not made any easier by the slippery yard - all good stuff though. They're all content and bedded down on straw now.
Most of us have a tendency to stereotype, (and generalise, possibly). Here are some stereotypes of countryside dwellers: all Tories, lots of red-faced, 4-wheel drivers, all supporters of the Countryside Alliance. The women bake bread in the Aga, people speak in booming voices, and above all they all hunt. Well, I do bake,for what it's worth. My husband is a dairy-farmer. We live in a village - more of which later - but I am not a Tory, and we couldn't give a tuppeny damn about hunting. It is irrelevant to our lives. On the one occasion we were persuaded against our better judgement to let them on, they created havoc amongst our neighbour's sheep. What matters to us is: the price of milk, the overwhelming burden of red tape, and my husband would add (as would many farmers), the weather...
Friday, 17 December 2010
Supermarkets are soulless. They are functional and they have changed our shopping and eating habits. Like a creeping weed in a garden, they have transformed our landscapes and our towns. But you know the thing about them that really makesmy teeth hurt with irritation? It is when they pretend to be like the old style town centres and markets they have seen off. You know- "your Baker," "your greengrocer," etc. No, no, no....Who are they trying to kid!