Extract"....the cost of this disgraceful slaughter policy, and the smaller amount paid out in what people like to call compensation, but is really no more than payment for assets seized, would have built a new classroom in every school in Britain. It could also have provided enough beds to get rid of hospital waiting lists.
I don't get this. If the government can't afford to provide these basic services without resorting to a dubious deal with private companies then how come it can afford to continue to squander money hand over fist pursuing its appalling foot and mouth policies?
Would I be really stupid to assume that there must be European money to pay for one but not the other? Is the asset-stripping of the countryside so desirable to the suits of Europe that they are actually prepared to pay for it to happen? Surely there must be something very wrong with this logic? Or, more worryingly, maybe I'm somewhere near the truth? Feel this is all just too depressing to contemplate, so will make tonight's entry a short one, and go to bed."
Foot & Mouth Diary continued14 June 01
More misery around Clayhanger and Ashbrittle as another case is confirmed there today. NFU spokesman sounded decidedly worried, and started making noises about widescale culling of large areas. Where have we heard about this before? Oh yes, just before the election: Peter Greig-Smith (MAFF) on the rumour of an increase in culling after the election said there was "absolutely no truth in it whatsoever". What makes it even more puzzling is that on the lunchtime news today this latest cluster was being described as "a different strain of the virus". WHAT?? Surely this is just not possible. If I was really paranoid I might be tempted to think that in seeking justification for a post-election cull someone somewhere in the endless hierarchy of MAFF/DEFRA/government stuck a pin into a map of the Westcountry, picked out Clayhanger and popped down there with a phial of virus from the laboratory. Bingo! The perfect excuse for carrying out a massive cull after all. Luckily, I'm not quite that paranoid yet, and I'm much more concerned with the absolute hell that people in those villages are going through at the moment. Here we have been blessed with rain - desperately needed as it has been completely dry for weeks. The plants are already standing up and looking as if life is worth living after all, but the gusty east wind has flattened a lot of them. We need quite a bit more over the next few days to get things really growing again. It's also pretty cold - despite being June I'm wearing two fleeces and still feel chilly.
16 June 01
Some rain has finally softened the ground a bit so spent the whole day digging, planting and mulching in the vegetable garden. It's all still rather behind, but at least things are growing well now, so they should catch up a bit. We actually had a frost earlier this week which nipped things like potatoes and dahlias - the latest frost for ten years here! Listened to "Any Answers" after lunch - was glad to hear my friend from Bridgrule having his say, along with some others - one of whom accused Ben Gill of "lying" which of course is just what he was doing, by trotting out the old, old nonsense about how vaccination cannot work etc, conveniently ignoring the fact that just about EVERY country in the rest of the world (including Europe) uses vaccination perfectly satisfactorily. No new cases in Devon today, but there is a great deal of unrest reported in the Western Morning News on the subject of the vast pit at Ash Moor which local residents were assured would not be used, and is now being mooted as a possible venue for carcases from the north of England. We all know we cannot believe anything told to us officially - they have lied, been caught lying, and then lied about being caught. Unless something pretty radical happens, DEFRA will not have any authority in this part of the world - it's just not enough to give the totally discredited MAFFia another name and expect us to think everything is hunkydory.
17 June 01
Bad news and good news as it so often happens on the same day. A new case in Devon, near North Tawton, and another in Somerset in the Clayhanger group. But by trawling around the DEFRA website it appears that the North Tawton animals are "already slaughtered" so maybe this is just the result of a positive post mortem test. Hugh and I were sighing over the vast numbers of slaughtered animals listed - we agreed that no-ne really seemed to care that it was still going on, just as bloody and barbaric as ever. Message from the farmtalking website detailed more "cull by quadbike" - this seems to be a new bloodsport popular around the Clitheroe/Settle area where the slaughter is carried out with great enjoyment, with rifles, at speed. Maybe DEFRA are phasing this new sport in to take the place of hunting when they get around to banning it. Sorry, cynicism creeping in again. The good news, hardly on the scale of the bad though extraordinary in its own way, is that we've got the duck back. Yes, THAT DUCK, the one the fox ran off with! (see 11 June 01) I was just doing some more digging in the veg garden this afternoon, and listening to some distant quacking which is fairly normal. Noise travels around the house and barns in a strange way sometimes here - sounds echo off roofs and often seem to come from the opposite direction to their origin. I knew my ducks had gone back in their run beside the house, but it sounded as if the quacks were coming up from the river at the bottom of the valley. Each time I straightened up to listen it stopped, but eventually curiosity got the better of me and I walked down to the river to see what was going on. As I got near the bank two mallards flew up in alarm and disappeared. I turned away in disappointment, but was suddenly rivetted by a loud "waaak, waaak, waaak" coming from an overgrown pool. To my utter amazement, swimming around quite happily was my non-flying, domesticated khaki-campbell duck looking quite nonchalant and contented. It did take three of us about an hour to persuade her to come ashore where I managed to catch her with a shepherd's crook, she seemed absolutely fine, and I carried her up the hill and popped her in the run with her friends. Partly as a result of the ecstatic welcome from the drakes (men!) she toddled inside and settled down in their night-time box as if nothing had happened! How she managed to survive as a (literally) sitting duck for six days I cannot imagine. The dogs must have forced the fox to drop the duck, but she doesn't even seem to be injured. If she's still alive in the morning I'll consider the whole incident a miracle.
18 June 01
Yup, it's a miracle. Eight ducks toddled down to the pond this morning, and I couldn't actually tell which of three very similar ones was the duck who had been out on her own for almost a week. This cheered me sufficiently to go and re-make the straw and disinfectant mat which has been gradually blowing away in the dry weather. Although we aren't driving over it (still parking at the top of the hill) I like to keep it there as an extra precaution as the dogs walk over it every day. The cluster of outbreaks around Clayhanger was described on the TV news today as the "worst in the country as a whole" - for some reason it is a particularly virulent strain. 11,000 animals have been slaughtered there in under a week, including Grunty "the film star pig" who featured (still alive) on the cover of the Western Morning News today. Apparently his owner was on her own when TWELVE Defra officials turned up to intimidate her. She fought them off the first time, but evidently stronger measures have been taken subsequently. Reports are also emerging about a condition rather aptly known as "OMAGOD" which manifests itself as lesions and blisters in the mouths of sheep and cows, but isn't foot & mouth! It's depressing to imagine how many false diagnoses have been made as a result. Have been trying to work out the least bad method for people to get their hay when we make it. Normally they'd come and collect off the field, often in several small loads, but this is not really ideal for us this year. But if we store other people's hay in the barn until, say, autumn, that means they may have to come for it in wet weather, or if things worsen, I may even have my sheep back in that building again. If I keep the sheep in the orchard, then they will not be anywhere near where people will have to drive in & out, BUT they have to leave the orchard by the end of August when the early apples start to drop. Trying to work out the least of all the evils is very hard. My "regulars" are relying on me to provide them with their usual safe, organic (unregistered) hay, and I can't let them down, especially as no-one wants to risk buying in hay from an unknown source, or even having to travel further than is absolutely necessary for it.
19 June 01
An interesting article in the Western Morning News describes how farmers who reported cruel and illegal culling practices to the R.S.P.C.A. are suddenly changing their minds about signing the written statements necessary for the R.S.P.C.A. to prosecute - because they think that if they do, they won't get their compensation. Why does the phrase "got at" spring to mind so readily, I wonder? No wonder the government doesn't want a public enquiry. They've persuaded the nation that mass slaughter is tough but, hey, someone's got to do it, but even the most committed urbanite might recognise nobbling a witness as something a little bit illegal.
20 June 01
My friends at Bridgrule had their sheep blood-tested today. They have to sweat it out for a fortnight before they get the results. As they had the sense to insist, this was done by their own (clean) vet. DEFRA does not bother with this nicety, and will send vets from infected farms to clean ones unless the farmer has the foresight and courage to complain. Yet farmers are being blamed for their slackness in bio-security. Ha ha. It seems fairly evident to me that if you don't want foot and mouth, keep DEFRA out. Unfortunately this will not be an option for many of us as blood-testing is due to be extended to 10km zones. This will take in just about everyone, and immediately throws even those of us lucky enough to live a good distance (ie over 3km) from outbreaks into the same boat as those with contiguous farms or dangerous contacts. It seems ludicrous that those of us who have allowed no-one in, and certainly nowhere near our livestock, should be forced to accept the biggest risk of the lot. Don't know what the legal aspect of refusing would be, but it must be worth finding out. DEFRA and English Heritage have finally agreed that old farm buildings (especially cob ones) can be disinfected by brushing down and then limewashing after all. As this is what I have been recommending for weeks, I suppose I should be glad. But why was it assumed for so long that MAFF vets were also old building experts who could advise farmers what to do? Untold damage has been done already, and many buildings have been as good as destroyed as a result of ignorance and stupidity. E.H. has produced a 27 page recommendation, which will be incomprehensible to most farmers, and yet their further reading list does not include my own simple, practical guide in the use of lime which would enable any farmer to do such work successfully. Their Suppliers List is hopelessly out of date and out of their 1996 Directory of Building Limes - one look at my book would have given them the up to date information immediately: but they have no interest in actually saving these buildings in practical terms, they just want to be seen to have provided information, however unuseable it might be on the ground. Have been trying to work out how to get my book into wider circulation in the farming community without seeming to be "cashing in" on the crisis. It is the only cheap practical guide available, it's sold nearly 8,000 copies worldwide without any advertising, and it's written for the interested amateur - just like farmers. Will have to think about this quite hard.
21 June 01
Well, I bit the bullet today, and sent complementary copies off to the NFU, Mole Valley Farmers, The Western Morning News and the Heart of Britain campaign in the hope that they will be able to tell farmers who need it that there is a simple guide they can use to get this lime lark to work properly. Maybe they'll think I'm being completely mercenary, maybe they'll spread the word. Who knows. Watch this space. There is a ludicrous situation developing at Bondleigh, near N.Tawton. When DEFRA were blood-testing in the area, they came up with a positive result on one of the farms. Their neighbours tested negative. But with logic only possible by DEFRA, these neighbouring sheep are now to be slaughtered, because they are "contiguous". Proven to be free of the virus by DEFRA themselves, but according to DEFRA, too dangerous a risk to be spared. If it wasn't so desperate it would be laughable. It is a small flock of Jacobs (just like ours) kept as pets by a barrister and his wife who is a vet. They are not happy with this situation, and are taking a legal stance. There are some protestors helping them, and the TV cameras are there, so just maybe.........?
22 June 01
My birthday. According to the Western Morning News, the Bondleigh couple have decided "not to be bullied, why should we?" so it's possible that DEFRA will chicken out as they have in so many cases when ordinary people with commonsense challenge the gross stupidity of the "official" line. They have a lot of support, and they are not scared of the law, so it sounds as if they should stand a chance. Very glad to report that the slaughter of "Grunty the film star pig" did not in fact take place as reported in the paper, her owner having taken the case to the High Court and WON. Not only that, but DEFRA has to pay her legal costs. The judge considered the scientific evidence in detail and made his own risk assessment - something it seems the government has so far been incapable of doing. There are rumours that things may gradually be changing though, as another neighbouring farmer at Bondleigh has been spared a contiguous cull. However, he has only cattle, and no "expendable" sheep which are so obviously considered worthless by the officials. This afternoon, when Claudia has returned from school, she and I are actually leaving the farm to spend two nights away with my mother in Swanage! Under normal circumstances I would try to do this once a month or so, this year I haven't been since February. Hugh is left in charge with a long list of instructions, and we'll just have to hope the animals and plants all behave in our absence.
24 June 01
Back home after long, hot drive to find most things OK. In this hot weather everything just lolls about dozing (except the humans) and can't be bothered to get into mischief. Spent my time away digging in rock hard ground to put up a bean arbour (for vegetables without shopping!) and pruning some overgrown and very prickly shrubs. Also went to the beach twice, early in the morning. Saturday very rough and windy, but Sunday calm, sunny and hot so we threw caution to the winds and had a swim. It was cold but glorious, and it was so different to my normal activities that I felt refreshed both mentally and physically. For several hours I forgot all about foot and mouth, farming, animals and the whole scenario in the countryside, and it was GREAT. It was also good to get home, do some muddy terrier cuddling, talk to the sheep and see how things had grown - even in just two days.
25 June 01
Bad news from Brecon where a whole cluster of cases have suddenly appeared and the slaughter mechanism is working overtime. Is it just a coincidence that the footpaths have recently been opened up there? Glorious hot day. The sheep dozed under the trees all day in the orchard and hardly seemed to bother with grazing. Thank goodness we managed to shear them - it's close and sticky and the flies are out in force. There must be some seriously stressed sheep around where shearing has been held up by the restrictions - and presumably umpteen cases of fly-strike, making 2001 a bumper year for maggots - and not just the ones in white overalls. Had to go out this afternoon for a meeting with Claudia's teacher, luckily arranged before the school report arrived home last Friday. I'm not terribly pleased by the "smart, affable but lazy" description, although I can see it's accurate. It's probably better than being "top of the class and an obnoxious toe-rag" but I shall have to do some 'serious talking' fairly soon. I am no good at this. As I spend my life working hard at the things I like and usually ignoring the others, I'm hardly in a position to lay down the law. Have been investigating further into limewash and FMD, as there seem to be certain discrepancies in the instructions that farmers are getting. A good and very knowledgeable friend at English Heritage is finding out some more information for me. I'm worried that because it's the extreme alkalinity of lime that kills off the virus, there could be a problem if disinfectant is being used as well, as most of these are acidic. Could one cancel out the other so that neither works? Has this not occurred to the powers that be yet?
26 June 01
A positive test somewhere in northern Dartmoor has stymied plans for re-opening footpaths there, according to the TV local news this evening. This is not being located in any detail, and there is nothing on the DEFRA website of course, so it is impossible to know if it is close to previous confirmed cases, something to do with the eight Dartmoor cases that were rumoured to be happening back whenever it was, or in a completely new area. Will there be contiguous culling? Just how worried about this should we be? A friend from East Anglia rang today. He was horrified by some of the things I told him - it's the same old story: the news blackout means people outside this area just have no idea about it at all. He'll be horrified by his phone bill too - by the time we hung up, we'd been talking for an hour at peak rate! Had a wonderful treat today when I went round to a friends house for my 'birthday lunch' (postponed from last week). She had pulled out all the stops: delicious food, eaten at a table with a white damask cloth under a massive beech tree, overlooking the glorious Little Dart valley. She even saw a kingfisher, but like a twit, I was looking the wrong way! There must be some profound message there somewhere. My Bridgerule friends have not had time to send their usual long email tonight, just a message to say they are baling tonight, and don't have time. As our baling rarely ends before midnight I can understand, but I badly miss my dose of F & M news, and realise just how important these regular communications have been, and how invaluable the information contained in them. At least if they are busy, they may be worrying less about the result of their bloodtests.
27 June 01
The positive test result turns out to be Northlew, close to the 'original' outbreaks at Highampton. I would not describe this as particularly close to the moor, as it is well north of Okehampton, but am certainly not complaining if it keeps the footpaths closed. There was an extraordinary comment in a letter to the local paper yesterday - the Chief Executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association was complaining that there was no need to keep footpaths closed as there was " no recorded case of an ordinary walker (one who has not handled livestock) spreading the disease." This seems to me a barmy assumption. Does he really think that those of us who have animals never walk? How would he propose to distinguish between us all? If we went on a family outing to Dartmoor would Hugh and Claudia be able to skip off into the heather whilst I stood and waited at the roadside? This is so downright stupid, I think I shall have to write to the Western Morning News to remonstrate!
28 June 01
Awoke to see a woolly form in the ponies field. Leapt out of bed, threw on available clothes and dashed out to find about 200 sheep had trespassed across the river in search of new grazing. The water is so low now they had just paddled over. Armed with Polly the collie and a crook it was actually not too difficult to persuade them back again, but they had spread themselves over pretty much all of the seven acres - thank god my sheep are still in the orchard. I don't work my sheep with the dog (they're too tame) but she's a natural with 'alien' animals - slinking up in just sufficiently threatening a way to keep them moving, but flattening herself on the ground the moment she's told. It's partly our fault as a fallen tree from our side of the river had pulled down the fence on the opposite bank. We can only clear it from the other side as there's no vehicle access to the river here - but of course this year we haven't liked to ask our neighbours if we can send someone in to do it. Maybe I should have applied for a license to send them back this morning? It seems less and less likely that the government will agree to a public enquiry despite the fact that this is the biggest manmade financial disaster just about ever! They know the finger of blame will be firmly pointed at them, so they're just downright scared. Democracy? - pull the other one! My printer is refusing to work, mainly because it's just bloody-minded. I made the mistake of changing the cartridge when the ink ran out (instead of waiting for it to tell me to change it) so now it is in such a sulk that it won't function at all. I've tried everything possible - even getting Hugh to give it the 'print' command whilst I snatch out the mains lead, leaving the printer cartridge in a compromising position so I can grab it. It will mean a long call to the computer shop in Witheridge tomorrow - probably culminating in dragging it up the hill in the wheelbarrow and driving it in. As I have been desperate for rain for weeks now it will probably decide to pour at just that moment. I'm pathetically dependant on the wretched thing these days.
29 June 01
Nationally there were six new cases reported today. This is quite an increase, but did not merit a mention on any news I've seen or heard today. It is so patently obvious that the nation as a whole is being lulled into this idea that it's all over really, nothing to fuss about, of COURSE we don't need a public enquiry! The last single case resulted on 10,000 animals killed. So does that mean the total as a result of todays cases will be 60,000? Hang on, don't just read on, that's sixty thousand animals - think about it. That's probably a small portion of meat for every carnivore in Britain, except that all of this meat will be dumped in landfill, burnt or 'rendered': and this is the result of this crazy slaughter policy for JUST ONE DAY! As I had to go out today to get the new printer cartridge, I went on to South Molton to stock up on food and pay some cheques into the bank. Amazingly it rained on me there, which was a novel experience, but infuriatingly, when I got home not a drop had fallen. It did manage to drizzle for about ten minutes this evening, but not enough to do any more than wet the leaves. We ate our first lettuce from the garden this evening, but without the moisture everything is just hanging about limply - many things are going over before they've even had a chance to flower properly. Perhaps we should have made our hay after all? It's not really growing now, and without water it won't improve much. Must try and find out what the long range forecast is likely to be. Got back from meeting Claudia and took my tea up with me to bath, hairwash and so on. I'm so unspeakably tired of this rigmarole every time I go anywhere - especially as hardly anyone else seems to be bothering much about it. I can sympathise with farmers who are by now envious of those who have had the disease - it's the ones who have 'escaped' who are suffering such financial hardship now. Those who have managed to get permission to take their animals to the abattoir are finding that by the time they have paid for vets inspection and disinfectant charges and taking into account the rock-bottom price they are being offered, it's just not worth the effort. Come the autumn we will see our 'mass slaughter' taking place after all - it will be all the uninfected animals that the government bureaucracy has condemned by its intransigence. What a mess
30 June 01
I've said I'll take some plants to the school 'mini-fete' on Friday as they are desperate to raise some funds and I've got quite a lot of things I potted up last autumn for the big fund-raising plant sale I do each spring. Of course this year it was cancelled, so they are all hanging about in pots having to be watered every day and I jumped at the chance of finding them new homes. What I forgot in my enthusiasm was that the plants are down round the back of the house, but the van I need to transport them in is right up at the top of the hill where everything is parked at present! So it will be all hands to the wheelbarrows on Thursday evening to get them all shifted. I just hope most of them sell, as I really don't want to have to bring them all back down again! Still, compared to the poor souls in Brecon, where yet another outbreak was confirmed today, this is hardly a major problem. Four new cases in total today - it just doesn't end does it? There is widespread condemnation of the government in this part of the world for ducking out of agreeing to a public enquiry. It's so necessary, apart from the need to 'learn our lessons', because without the public humiliation of the individuals who were largely responsible for so much of the atrocious decision-making, future politicians might just start to believe that they can actually get away with such criminally inept behaviour. We already have policy made without proper discussion in parliament - if they can get away with causing "the worst peace-time disaster in rural Britain" without any real redress then we are ALL doomed.
1 July 01
I read today that the cost of this disgraceful slaughter policy, and the smaller amount paid out in what people like to call compensation, but is really no more than payment for assets seized, would have built a new classroom in every school in Britain. It could also have provided enough beds to get rid of hospital waiting lists. I don't get this. If the government can't afford to provide these basic services without resorting to a dubious deal with private companies then how come it can afford to continue to squander money hand over fist pursuing its appalling foot and mouth policies? Would I be really stupid to assume that there must be European money to pay for one but not the other? Is the asset-stripping of the countryside so desirable to the suits of Europe that they are actually prepared to pay for it to happen? Surely there must be something very wrong with this logic? Or, more worryingly, maybe I'm somewhere near the truth? Feel this is all just too depressing to contemplate, so will make tonight's entry a short one, and go to bed.
2 July 01
I'm bitterly disappointed in the July "Update" - the monthly newsletter of DASH (Devon Association of Smallholders). It states DASH's representation on the Foot & Mouth crisis, and to be honest, it might just as well have come from the NFU or even MAFF for all the short-sighted, out-of date and anti-social recommendations it contains. As if that wasn't bad enough, they do a completely unjustified "hatchet job" on my brilliant and intelligent friends from Bridgerule, simply because the committee appeared to have been too stupid to see the truth when it was put in front of them. DASH has always been such a sensible, useful and friendly organisation, through which I have advertised my book and courses, sold umpteem bizarre items, bought many even stranger ones, and attended courses and meetings on subjects from alpaca breeding to hedgelaying. When foot & mouth broke there was an almost complete silence from the committee, and no Update at a time when many of us were desperate for information, opinions and even just contact with others in the same boat. I can understand that this was a result of panic and uncertainty amongst the committee, which is why I did not make a fuss at the time, though I did feel badly let down. When my Bridgerule friend offered some of the information he had gleaned (in order to bulk up an Update necessarily devoid of adverts) and it was refused, I should have taken more notice. But now they have come out with this ludicrous policy statement (anti-vaccination, close footpaths on farms), I am very inclined to resign here and now. However, I think DASH has a future, and I'm not prepared to see it ruined by half a dozen short-sighted control freaks. Just when we should all be pulling together, they are going to shatter the whole association apart.
3 July 01
Well, I'm not the only DASH member who is far from happy with the latest developments. A group of us are hoping to write a joint letter expressing our disappointment in the lack of leadership and petty, playground attitudes of the committee. Seems to be a day for disappointment in people. We've just watched Channel 4 "Dispatches" on Foot & Mouth. It was supposed to be the "truth", but turned out to have missed just about half of the story. It showed up the governments as being too slow to keep the disease under control, but the implication was that if only they'd killed more and faster there wouldn't have been a problem. No mention of the fact that most of the killing was in fact based on erroneous computer models, nothing on the objections to the contiguous culls, no proper discussion about vaccination which was dismissed almost as soon as it was mentioned, nothing about pyres, health, cruelty, illegal activities, heavy-handed tactics etc etc. Did they just not know about this?? Anyone watching would get the impression that, sure, the government was a bit inefficient, but then the cavalry arrived in their camouflage gear, and everything went fine from then on. Dear, oh dear. Does NO-ONE know what has been happening? Margaret Beckett (DEFRA boss) had been quoted as saying she saw no real desire for a public enquiry from people in rural areas: the Western Morning News ran a telephone poll "Should there be a public enquiry in to FMD?" The result? 2274 said yes, 61 said no. I'd say that showed quite a lot of interest in a public enquiry myself.
4 July 01
Hardly any sleep last night as a result of terrific thunderstorms rolling round and round us. Very pleased to have RAIN (though not enough) but lay awake thinking I should get up and disconnect the phones, computers etc, but feeling too sleepy to bother. I reckoned they came no closer than 6 miles (counting between lightning and thunder rolls) but we're always wary these days since Hugh nearly had his head blown off last year when lightning struck the phone line up at Thelbridge Cross (nearly 2 miles away) and travelled down to us at the end of the line to emerge in the hallway with an unbelievable bang, melting the phone and burning paint off the wall in the process. He'd hung up about 20 seconds before! The aura of "brimstone" was tangible afterwards, a forewarning of the four months it took BT to get the line working properly again.
5 July 01
At last, some good news! My dear friends at Bridgerule have had their blood test results - and they are NEGATIVE!!!! So their long long battle has paid off and their resistance to the bullying tactics of the government completely vindicated. Hurrah! They also told me that of the 150 contiguous cull cases resisted with the help of Alayne Addy, the Exeter solicitor, EVERY ONE HAS PROVED NEGATIVE. It would seem unlikely that this was coincidence, so does rather beg the question about just how many contiguous culls were completely unnecessary? Rather more than the government will ever admit to, I should imagine. But perhaps an inkling of this will emerge when we have the Public Enquiry which is so essential to drag all the facts kicking and screaming out into the open. I'm very annoyed with the sheep today as two of the more senior ladies have obviously been having a real old scrap - both had blood round their horns and very dopey expressions from too much head-butting. They have no dignity. Will have to round them all up this weekend and give them each a squirt of anti-fly jollop as their protection from being shorn is coming to an end, and this muggy weather is ideal for flies. I can do without a case of fly-strike this year, as digging maggots out of a living sheep has to be just about the most disgusting occupation possible - yes, even worse than dagging after too much spring grass! Such are the joys of farming.
6 July 01
It was really nice to go into school this afternoon, and be greeted like a long lost relative by friends I haven't seen face to face since early March. It was quite exciting to find myself in a group of people all talking together. I felt as if I'd lost the knack of doing that! The only real snag was having to make seven trips up to the van this morning with the wheelbarrow filled with plants - each round trip about a quarter of a mile, and the steep uphill one with the full barrow each time.(Hugh had done four last night). Also had to negotiate the blasted gate which has to be physically lifted to open it now, and manoeuvre past the "guard pony" who would love to sneak up the lane to sample some new grass. Actually I've rigged up some moveable hurdles so he's gradually hedge-trimming a few more yards each day. The sale was a success - not a huge amount of cash made (as plants were 50p for a big pot, and 25p for a small one - not much horticultural snobbery here!) but all the little amounts added up, and by the end everyone seemed to have run out of money and the children were all either wet (10p to water-bomb your chum) or floury (something to do with getting sweets out of a bowl of flour with your mouth?) or if they were really lucky, both. I only had two barrowloads of plants to bring home at the end of the day, some of which were new to me! The only real downside to my afternoon "out" was discovering that several people are still suffering badly from the effects of the pyres. One lost her voice five weeks ago, and it has still not returned - this means she has been unable to work as she is a teacher. Many people have throat and breathing problems which are just not going away, even all these weeks later. The doctors just don't seem to be able to help. Hearing people hoarse, coughing and with cold-like symptoms in the middle of summer seems very wrong. But of course, as we're told, the pyres caused no health problems at all - so these people must all have become hypochondriacs suddenly, I suppose.
7 July 01
As going out has been somewhat curtailed for us this year, I thought it might be fun to have a "family day out and picnic" at Wimbledon today for the Henman match and the women's finals (even if it was only in front of the TV). So lunch was delayed to coincide with the start, plates were loaded with picnic food and we settled down in our virtual ring-side seats to while away the afternoon in entertaining idleness. Of course the rain had to ruin it - not here, of course, but in SW1 - and instead of tennis there was interminable chat and anecdote, and we saw no play at all! Tomorrow we get the sheep in for a general check up, and a squirt of Vetrazin to ward off the flies. We're all bathing, hairwashing and getting our glad rags out ready for the occasion. I hope they appreciate it!
8 July 01
Cloudy but dry. Disaster struck outside the back door this morning. The swallows nest under the lean-to, which had been full to bursting with three cheesy-grinned babies and at least one adult had fallen off the beam, two babies were dead, and the third just balancing on a lower beam whilst the two parents screamed in and out in panic. At least they hadn't deserted it, but it was in a place that a cat could get to, so we had to try and rig up a sort of safety net of garden netting - not for the bird to fall into, but to prevent anything leaping up to where it was. I think it worked because the parents are managing to fly over it to feed the survivor, and were back perching in their usual place on the washing line nearby. They are very bad builders - their nest usually falls down several times during the construction, and they labouriously start all over again; but how do you teach a swallow to build a better nest? I think I'll see if I can nail up a little block of wood over the winter, so they've got a better place to wedge it next year. It's all too traumatic otherwise. Penned the sheep up and checked them over. Cuthbert still very thin, but the female Dartmoors are now too fat, The Jacobs all look about right. Everyone had a squirt of Vetrazin (from me) and an orange mark (from Claudia) so I didn't miss anyone out. They pretend to hate it, but when we opened up the pen they wouldn't leave it, but hung around wanting their noses scratched until we drove them out. Despite complete silence on the news and in the papers, it was somehow rather shocking to log on to the DEFRA website and find that there has been SIX new cases today in the north. Maybe I too am becoming guilty of "out of sight, out of mind" as well. It's not over yet, is it?