Sorry and all that but for me there’s only one virus. Having farmed in Cumbria all my life, and that includes 2001 it has to be FMD. Now I’m not going to get all excitable and claim that I wake up in the night screaming that, ‘Charlie’s on the wire’. But FMD is burned all the way through me like it is for a lot of other people.
What brought this on was an email exchange with a mate in which I was trying to compare the current unpleasantness with 2001. To me, I was seeing it as a mirror image. Back then it crucified rural areas but had comparatively few effects on the urban, save they might not be allowed to walk on footpaths. Now the current virus has brought towns grinding to a halt but here on the farms we’re still working.
But actually when prodded by somebody who was more distanced but still involved, I can remember others.
For example, chap I sort of knew (But knew others in his family better) who had sunk his savings into a business selling homemade fudge and sweets at agricultural shows and other outdoor events. He’d invested the money, even paid out for pitches and then everything just collapsed and he lost the lot.
Or an accountant with a lot of rural clients who nearly went bankrupt waiting for them to have some money to pay him.
Somehow farmers survived. Remember those who were shot out received compensation for the business capital the government had destroyed. But they got nothing for loss of income. Suddenly they had no income and if they lived out of their capital they’d have nothing to restock with after the disaster. Not only that but they were trapped on the farm and couldn’t leave for so many weeks. Actually we were lucky with ‘disinfection.’
Somebody (and I haven’t a clue which genius it was) convinced government that the only way to defeat FMD was to launch a massive programme of disinfection on the farms where livestock had been destroyed. It wasn’t just stuff had to be clean, if there was cracked concrete it had to be broken out and replaced. All this was paid as part of the disinfection. It was supervised largely by people who had only started working for MAFF at the start of the outbreak and a lot of them hadn’t a clue. I remember talking to one farmer who had had six weeks ‘working for the ministry’ doing the disinfection. The problem is, the work had finished and with it the money. When the inspector (from memory he’d been somebody in the post office or something) came to inspect and to sign the job off he was very complementary about the standard of work done. But then the farmer pointed out that all their cubicles were bolted to the wall. They hadn’t been able to disinfect the interface between the cement render of the wall and the steel of the cubicle. Ought that to be done?
So you have a petty bureaucrat who doesn’t know what is going on being asked to take a decision. So obviously he leaps for the safest option. Of course they ought to do that. This produced another two or three weeks work for the entire family, all at ministry level wages.
Did it do any good, from a purely epidemiological point of view? Who knows, they did infinitely more disinfection than they did in the previous major outbreak. But the main advantage was it actually provided a lifeline to farming families who would have been trapped, unable to earn.
Then there was the chaos in government. A mate of mine who worked for MAFF in London witnessed the complete bedlam. All sorts of people were being told to set up offices in all sorts of distant settings. People were ordering computers and then having them delivered by taxi to private houses. This was so the ministry employee could leave home for his new office and take his new computer with him. My mate reckoned a fair proportion were just people taking the opportunity to upgrade their home computer.
And frankly at the time the government got off on the wrong foot and MAFF pretty well melted down. If you think that the NHS is understaffed, in Cumbria there were at the start of the outbreak apparently three MAFF vets and within two days all three were ‘dirty’ and could no longer go onto farms. Nobody had a clue what was going on.
Blair was more interested in declaring everything fixed so he could have a general election. He travelled to Stockholm for a European summit in March 2001 and as he had the plane and Cumbria was ‘sort of on the way’ he stopped over in Cumbria and talked to farmers and others at the Shepherds Inn. Then he flew on to Stockholm and was shocked to discover that the Swedes expected everybody on the plane to walk through disinfectant on their way across the tarmac. Then they went into the plane, seized all the food there and incinerated it. Some people have commented that it was at that point Blair realised that he was dealing with a genuine emergency the world took seriously, not merely an irritant that was delaying his general election plans.
Looking at the current outbreak, we’re in a lot better position. Government have taken it seriously from the start and are leaning heavily on the medical/epidemiological advice. Also the NHS is dealing with it and whatever people say the NHS funding has continued to grow in real terms. No the NHS hasn’t got everything it wanted. It’s a department of government, it has to shroud-wave when the chancellor is planning spending. But the figures largely speak for themselves. They’re really good at guarding their budgets.
Certainly compared to Agriculture which the government of the day regarded as an obsolete irrelevance, the NHS is well placed to cope.
But looking at the people impacted, obviously we see the obvious, and a lot of money is being thrown at them. But there are still people not covered. It was considered utterly iniquitous that people had to wait for five weeks for Universal Credit to kick in, but it could be five months before the self-employed get any money.
Then all those people who claim it’s gross exploitation when companies hire staff on zero-hours contacts. Well what about those hired by schools as supply teachers and supply teaching assistants? The minute the school shuts, they get no money so when teachers are furloughed on 80%, the supply staff just have nothing.
Looking towards the farming industry, sadly it’s those who are doing what they were advised to do that are potentially suffering most. Those who diversified into tourism (all shut), selling niche market premium produce to restaurants and top of the range caterers, their market disappeared at the stroke of a pen. Those who went into box schemes will probably survive if they can physically cope with the issues of picking and packing veg and sticking with social distancing. And of course, they better not actually get the illness or their business could just shut with no income at all whilst they’re all in quarantine.
The more traditional side of the industry is at the moment less impacted. Provided the rest of the supply chain can keep running, getting stuff to us and taking produce away, we can probably keep going. There is going to be an issue with picking fruit and vegetables. Is an urban population, stir crazy in isolation, going to be stir crazy enough to want to do fruit picking just to get out of the house? And would they do it for the sort of money it normally commands? Or are the supermarkets going to actually pay a price for fresh produce which allows the people picking it to earn a fair wage? Indeed if they do, will you buy it or instead will the great British consumer look round for cheap imported stuff which is picked by the massively exploited and oppressed somewhere overseas?
We live in interesting times. But there again, what do I know?
Oh and the mate of mine whose email started me off on this rant? Well you might be interested in buying a book of his.
As a reviewer commented, ”
The Showing starts out with an estate agent showing a house for sale, but the potential customer already knows the house well and his thoughts reflect on a childhood with many Christmases spent there. Hints of unusual activity pepper the first chapter and set up what appears to be a very well-written ghost story.
The mystery deepens as the story progresses and typical ghostly happenings are hinted at and begin to manifest. I was thrown just a little when a chapter change moved from third person to first person, but otherwise the writing is engaging and I found myself wondering what had happened to the missing people and exactly what the nature of this ghost might be. The characters were nicely developed and the story held interest.
The mystery of the house unfolds very slowly, keeping the reader on edge and wondering the exact nature of the ghost. Hints begin to seep in slowly and there is an odd twist about halfway through that I didn’t see coming. I love it when an author can surprise me.
The creep factor also escalates around halfway. I started finding it difficult to stop between chapters at this point as events started moving more quickly and the story earned its place in the Horror genre with some nasty happenings that veered into less typical ghostly events. There was a certain amount of comedy to break up the tension and that might have stolen some of the suspense, but the big climax was imaginative and could rival Dennis Wheatley for pure fantasy ritual and demonic activity.
A little of the creep factor remained as the story finished and I can imagine it all flooding back next time I look at a potential new house.”