As somebody commented to me recently, Corvid 19 is a very Protestant virus. It’s perfectly safe to work but under no circumstances are you allowed to enjoy yourself. As another person said, “You know what, it’s been a pretty crap summer so far.”
To be fair, he was thinking in agricultural terms.
First the year started sodding wet. Then it dried out nicely. So nicely we had a drought and grass started burning off. Since then it’s been colder than charity and we’ve struggled to have three fine days in a row. Everything, but everything, has been harder work than it really needed to be.
The industry has coped, but then we’re used to coping with bluidy minded weather, mindless regulation, and politicians working from bizarre scientific advice. So the auction marts are open and various organisations are offering webinars and zoom meetings to teach us about the latest developments. Which is great, worthy, and boring. Because all human contact has stopped. It’s probable that some agricultural shows that don’t happen this year will fade away and not happen next year. Given farmers can be pretty isolated at the best of times, this isn’t an entirely good idea.
But this morning I was watching as Sal, ‘the Dog’ and Billy, ‘the Cat’ were strutting round the yard as if they were in charge and understood what was going on. I was irresistibly reminded of politicians. Now to be fair to both Sal and Billy, they have areas of competence. In these areas they are both far more proficient than I am and I accept that. But between ourselves, both these two animals struggle to grasp the bigger picture.
So it is on the political stage. We have politicians saying they want us to go out shopping and spending money, and now they’re saying that they’re thinking of making masks mandatory in shops. Sorry, did I really read that? I mean, I could go shopping in Tesco without a mask at the height of the pandemic and the number of deaths kept dropping. Why, when there is less virus about than ever and the number of ‘excess deaths’ is so low we’re below our normal baseline do we suddenly have to all start wearing masks?
The problem is the message it sends out. I was pondering going for a walk the other day and I could have dropped into town on my travels to get some stuff. I do need a new pair of trainers. (When you’ve feet as wide as mine, trainers are a lot easier and cheaper solution than shoes.) Then I thought to myself, “I just cannot be bothered.”
The masks, the queuing, the circling round people, it’s not worth the candle. After all, until normality returns, the old pair of trainers will cope. It’s not as if I’m going anywhere is it? I’m not somebody who goes in for retail therapy, although I enjoy a browse in a second hand bookshop (or even the book shelves in the charity shops) but at the moment there’s no joy in the job, so why bother?
But actually we want people to enjoy it again. We want people to spend an hour or two browsing, dropping into Costa for a coffee (or whatever) and generally spreading the money and the joy.
Things are starting to spiral down. I noticed that Pret A Manger have shut thirty outlets and is expected to cut at least 1,000 jobs. But they rely on commuters and lunchtime office workers. So their customers are either working from home or furloughed. Apparently sales are down 74% from this time last year and they’re thought to be losing about £20m a month.
I have no doubt there are going to be a lot of other businesses facing the same problem. Working from home is getting more popular. Even if, when working from home, you stroll down to a local café for a change of company and a coffee, you’re still not going to be using an inner city one. It has struck me that London could just ger a kicking.
In fact, when working from home, Prime Minister Mia Mottley is suggesting that those working from home consider moving to Barbados for a year under its new ‘Barbados Welcome Stamp’ scheme. It makes sense, I cannot imagine Barbados having worse broadband than a lot of rural areas in the UK.
One of the obstacles is now the civil service. We’re seeing a similar pattern of offending to that we saw back in 2001 with FMD. First you had the mad panic and the incoherent fumbling. Officials were travelling to strange places and doing dodgy deals with strangers in pub carparks in China to buy PPE.
Now we’re at the ‘back covering stage.’ We saw this with FMD as well. More and more regulation was brought in, and some of it we still have. Other countries in Europe brought it in briefly and then dropped it when the pandemic was over, but not the UK. So we still have a more bureaucratic system of moving livestock than anywhere else in the world.
Of course the idea was that it would mean we wouldn’t have another outbreak. Except that six years later we did. To quote the HSE report about the Pirbright laboratory site, “”Subject to the ongoing work detailed above, the indications are that there is a strong probability that the FMDV strain involved in the farm outbreak originated from the Institute of Animal Health or the Merial sites.” In the report on the epidemic it stated, “It reported that traces of the virus were found in a pipe at the Pirbright institute running from Merial to the government’s treatment plant. It is thought that tree roots damaged the pipe allowing the virus to the surface.” Pirbright was at one time more widely known as Porton Down. MPs of the select committee that dug into the matter commented that, “Two government departments – Defra and the department for innovation, universities and skills – had to “settle how they are going to share the cost” of its £121m redevelopment.” Ideally before it leaked again.
That’s probably why we need strict regulation of farmers, it protects the country from the incompetence of the bureaucracy.
What worries me about our current pandemic is that the bureaucracy is keen to pile more and more regulations on us. Stop and think about it. If masks are so important, then why not make them permanent, after all it’ll be flu season soon. Looking at the pattern of offending, I have no reason to doubt that there will still be regulations left over from the pandemic, still in place this time next year.
Oh yes and the dancing cat food tins. As I was feeding Sal this evening, my lady wife informed me we had just had a recorded phone call telling us that the HMRC were about to prosecute us for something or the other. So just another spam phone call. But she commented that the voice, well spoken, well-modulated, sounded very much like the one in yesterday’s spam phone call telling us our internet was about to be cut off.
I can just imagine the CV of the actor involved. “Yes, after a season as Lear at the Globe, I was in Waiting for Godot in the Arts Theatre in the West End. I was also the voice over for the well regarded dancing cat food tins advert, and was justly celebrated for my part in the ‘Your internet will be cut off’ and ‘The HMRC are taking legal action against you’, spam phone calls.”
There again, what do I know, meet the lady herself.
Another collection of anecdotes drawn from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. As usual Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep get fair coverage, but it’s mixed with family history and the joys of living along a single track road.
As a reviewer commented, “Another excellent compendium of observations from the back of Mr. Webster’s quad bike in which we learn a lot more about sheep, border collies and people. On the whole, I think the collies come out of it best. If you fancy being educated on the ways of the world, with a gentle humour and a nice line in well observed philosophy, you could do a lot worse than this.”