2022: The Farmer’s Verdict – Country Life
The farm is flourishing, but beyond its borders the world has gone mad says Jamie Blackett.
The cows’ eyes shine like black diamonds in the dark and the headlights amplify the vapor of their breath. The one I call Tina Turner, a black singlet with spiky ginger bangs, nods in greeting as I flip the Land Rover into the log bunker, picking up the fresh aroma of pine above the pungent smells of the farm.
A full boot will satisfy the ravenous goddess inside the biomass boiler, for now, and keep us warm for a day, when I stoke the flames in the dark like the stoker of an old train at steam. It becomes a Stakhanovite task in December, but there is a dark satisfaction in countering Putin’s lack of energy: the logs are all grown at home. I wear up to five layers of clothing now and a woolen hat in preference to a tweed beanie as often as not and especially after sunset. Parkinson’s eponymous law states: Work expands to fill the day. But, as the year rushes towards the winter solstice, it needs a rider “and a few”. Jobs are mentally sorted into those that require daylight and those that can be done after dark.
She herself tells me that I would have more time if I toured less. (She’s a little uncomfortable because Alice, our brilliant everyday robot, turned out not to be as smart as she thought. Alice the Bot can avoid falling down the stairs or getting stuck, but doesn’t know no don’t vacuum an undetected puppy mess. Vexing.) I respond that shooting is necessary for continued professional development. How can I embrace the learning of a lifetime if I don’t spend time on other people’s farms, discussing land management techniques and how to deal with the latest insane wheeze dreamed up by our lords and political masters? The most recent initiative had us both burning midnight oil for days.
“After nights filling in forms, we are 2,000 pounds lighter and our holidaymakers won’t notice a thing”
It all started when a bright spark in Edinburgh nomenklatura realized that there are many more tenants than owners who vote. They legislated to make it virtually impossible to evict tenants from homes, which is a charter for bad tenants because no landlord has ever kicked out a good tenant without compelling reason. Surprise, surprise, landlords have responded by turning properties into vacation rentals, saturating this market and provoking resentment from budding renters unable to rent. A few years ago we stayed in an apartment in Edinburgh and slipped a note under our door, which read: “**** Off AirBnB.
Doubling down on the distortion, a few weeks ago the apparatchiks had the brilliant idea of asking owners of holiday properties all over Scotland to apply for licenses, so that the commissioners could decide whether our cottages should be reassigned to another use. This involves a marathon of box-ticking to ensure that all possible security and climate change requirements are covered. After nights of filling out forms, we’re £2,000 poorer with license fees, the Big State has planted more tentacles in our nostrils and our holidaymakers won’t notice except maybe we seem a little older gray than the last time they saw us. Of course, some people want to completely abolish ownership, but then we kulaks will all be in insane asylums anyway.
As the end of the year approaches, I can take stock. The country beyond our steps has clearly gone mad. Independence may be required. We have sea on three sides, so if we block the bridges on the scorch and declare the UDI, the rest of Scotland can go hang.
Here, at least, I can report good progress on all fronts. Cows faithfully continue to give us our daily milk, blissfully unaware that “white gold” is worth more than ever in nominal terms. It takes six weeks before the first calves appear and the whole cycle of life begins again. Arable fields glow in different shades of green – catch crops of rye, vetch, mustard and radish – as part of our carbon sequestration strategy, which will soon be measured by the boys and girls of the University of Glasgow. We have to do something right: the endangered birds – sparrows, starlings, curlews and lapwings – are daily sightings and the new ponds hold the duck.
The hedges I had planned to plant were ticked away, but the woods are doing much better after a good thinning and dreich evenings, as I sit by the fire with a nourishing glass of the new John Paul Jones of my son Rum ‘Ranger’ tonic (who knew?), I dream of dappled sunshine on a carpet of bluebells and the songs of spring birds.
Jamie Blackett farms in Dumfriesshire. His latest book, ‘Country of milk and honey: digressions of a rural dissident‘, is out now.
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Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
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