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Tuesday
Dec122017

12 DECEMBER 2017

Cold Feet.

It has been brought to my notice that some of my recent communications have been a little downbeat. To the extent that one customer asked me on Saturday, was there any point in wishing me a Happy Christmas. So, here are my reasons to be cheerful:

  1. It’s no longer my responsibility to feed the livestock, whatever the weather. This is especially pleasing in the current conditions.
  2. I am surrounded by beauty, constantly changing and always a joy. See above photo taken at the dam by a customer on Saturday. There is always time to smell the roses.
  3. Despite my ongoing gloom about the environment, I’m confident that enough good people exist to pull us back from the precipice.
  4. In less than two weeks’ time, the days will start to grow longer and the night’s shorter.
  5. There are a million and one reasons why I consider myself a lucky man, none of which I will bore you with now. Life’s been good to me so far.

I have attached the butchery and Christmas baking order sheets. We would really like the baking orders by this Wednesday so that there isn’t a last minute panic in the kitchen. We are also getting ducks from Mary Regan if a turkey is too much of a good thing. You can ring in your orders.

See you soon.

Tom

Monday
Dec112017

04 DECEMBER 2017

One of the few benefits of these short days is that you get to see some rather lovely sunrises.

You will remember the closing scene of The Italian Job, where as the bus hangs over the edge of the precipice, Michael Caine says: ‘Hang on lads, I’ve got a great idea.’

This came to mind on Saturday morning as I listened to a discussion on the farming programme about the ongoing GM debate. The scientist argued that Europe including the UK was becoming a backwater, in thrall to the luddites. It was proven that GM crops would diminish the need for chemical inputs in farming and therefore would be good for nature and mankind. He was very convincing, and as the science progresses I do sometimes wonder if we are looking a potential gift horse in the mouth.

But then I think, it was this same fraternity of agricultural scientists that brought us DDT, neo-nicotinoids, organophosphates and glyphosates to name but a few ‘advances’ in agriculture that didn’t work out so well. Having  plunged the planet into the first mass extinction event in millions of years, they now have the arrogance to tell us that the way to salvation is to further interfere with nature. What this suggests is that the blame for the planet’s woes lies with nature itself.

Like Michael Caine in the film, they have brought us to the edge of the precipice. We are at tipping point – ‘Hang on lads,’ they cry, ‘We’ve got another great idea – genetic modification!’

Why can’t I trust them?

See you soon.

Tom

Monday
Dec112017

27 November 2017

If you look carefully you will see rows of onions beginning to appear. As a sad old man this is a sight that fills me with joy. As you can see, Gem looks rather bored, while Molly looks as if she is contemplating her recent near death experience at the hand of onions.

A couple of weeks ago we were contacted by Cbeebies asking if they could film some opening and closing sequences for ‘Down on the Farm’. Initially we were quite enthusiastic and felt the publicity could only do us good. We then watched a few episodes on the iPlayer and started to have second thoughts. In common with most agricultural programmes aimed at the General Public, the image portrayed of farming is relentlessly optimistic. Farming is like life itself, there’s good days and bad days, easy days and unrelentingly gruelling days. Days when the stock all seem to be in rude good health and days when one of them inexplicably may drop dead. I’ll give you an example of how the general public are deceived – you must have noticed how in any TV sequence shot in a livestock shed, the animals are always bedded on straw that looks as it had been harvested just a few hours before – golden, fresh and above all clean. Come back in a day or two and the same straw will be covered in dung, trampled flat and on its way to becoming farmyard manure. For some reason, this is never shown on TV.

Similarly when the Cbeebies team was out last week doing a reconnaissance for the program, I took them down to the vegetable field where I had been harvesting parsnips earlier. The ground was waterlogged and the parsnips reluctantly came out of the ground with an audible ‘gloop’.  I wanted to be reassured that any filming done at Ballylagan was a true reflection of life on the farm. I commented to the producer that their presenter was always immaculately turned out and his boots always clean. I suggested that they weren’t being entirely honest with their viewers. ‘They’re only kids, we don’t want to scare them off.’  I seldom watch Countryfile, but in any episode I have watched, their lens also seems to be rose tinted. I struggle to differentiate between this sort of TV and fake news, and to deceive children seems especially pernicious.

I’m not a social media fan, but I am aware of a similar phenomenon with Facebook, where perfectly normal, no more than averagely miserable teenagers are made even more miserable when they contemplate the idealised postings of their contemporaries.  This gave me an idea:  that we should post a series of short videos on our Facebook page, illustrating what life here is really like – the good the bad and the ugly.

See you soon.

Tom


Tuesday
Nov142017

11 November 2017

The calm before the storm.

Last Friday evening we held a dinner to celebrate the 6th anniversary of the opening of the Tea Room. My involvement in these things is now purely strategic. By that I mean that when ideas are put to me I either approve them or disapprove them. (More accurately I express either approval or disapproval. What actually happens may be unaffected by my opinions.) In any case my actual involvement in day to day events is very limited – thank goodness.

Imagine therefore the scene at about 6.15 on Friday evening. I was pottering about in our own kitchen, contemplating the sun’s position relative to the yardarm, when Patricia swept in, moderately stressed and asked me to go over to the Tea Room and take a few photos of the Garden Room all decked out for the birthday bash. Which I did. Sarah and her team looked, if not relaxed, well then, in a state of competence relative to the task in hand. I went back to my own kitchen relaxed about the evening ahead. The guests were expected to arrive from about 7.15.

At 6.30, the main Power NI fuse (80amp) on our electricity supply blew, and  the Tea Room was briefly plunged into darkness before the emergency lighting came on. None of the kitchen equipment works without electricity.

I rang Power NI and nearly went into meltdown myself when confronted by the inevitable automated fault reporting system. Eventually by mis-keying my postcode, the automated system rather huffily gave up on me and put me through to a real person. I was told that an engineer would be sent asap. ‘We’ve a lot of customers due to arrive in half an hour, I don’t suppose you have any idea how long that might be.’  ‘I’m afraid he’s out on another job at the minute, but as soon as he finishes there…..’ I didn’t like to ask where the other job was, but assumed it would be Enniskillen or Rathlin. I went into the Tea Room and said I didn’t think there was a pup’s chance of the electricity coming back on any time soon, but not to abandon hope just yet. Patricia was meanwhile clearing the decks in our own kitchen so as we could finish off the cooking from there. The emergency lighting would probably last the evening. Dishwashing looked like being the biggest problem.

At 6.45 Power NI rang me to say the spark was finished in Ballyclare (!)  and was on his way. Within 15 minutes he had replaced the fuse and had us up and running again. To say I was impressed would be to understate my sentiments.

Many years ago I wrote a similar letter to the customers, describing how my day had lurched from crisis to crisis. ‘Never a dull moment,’ I concluded. But now, as then, I quite like dull moments.

See you soon.

Tom