Stealing faith at the farm

Some time between delivering a bale of hay to Kitchen Meadow for last year’s lambs and shutting up the chickens, the quad bike and trailer disappeared from the grain store. We always lock it up at night, but the thieves deftly ripped the padlock off with a crowbar. Luckily, our quad actually, the farm manager’s quad is fitted with a tracking device, a micro-chip the size of a thumbnail that is monitored by a satellite somewhere in the sky. The police reckon they might find it, unless it’s hidden in a barn or bunker. Everyone agrees the police, our insurance man, all the local farmers on who took it. The only disagreement is linguistic: gypsies, travellers, Romany, diddicois, pikeys, gypos.

Anyone studying a marriage could learn a lot by examining the reactions of the couple to a petty theft. I am ready to booby-trap the farm, starting with installing electronic gates on the farm drive and back track. I call Clarkes of Walsham, the agricultural building merchants, to get estimates. The police recommend CCTV cameras on the farm workshop and grain store and signs that say ‘DO NOT ENTER’, but this seems as futile to me as our orange Farm Watch signs. Like the veteran of a guerilla war, I’m wary of gestures. My husband is calm. He reminds me that the farm track is a public right of way that vehicles are allowed to use (the police think this was the route taken by the thieves), and he quietly refuses to install electronic gates, floodlights, CCTV cameras. ‘What next?’ he asks in his Dalai Lama voice, ‘buying landmines on eBay?’

An EU crime survey that revealed that Britain has the highest rate of burglary in the European Union was eclipsed by the Unicef report that English children are the unhappiest in the western world. I remember the youthful MP who dazzled the country with his vow to deal with ‘crime and the causes of crime’. He would be relieved to know that there is some positive news in the survey: you’d be unlucky to be a victim of bribery in the UK, as the rates are right down. Unless you’re hankering after a peerage.

But, it isn’t the theft of the quad that makes me want to swing a pickaxe: it’s the feeling of vulnerability. Suddenly, everything looks at risk to me: the pregnant ewes, the dovecote, the old hay cart. I know the gypsies have cased the joint, so I try to see everything through their dark eyes, through my own dark eyes. It’s like stepping into a ditch of moral quicksand. Ranting about the gypsies makes me sound like a closet Klansman, just as looking at the faces of young Angolans, Nigerians and Somalians recently convicted of murder and wondering ‘what are they doing here?’ makes me sound like a virulent racist. I want to be the unsentimental liberal who is mostly humane, well-meaning, and on the side of unprotected minorities (and I want those minorities to be well-meaning and humane also, and did I say appreciative?).

Meanwhile, the police call to say they found the quad during a raid on a lock-up just outside Peterborough. In fact, they found a warehouse full of stolen quads. I tell my husband that the electronic gates can be painted red oxide. ‘You can’t secure every piece of equipment on a farm,’ he says. But it isn’t the drill, the plough, the bowser I want to hold on to. It’s my faith in common decency and goodness, my shaky hope that crime and the causes of crime aren’t inevitable. I am willing to be bribed.