The farm is blooming, but beyond its boundaries the world has gone mad says Jamie Blackett.
The cows’ eyes shine like black diamonds in the darkness and the headlights amplify the steam from their breath. The one I call Tina Turner, a black Jersey with a spiky ginger fringe, stretches her nose out in greeting as I reverse the Land Rover into the log bunker, catching the cool, piney aroma above acrid farmyard smells.
A boot-full will satisfy the voracious goddess inside the biomass boiler, for now, and keep us warm for a day, when I feed the flames in the darkness like the stoker on an old steam train. It becomes a Stakhanovite task in December, but there’s grim satisfaction in thwarting Putin’s energy squeeze: the logs are all home grown. I am in up to five layers of clothing now and a woolly hat in preference to a tweed cap as often as not and especially after sunset. Parkinson’s eponymous law states: work expands to fill the day. But, as the year hurtles towards the winter solstice, it needs a rider ‘and some’. Jobs are mentally sorted between those requiring daylight and those that can be done after dark.
Herself tells me that I would have more time if I did less shooting. (She is a little out of sorts as Alice, our brilliant robotic daily, has proved not to be quite as smart as she thought she was. Alice the Bot can avoid falling down the stairs or getting cornered, but doesn’t know not to hoover up an undetected puppy mess. Vexing.) I reply that shooting is necessary for continuous professional development. How can I embrace whole life-learning if I don’t spend time on other people’s farms, discussing land-management techniques and how to cope with the latest insane wheeze dreamt up by our political lords and masters? The most recent initiative has had us both burning midnight oil for days.
“After nights of form filling, we are 2,000 quid poorer and our holidaymakers will not notice a thing”
It started when some bright spark in the Edinburgh nomenklatura realised that there are many more tenants than landlords who vote. They legislated to make it all but impossible to evict tenants from houses, which is a charter for bad tenants, because no landlord ever put out a good tenant without compelling reason. Surprise, surprise, landlords responded by turning properties into holiday lets, saturating that market and causing resentment among wannabe tenants who were unable to rent. A few years ago, we stayed in a tenement flat in Edinburgh and had a note pushed under our door, which read: ‘**** Off AirBnB.’
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Doubling down on distortion, a few weeks ago the apparatchiks came up with the brainwave of making owners of holiday properties all over Scotland apply for licences, so that the commissars could decide whether our cottages should be reassigned to some other use. This involves a marathon of box-ticking to ensure that every possible elf-and-safety/climate-change exigency is covered. After nights of form filling, we are 2,000 quid poorer from the licence fees, the Big State has poked more tentacles up our nostrils and our holidaymakers will not notice a thing, except perhaps that we seem a bit greyer than when they last saw us. Of course, there are some who want to abolish property ownership altogether, but, by that time, we kulaks will all be in lunatic asylums anyway.
As the year end draws nigh, I can take stock. The country beyond our marches has clearly gone mad. Independence may be needed. We have the sea on three sides, so, if we blockade the bridges over the burn and declare UDI, the rest of Scotland can go hang.
Here, at least, I can report good progress on all fronts. The cows faithfully go on giving us our daily milk, blissfully unaware that the ‘white gold’ is worth more in nominal terms than ever before. It is six weeks before the first calves appear and the whole cycle of life begins again. The arable fields glow in varying shades of green — catch crops of rye, vetch, mustard and radish — part of our carbon-sequestration strategy, soon to be measured by the boys and girls of Glasgow University. We must be doing something right: endangered birds — sparrows, starlings, curlews and lapwings — are daily sightings and the new ponds are holding duck.
The hedges I’d planned to plant have been postponed by the box-ticking, but the woods are looking much better after a good thinning and on dreich evenings, as I sit by the fire with a nourishing glass of my son’s new John Paul Jones ‘Ranger’ rum with tonic (who knew?), I dream of dappled sunlight on a carpet of bluebells and spring birdsong.
Jamie Blackett farms in Dumfriesshire. His latest book, ‘Land of Milk and Honey: Digressions of a Rural Dissident’, is out now.
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