Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Edward Inchley (1)

Eddy, Ed to his friends, lived in the North Dorset village of Buckhorn Weston for all of his life save for the last months when he was resident in a care home in Sherborne. He had spent his time, for the most part, on various farms around the village and had a few gardening jobs around the local big houses. He was what could be described as a country man of the old kind. That is to say, he held those that lived in big houses and farmers in awe. Clearly he been brought up to know his place as they used to say. Ed lived in a cottage at the top of the village hill which, conveniently, was only a few hundred yards from the pub. Convenient, that is, on the way down but a major pain on the way back up. Especially so as Ed only had one lung. I don't know the history of this disability, but, one thing is for sure it did not deter Ed from his cigarettes which he continued to puff away at until he died. It would appear that Ed was no great traveller as local legend has it that he only left the village once to go to London. 

The story goes that he went there to see a lady. Be that as it may, the circumstances of his trip, no doubt, went a great way to ensure that he never bothered again to venture outside the village. On the fateful day Ed had arranged a lift to the local railway station at Gillingham, about five miles or so away. He had also arranged to be picked up at the station in the evening upon his return. The pub landlord being the designated taxi for the day. Ed got around locally by means of lifts granted by a wide range of people. However, on the day of the London trip local drinkers and the said landlord, began to become a bit uneasy when, as the evening passed, there was no call from Ed. Just the concern level was becoming a major worry, the telephone rang and a stranger on the other end imparted the good news that Ed was safe and well. The problem was, he was in Exeter. Having gone to sleep in the train Ed had slept his way through Gillingham and finally woke up in Exeter, which for him, might as well have been another planet. The long suffering landlord got out his car and drove to recover Ed from Exeter. This, of course, was a round trip of many miles and several hours. 

When we first moved to the village my daughters were the first members of the family to meet Ed, having visited the pub with friends, they inevitably encountered Ed in his seat at the corner of the bar. An ever present Ed was not one to hold back if he saw someone new in the pub. "Who be you and where do e live" would usually be followed by a potted history of all of the previous people that had lived in the house of the newcomer. In many cases he could also reveal the name of the builder that had built it. 

In any event, Ed subjected the girls to his usual enquiry and engaged them in conversation as was his wont. He especially liked girls, that is not to suggest that he was anything other than a perfect gentleman, but he just liked the female of the species and they, generally,liked him. Ed didn't change much he wore most things until they became so shabby that they were replaced by gifts from local people who "looked after him". His dress was, therefore, uncoordinated and at times rather odd, be that as it may, he always had a large collection of badges pinned to both lapels of his jacket and for good measure a few on his hat of the day. 

Having met Ed the girls duly reported back and presented the news that Ed was an egg seller. I assumed this meant he was a local poultry farmer and as such supplied local businesses with his eggs. Well, not quite, Ed did keep a few hens and he did supply some of their eggs to the pub. In fact he had a mutually acceptable arrangement with the landlord which worked upon the basis of a few pints in return for a certain number of eggs. Ed's eggs were good, he fed his birds on a great mixture of mash, bread, (which he got free from a local bakery when passed its sell by date ),and vegetables which all went to ensure a good coloured and flavoured yolk. Trust me, the feeding of laying hens does have a significant impact upon the quality of the eggs they produce. So, when Ed discovered that I also kept poultry I became the target of his attention whenever I entered the pub. There was no getting away from him, Ed would shout right across the building to get ones attention and he would not be put off. It was, therefore, much better to attend upon him on entry and then make your excuses.It wasn't that I didn't like talking to him, it was just that the conversations tended to be the same on each occasion and, inevitably involved providing the beer during the talks! 

Over the years I provided Ed with birds various, when he learned that I had some ducks he casually told me one evening he had always fancied keeping a few ducks. This was his particular code for, "Can you give me a few ducks?", which, of course, is exactly what happened. There was no question of not doing so as Ed would bring up the matter of him getting a few ducks every time he encountered me and it was easier to concede and provide the said few ducks. On another occasion Ed had learned, through another customer in the pub that I had purchased some more hens from a local poultry farm. Of course, it was just at the time when Ed himself, "could do with a few more birds!" 

The birds I had obtained had been purchased from a huge local egg producer and the hens had lived their lives in vast aircraft-hanger like buildings in horrible conditions at the rate of three to a cage. After the end of the first years laying cycle the hens were cleared out and sent for pie making etc. It was at this point that hens could be purchased for a few shillings each. However,there was a bit of a down side to doing this as the birds in question were almost naked. Having lived in an environmentally controlled system they had little need for feathers. What happened after leaving this regime was usually predictable and, to a large part,depended upon the weather. If it happened to be summer and warm the feather growing process was slower and gradual, if on the other hand, it was winter and cold the birds would go off lay and produce feathers with every grain of food they consumed. The shock of the cold could also result in a few losses. 

What all this means is a situation where one is feeding a large number of hens which are eating for England and producing no eggs in return. This process of readjustment can take a couple of months. Having learned, over a period of several weeks, how desperate Ed was becoming for a "few more birds", I carefully explained to him where the birds came from and the obvious disadvantages of having some as egg production for him could be many weeks ahead. He, would, I explained, get a few eggs to start with followed by a complete slump until the hens had got used to their new life. This was, he assured me,no impediment to him obtaining the much needed and desired few extra birds. 

When asked to quantify the few extra he referred to I was expecting to be asked for four or five, perhaps half a dozen. I was therefore, a little taken aback when I was told a couple of dozen would do nicely. It should, dear reader, be understood that coin of the realm never featured in Ed's calculations, there was a tacit expectation that the birds would be collected, delivered at a convenient time, (when Ed was not at the pub), and payment would not be discussed. On a good day, having delivered the birds, one might be promised a pint on Ed when next attending the pub. This was one of the few things that Ed's memory let him down on, I don't ever remember being harassed by Ed to take advantage of this grand offer every time I encountered him! The hens requested I delivered and again made sure Ed was aware of the process of adjustment which would surely follow, and indeed, the chance of an odd loss in the process. 

I didn't see Ed for a couple of weeks after this event, not having been to the pub. Upon my next visit I received Ed's summons to attend him, hardly before I had made it through the pub door. As I approached his seat of office he announced to the whole establishment , ‘'they birds I bought off you ent no good, one of em as died and tothers ent layin''. Every head in the place turned and all eyes were on me.I hate to think what thoughts were going through the minds of those watching. Needless to say I was not a happy chap. Having put Ed firmly in his place, and made it generally known that no money had changed hands I did receive, what for Ed, was something of an apology. "'Oh a I forgot that"' Still we poultry keepers must stick together and Ed and I remained mates. More next month.

Friday, 1 July 2016

The Whjite Rabbit

After moving to Dorset and settling in to our new home we began, as you do, to get to know our fellow villagers. Our garden backed on to farm land and it wasn't long before I met the farmer whom owned the land. A quiet, pleasant man, John was a thoroughly decent sort. As far as I am aware he had been in farming all his life, his parents before him also farmed. Coincidentally John had grown up in the village which we were later to move to and in which we now live.

However, as a result of requesting John's permission to do a bit of ferreting upon his land, which he granted, we became good friends and I often went along and helped him out with bits and pieces on the farm throughout the years. John had a son, Tim, who was also quite keen on shooting and similar things to myself and I was soon to be allowed to shoot on the farm as well as the ferreting. Overall, the farm had a quite large, and for the most part, healthy rabbit population. So much so that the rabbits did a fair amount of damage to the corn and other crops which John grew. Rabbiting was, therefore, greatly welcomed and the more we could impact upon their population the better. 

In addition to ferreting and shooting, I would often spend an evening out in the fields with my lurcher, Toby, lamping. Toby was a master at the game he loved being out and was adept at catching the bolting bunnies with or without the aid of the lamp. Working a dog in the dark on a windy night is a very humbling experience, it demonstrates, without doubt, how greatly superior the dogs hearing, sight and sense of smell are over our own. How many times did I say to Toby, "get on there's nothing there", only to be proved completely wrong when a squatting rabbit leapt up before us and made its bid for freedom. He seldom missed his target. Although great sport, lamping is not the most efficient method of rabbit control. Obviously, a dog can only perform at great speed and on maximum energy for a limited period of time, so, the number of rabbits caught are restricted by these factors. I took the view that half a dozen good runs was enough for an evening although Toby would have kept going until he was worn out.

In addition to my efforts to help with John's rabbit problem, Tim would organise shooting evenings during the winter months. There would usually be five people involved in the team. We shot from the back of a Land Rover which had a box like structure built into it to support three guns. One shooting ahead and the other two to the left and the right. Inside the cab would be the driver and his mate who controlled the lamp and did the picking up. The vehicle would be driven around the fields and rabbits shot as they became visible. This method would account for several dozen in a period of two or three hours. We kept the time limit down to that sort of level, and the finishing time to ten o'clock in order to avoid complaints of noise, and or, nuisance. Not withstanding our attempts to keep on the right side of the village residents we did get the odd complaint.On one occasion a woman wrote a heart rending piece to the local newspaper complaining about the barbarity of the farmer and the rabbit slayers whom she saw as despicable murderers. Clearly, the good lady had no idea of farming economics or the need to control the hundreds of mouths that were, literally, eating into Johns income. John replied to letter in question and suggested the problem could be solved amicably. He would undertake to catch, in nets, as many rabbits as he possibly could and would deliver them all alive and well to the garden of the complainant. Needless to say we heard no more of the matter. 

On one occasion there appeared in the fields, with the general rabbit population, a white rabbit. Over the years, periodically, black specimens had appeared but never before a white one. Clearly visible on the banks of the fields beside the single track road into the village, the white rabbit quickly became something of a celebrity amongst mums and their children on their way to and from school etc. Each day little groups could be seen looking for the white rabbit. When, once again, we began our rabbit shooting trips during the winter months Tim took the opportunity, during his pre-shoot briefing, to make it clear the white rabbit was not to be shot. He knew if the white rabbit had disappeared on the morning after a shoot he and his father would get the blame. He wanted to avoid that at all costs. Things went well for a number of shoots and, as before, each time we were forbidden from shooting the white bunny. One of the regular chaps that made up the shooting team was the son of a nearby poultry farmer. We are not talking a few hens here, the enterprise was huge, hundreds of thousands of laying hens in massive aircraft like hangars. The chap in question, Ian, was, what could reasonably be called, a bit of a character. The life and soul of any group, Ian was always up for a laugh. When he wasn't devoting himself to getting nicked on one or other of his collection of high powered motorcycles, he was something of a joker.

So it was we found ourselves half way through a rabbit shooting session, and again having been warned regarding the white rabbit, that from his bag in the back of the truck, Ian produced a well frozen white rabbit.He chucked it off the back of the vehicle in order that it could not be seen from within the driver's cab and a few moments later he called to Tim, the driver, to circle round as we had missed a couple of squatting rabbits. As we turned back the lamp picked up the white rabbit,which appeared to be squatting in the grass, and all three guns in the back of the vehicle gave it both barrels. Well the response from within the cab was both immediate and unfriendly. The engine was turned off and Tim leapt from his seat calling us every kind of idiot he could think of. Words that can't possibly be repeated here. That was it, we were going home and the team of guns would never be invited to shoot again. All of that and what on earth would he tell his parents when the complaints started arriving? We in the back thought it highly amusing and our laughter served only to inflame Tim's displeasure. However, a few minutes later an apprehensive picker upper went to recover the white corpse. He bent down, picked up the white rabbit and exclaimed, "The bloody thing is frozen". Needless to say all concerned had a good laugh and Tim didn't seem to know if he should be more angry or not. In the event we carried on and the real white rabbit lived to a good age before disappearing during the summer months and, presumably, died of natural, causes. 

Monday, 27 June 2016

Interesting times; drunken sex with your mate's partner?

People voted Leave or Remain in the #BREXIT referendum for many different reasons some considered ones, some less considered. Most (but surprisingly not all) Leavers are satisfied with the result, a narrow margin for Leave. Most (but once again not all) Remainers are dissatisfied with the result.

It is clear already that nobody (Leavers, Remainers, UK politicians, Europeans, world leaders) was in any way prepared for the result and the last few days have been amusing watching the Leave campaign members tripping over one another to say "we didn't mean X would happen when we suggested X could happen". The first thing the leading Leave politicians did was to beg David Cameron to stay on as PM rather than resigning on the spot. His position is untenable: he tried to settle an internal Conservative party dispute by calling an absurd gamble and he comprehensively lost.

Nobody now knows what happens next. The referendum is not binding on Parliament which is and always has been sovereign. (The Leave campaign's stance on sovereignty was completely dishonest and some of them at least must have been educated enough to know that) If Brexit happens, it will be the will of Parliament not "the British people" that makes it so. What does Brexit mean, exactly? I know it means that we leave the EU but what does that mean, exactly? Do we leave the single market? Do we close our borders to EU citizens? Do we stop making products which conform to single market specifications? Do we abandon regulation of working hours, redundancy pay? Have we suddenly become filthy rich? Will China launch a bid to become our preferred market? Will all the Brits retired in Spain have to come "home" again?

What should have happened with this referendum, if it was to have been called in the first place, was that senior politicians on both sides should have informed and educated the public rather than relying on spreading fear and appealing to dog-whistle politics. The Remain campaign did little to nothing to explain the history of the EU, the wider benefits of the EU, how the EU actually operates. The Leave campaign comprised a simple series of sound bites, none of which provided an actual vision of what leaving the EU would mean in practical terms. The £350 million per week claim may go down in history as one of the more obvious lies of the campaign along with David Cameron's ridiculous "non-mention" of World War III. The £350m was debunked by reliable sources early on but continued to be plastered all over buses, posters, leaflets and speeches. Many will have seen Nigel Farage's weasel words about "a mistake" and "nothing to do with me guv".

It feels like the morning after a drunken night when waking up bleary eyed to discover you've just had sex with your sister or your best mate's wife. I conversed with many Leavers before the vote and tried to understand their reasons for voting out. One woman's entire argument was "350 million per week" unassisted by any thought of whether that's a lot or a little or what might or should happen to it. An ex-serviceman gave as his motivation "I served in Germany, I bloody hate the Germans" . Many thought that "the country is full". "the Euro was a disaster". The Remainers fared little better: "I don't see the point of leaving"; "I hate Nigel Farage"; "Nissan will leave if we vote out". "We're stronger in Europe".

Riding across Europe since the vote I've met Germans, Austrians, Hungarians & Romanians all of whom expressed shock and concern for the wellbeing of Great Britain. (The exception was a Frenchman in Hungary who said "fuck off Great Britain" or something like that, he was driving away and scowling at his girlfriend at the time so he might just have been being French)

I see from the news and social media that outright racism clearly played its part as well.

An ancient Chinese curse is to hope that "you live in interesting times". I think Britain in June 2016 now fits that description. The Conservative party as hopelessly divided over Europe as ever; the Labour party hopeless; other parties marginalised and ineffective. The SNP threatening a second independence referendum. Half the population being pleased that we've voted out, the other half sad that we could have behaved so stupidly. I don't mean that leaving the EU is stupid, I mean that the process which got us here couldn't have been more stupid if it was designed to be a stupid process - Blackadder was actually fiction you know!

We can't wind back the clock, we are where we are. I am personally torn between "let's trigger Article 50 right now and just do it" and "let's give the politicians a good kicking and make them do their job properly". I am not afraid of life outside the EU, perhaps life will even be better that way, but I really do think that we have sleepwalked into this position and we ought to wake up and take control. Take control back from the politicians who've played the game so badly, take control back from the racists and scaredy-cats. Let's hold our politicians to account, not just when they do something that offends us but all the time. Let's insist that they explain issues properly, not just soundbites supporting their own position.

In the 2014 European Parliament elections UK turnout was 35%, twice that of a parish council election. UKIP got 27% of the votes cast resulting in 24 MEPs. Of course we didn't do well in EP voting, UKIP MEPs either abstained or just voted against everything, even when that was against our interests. If that isn't a strong indicator of voter ignorance and/or apathy I don't know what is.

When Tony Blair resigned his mate Gordon got his job. No-one asked us, the electorate, they just anointed him. There were clear calls for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty and Cameron promised one if he got in. Brown sneaked off and signed the treaty anyway making calls/offers of a referendum useless. The most likely outcome now is that we'll get Boris Johnson, no-one will bother asking us, and he'll claim a mandate for all kinds of things as well. Is that what you want? Boris "I'll announce tomorrow which way I'm going to campaign in the referendum" Johnson as Prime Minister with a free hand to do as he pleases (or can persuade enough Conservative MPs to agree).

I was a Remainer and I'm sorry that I and others didn't do a better job of reaching out to the Leavers and undecideds and non-voters. I have many friends in the Leave camp and they are just as guilty as me but they're less bothered because of course they won.

Whether we leave the EU or stay in (yes I do still think that's a live option) we have presented a hugely divided face to the world and to ourselves. Many have been offended by the campaign, the result and the widespread dissatisfaction after the event. We do need to to explain our positions properly, to understand and address opposing positions properly, not dismiss them out of hand. We need to invest time and effort to ensure that we properly understand the various issues and we need to aim for consensus and compromise rather than division.

There is a petition with some 2.5 million signatures calling for a second referendum triggered by the narrow margin. Ironically it was started by a Leaver who thought Remain would scrape through. If that petition, a perfectly sensible requirement if announced at the outset, is granted now, it would simply cause more dissent and turmoil. If Brexit is to be halted now it needs politicians to step up to the plate of bringing both sides together. Is the current Conservative party, regardless of leader, really up to that job? If Brexit is to go forward, I would make the same assertion and ask the same question.

Interesting times. Will the British people, the 34 million who voted, really take back control or were we really only able to tick a box on somebody else's question?