Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Be careful what you wish for....

There has not been a night where I have not prayed for my family before going to sleep.
I will pray to anyone who will listen, God, Buddha, Great Spirit and include prayers for those in need of prayer.
I have prayed nightly for a roof and clean water too. Lately, I have been asking for a few slates to patch up the worst of the holes.

It seems my prayers were answered but with a TransAtlantic slant.

I have shingles!

So here we go, Dear God, Buddha, Great Spirit,
Bless and care for all who need your help, watch over them, help and protect them and please provide us with roof slates, roof shingles if you are an American deity and not the trigeminal nerve type of shingle which is a bit sore.

Thank you, Amen.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Curling, sugar and the FATBOB Olympics

Saturday and by 8am the bairns were at a loose end. Youngest had been caught 'being the Jamaican bobsled team' and hurtling himself down the stairs in an old tin bath, wearing my Bob Marley hat.
He had been attempting cross country skiing wearing two pieces of wood tied to his feet with bailer twine (the closest we have to skis) and flapping his way through the mud outside. The Winter Olympics had made a strong impression on him and now he was attempting a gold in his own Farm At The Back Of Beyond (FATBOB) Olympics whilst his family rushed around doling plasters, ice packs and consternation.

The Courier had carried a piece on curling "TRY CURLING!" and Eve Muirhead had been along to help the newcomers on Wednesday at the Dewars Rink in Perth, The Farmer 'kent her faither' and thought it might be worthwhile going along to see what was happening; with the bairns in tow. Youngest had decided he would be part of the Scottish Curling team circa 2030 and he would get to meet his heros, the Jamaican Bobsled team. Rosie wanted to go and give curling a try as she felt it would be similar to the carpet bowls (which she and The Farmer go to on a Thursday).
None of our children had ever been inside an ice rink In Their Lives.

(As a slight aside, I have been zealous with a healthy eating approach and have been making sugar free, fat free and dairy free, ok, vegan, foodstuffs in an attempt to avoid junk food and heart attacks yet unknown to me, they had discovered the American foodstuffs in the 'World Foods' aisle and had breakfasted on marshmallows the size of your head plus Oreo Poptarts).

I stayed at home as I had plenty to do and loathe feeling cold plus two hours of peace - nightmare week. The family were fired up on a sugar rush and ready to curl.

When they returned, they seemed oddly subdued, no doubt the sugar high had worn off and the prospect of my oat and banana slab was nowhere as exciting as a giant marshmallow or Oreo Poptart (shown here with an ordinary and jumbo marshmallow).

I got the truth from my husband this morning and will write exactly what he said, exactly as he said it - then I'll translate.


"Ah kent, ah just KENT whit wid happen. The bairn loupin' an' skitterin' aboot, loupin' on the ice tae see if it wid crack and Rosie fell on her dowp then roared an' gret and ma breeks dinnae fit an' a cannae find a belt, there's nothin' o' me, ah wiz a' poke ersed an a'hin then the bairn skited an' louped an' fell ower and dunted his heed aff a curlin' stane; we were the family fae hell.".*...He looked quite crestfallen.
I was quite shocked. This is the most he has ever spoken in one breath in all the years I have known him.

*Translation: I knew what would happen. Our youngest child was 'spirited' and jumping on the ice to see if it would break then Rosie fell on her derriere which upset her and I have lost so much weight that my trousers are falling and our youngest slipped and fell, his head making contact with a curling stone. I am not sure if this is the criteria looked for by the Royal Caledonian Curling Society.

The bairn is out practicing curling as I write, (cranium intact) mud curling or lobbing large stones into the mud to hear it plop. He is 'clattered in glaur' and 'fair fu' o' gled' *covered in mud and very, very happy. The Farmer has been handed a belt for his trousers, Rosie, lots of chamomile tea and sympathy.

I like to think that this most noble of sports originated (circa 1500s I think) when a laird was taking his leave after giving a tenant grief one hard winter and someone decided to 'caw the feet fae the divvil'. Whatever the origins, it has evolved into a very worthwhile sport to be enjoyed by all ages.

If you do decide to give it a try, wrap up warmly and please look kindly on Team Otter because they are doing it again next week..... without the sugar.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Prove it.

The Farmer recently engaged in a conversation with another farmer and invariably, news, gossip, who had died, etc was swapped. The other farmer told my husband that someone he knew was thinking of passing his farm to one of his several daughters (assignation) and there was some consternation over 'a lassie taking over'.

I have strong feelings about this and the way the existing tenancy laws appear archaic where women and tenancy are concerned.
Heaven forbid but should a female partner of a tenant farmer become widowed, she has to prove that she is experienced enough to continue running the farm. All aspects are taken into consideration (including financial) yet, in my opinion, excluded are the day to day roles a tenant's wife undertakes.

Can you calf a cow, plough a field, step into the farmer's wellies should he be taken ill? Can you do the books, order in supplies, fix a broken tractor? Can you run the farmhouse, do a decent job of raising children, feed cattle, worm and dose sheep, work out a crop rotation, do soil analysis, shoo the ducks out of the house, keep on top of the ever changing bureaucracy, hold down a part time job/ full time job, mend fences, patch wellies, lamb a ewe, ad infinitum....?
Well, yes you can and you do. Half the time nobody sees your work but then, you are not looking for acknowledgement, you are merely doing what is required.

If you are bequeathed a large estate of many thousands of acres which encompass many tenants and houses, are you required to prove your worth? I don't believe that you are but with the laws of primogeniture being the way they are in Scotland, the odds will be that the new laird of an estate is male and therefore does not have to prove anything to anyone of his 'competence' in running an estate. Does he have to show how much money he has to anyone? No.

Very different for, e.g. a newly widowed tenant with say, less than 500 acres to run and the pressure on her to prove her ability.

I know a couple of female tenants and one of them is the absolute top in her field. Her stock is superb, highly acclaimed and she is very well respected for her knowledge and ability; yet this is a fairly unusual situation in farming, tenant farming especially.

I also know of another tenant farmer's wife who was tragically widowed young and who not only lost her much loved husband but her home and business too due to her inexperience in farming. This woman held and holds down a highly professional job outwith the farm and no doubt contributed hugely to the farm income yet these issues are not considered.

There appears to be a call for new entrants to farming and it will be very encouraging to see young women and men starting out in our profession but surely the restrictive views of assignation must be considered and changed? Can you imagine how difficult it must be for someone who has just lost a partner/ the father of their children/ workmate to go through the ordeal of proving they are worthy and capable of running the farm whilst grieving and adjusting to their loss?
Certain large estate agents, who appear to run estates, are not known for their humanity but rather their fondness for money and subsidies. Often, the human factor is ignored and the monumental task of a lone widow having to stand her case to these people is too much to cope with so farms are lost, tenancies are lost.

What other industry would you have to prove your ability and finances after the death of a partner when all along you have been the invisible 'orraperson'? **

I am also unable to find out where a same sex partner stands in the assignation laws? Would a man have to prove his worth, ability and finances if he wished to continue the tenancy on the death of his husband? I don't know the answer to that question but feel this is an area which has been ignored.

I propose that these issues could be avoidable through introducing agriculture and agricultural law as part of the National Curriculum. For those who wish to farm after us, make things easier for them by enlightenment, education, hands on experience beginning at an 'O' level basis (or whatever O levels are called these days).  If people have to prove they are worth (and please realise how demeaning this is) then help acknowledge their work in the first place, all aspects of their work.

This goes for lairds too. If the widowed tenant has to prove her/his ability then so must the new laird - after all, his actions have the ability to change lives - he has the land and the power.

The French addressed 'Liberte,egalite,fraternite ou la mort' circa 1763.
Prove your worth, Scotland and show us what equality really means - we will do the rest.

**orraperson - Jill/Jack of all trades

Monday, 17 February 2014

Lies, damn lies and statistics.

I wanted to update on the farm issues, given that seven months have passed since the meeting with the estate, MP and Scottish Land and Estates.
The main points raised were the farmhouse, roof in particular, a water supply, the replacement of march fences and the land which was taken from us without compensation.

The farm was given a water supply on Christmas Eve last year, a connecting pipe from the supply which feeds the big school (and runs through our farmland) was installed. Good to have a supply but it is fairly intermittent having had a series of bursts in the last few days.

Roof? Surveyors came and surveyed the house last year. Decent, professional fellows who never complained when the hall ceiling fell at their feet. 
Has anything progressed since they submitted their report to the estate?
Have the estate replied to my emails enquiring about progress?

March fences. 
We sent the estate a copy of an estimate from a good fencing contractor. Response?

Land resumption.
The issue was addressed by the estate after ten years of asking them to acknowledge the problem.
The grand sum of £42 was offered. This is supposed to cover our loss of crops, loss of SFP, pheasant damage to crops, rodent and pest (rat and pheasant) damage to stored silage bales, vehicular damage to non land resumption area amongst other issues. Forty two pounds.
Fearing this over-generous compensation, the estate then showed up with the game tenant and hinted strongly that now this 'game strip' was sterile and useless after ten years of bad management, they wanted a fresh two acres from the opposite side of our most productive field. Compensation was not mentioned.
Setting aside the arrogance and entitlement here (for land we still pay full rent yet cannot use), this ruination of what was once excellent, fertile ground illustrates ignorance and sheer greed, greed to whack in crop after crop of kale, year after year, no organic matter, outside contractors to work the land we pay full rent for.
Has the issue been remedied?

Improved communication.
Initially after the meeting, communication with the estate had improved but this appears to have slipped. My emails have not been answered of late.

Overall conclusion of the results from the meeting?
A complete waste of time however it was good PR for SL&E to be seen to have been proactive with a tenant farming family. The trouble is that being seen doing something and actually implementing the issues are very different.

Multiply our problems with similar experienced by tenant farmers all over Scotland and you can just about gauge the frustration and exasperation in our industry. The main question being "How do you get these estates to actually DO something?" "How can SL&E say that millions of pounds of investment is being thrown at farms?" "How can you get the laird to implement his side of the tenancy agreement without having to involve expensive and lengthy legal battles?" (Answer, you can't).
From the Secure 1991 tenant's viewpoint, the 'investments' are non existent unlike the lies and spin which are spread as thickly as the Somme like mud on our farm.

We attended the annual Scottish Tenant Farmers Association dinner in Perth on Friday night, the guest speaker was Professor Jim Hunter.
He proposed a radical change. Do away with the existing, overtly complex and untenable tenancy laws which are only able to be interpreted by a handful of Agricultural lawyers (costing approx £160 per hour.)
Do away with viewing tenant farming as a separate type of farming to, say, crofting, small holding, etc.
Give the tenant (including the Limited Partnerships*) ARTB. - (My personal view would be to concentrate on 1991 Secure tenants only).
Give the land back to the people. 435 individuals own 50% of Scotland. There are approx 5 1/2 million people in our country. 
The statistic speaks for itself. 
Professor Hunter for First Minister with a cabinet of Andy Wightman, Lesley Riddoch, Ron Greer, Rob Gibson, Alastair McIntosh and others who eloquently debate land reform.

We have to undergo months of enquiries, meetings by quangos and from the tenant's point of view, it is beginning to look like The Judean Popular People's Front versus The People's Front of Judea. The reality is that the future of tenant farming lies in the hands of four lawyers (plus one tenant, a new entrant?).
Meanwhile, the land itself suffers from poor management, housing is dire and a stasis befalls the country like a prolonged Bach fugue.
The buzzword is 'vibrant' tenant farming and so help me, I want to slap anyone saying this with the side of a wet fish.

Plain old 'farming' would suffice, whether we are crofters, small holders or whatever. Give us our farms and we will do the rest. We know what is required and see through the lies, damn lies and statistics.
ScotGov, just drop a gear on this, please? The tenants will tell you what you what needs to be done. Just listen to them and implement what they say instead of toadying to the lairds who ruined the land in the first place. 21st Century Scotland is the same for tenants as it was for their Great Grandfathers. 
Are you not ashamed of this statement?

A roof, better living conditions and freedom from feudalism. In Scotland 2014.

* Edited 25th February. My apologies for stating an incorrect type of tenancy.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Address tae a vegan haggis

Oh haggis wi yir sonsie face,
Stuffed wi veg and hint o' mace
Blood an' puddin's, nae a trace
Nae painch, tripe or thairm.
Well are ye worthy o' a Grace
And dae ma hert nae herm.

Rustic Labour makes fine a coo,
Big o' hurdie, slavering moo,
A cross o' Limmy an' Belgian Blue.
Nae slechered in sharn!
The kye are a' vegan but end up as stew
Oh, whit a shan.

But mark the Rustic, haggis fed
Stuffed wi' oats and nuts (well shred)
Neeps and tatties, oaten bread,
Fit fur a king!
Stappit fu' wi' a muckle spread
Nae blud or onyhin'.

Is that a scornful een I see!
Gowkin' sneerily at ma tea?
A widnae poke fun at thee.
Each tae thir ain.
Eat whit ye like, it's nae up tae me,
I'll eat ma grain.

Ye Pow'rs wha make Mankind your care,
Dinnae care whit gings in oor fare,
Loadit wi' sugar, horsemeat and mair,
Gies me the boak.
A weel made haggis whether bloody or bare,
Will dae maist folk.


Saturday, 11 January 2014

"Is your wife prettier than mine?"

A belated but Happy New Year to you all.

I'm just about back to good, rude health again and raring to see an incredible year for Scotland, land reform, tenant farming amid others.

Like thousands of others, our family watched David Miller's "The Men Who Own Scotland", topics covered were investment (or apparent lack of), land which has been kept by one family for many years, concentration of land ownership (predominately male thanks to primogeniture or a male heir) plus other issues.
The opening gambit made by one landowner (53,000 acres) was astonishing. In response to the question whether such concentrated land ownership in Scotland was 'fair', the landowner's reply included "It may not be fair but is it fair that your wife may be prettier than mine?"
The arrogance and sheer vapidness of this man's reply is overwhelming yet the same 'brain' lairds it over some 53,000 acres and all within.

Sadly for us, very few lairds were willing to make similar statements yet some who live on these vast estates are all too aware of an uncaring, callous and somewhat sexist view held by the men who make decisions over the lives of those who live on these estates. The ordinary tenant, whether they are farmers or rent a house often find that it is a complete waste of time trying to get anywhere with such narrow minded men - I include factors (or the pseudo factors who never quite made the grade yet who have influence in estate matters. Power rich, I.Q. poor).

In this year, 2014 for those still stuck in medieval times, the ability to manage land is shared by very capable and competent women and men.  The country is run by very capable women and men yet our country is owned by men who appear to gauge whether a wife is pretty or not so pretty as a reply to whether the most concentrated landownership *in the world* was fair or not. Vapid and out of touch does not even begin to describe it.

Well, Sunshine, let me give it to you straight, you may not be aware of real life up there on your ivory tower but whilst you measure a person's ability in Helens without the 1000 ship launch, how do you feel about the fact that people think you are an utter fool? We could use this as a new measurement for being out of touch "Is your husband lairdier than mine?"
To the man on the same programme who wondered if he would have his estate for another 500 years, I would be surprised if you will continue to own it for another 500 days.
To the man who was alledgedly worth 1/4 of a billion sitting on a run down estate yet blathering on about how much he had 'invested', we can see through the bluster. You just want a windfarm for the subsidies, dude. If the estate is costing so much, sell it to the community for the price you paid for it. I bet those derelict houses soon become home to families, the schools repopulated, communities thrive.

Whilst these men disassociated themselves from reality and used our land as personal playgrounds  or tax avoidances to the exclusion of others, women stopped giving a toss what men thought about their looks and got on with things using their intelligence, capability and the belief in equality. We women live in the now, realistic and comfortable about ourselves and our abilities.
Those of us who have less (in this instance, do not own vast estates) have less to lose and more to gain, the difference being that your ordinary Scot recognises equality and recognises the land itself needs urgent care.
Farming needs a good kick in the 20's but landownership needs a revolution. A feudal castration.

Why are we sitting back permitting these medieval, feudal fools to own, hog and decimate the views you see as you pass on a journey? They are using good Scottish land for their own financial gain and we, the Scottish people are paying them to do it.

Regardless of looks, sex, money and status, the common person is more than capable of better managing and maintaining the vast and sterile looking land than the vapid and sterile looking men who currently own it.

My favourite response to the issue of the division of land in Scotland not being fair and the thoughts of the landowners being "Tough, deal with it" was the excellent reply from Andy Wightman who simply stated...

"Don't worry, we will".

Monday, 9 December 2013

Please make life a little easier?

I have not blogged for ages as I have been quite unwell so my apologies to those who have written to ask how things were going.

The family are just in - we have all been working at rebuilding the cattle court so the cattle can come in from the field. The cattle should have been in long before this but we were faced with a Catch 22 situation namely, we did not have water in either the sheds (nor in the cabin) so the cattle had to stay outside in order to drink from the burn.

The shooting tenant, however, decided to hold a shoot in the same field as the (pregnant) cattle. This stressed our herd and (on professional advice) increased the risk of 'spontaneous abortion'. They could lose their calves plus fall ill to infection, etc.
Our herd are very calm, usually. There is an unwritten rule among the farmers here that their cattle never see a raised stick nor hear a raised voice. I have never heard my husband shout at his cattle and if they need guiding then he holds out his arms as a means of directing them.
You can imagine how the herd reacted then, to several guns going off beside them. I see it as an act of cruelty.

We are desperate to take the cattle in and will tomorrow but there is a limited amount of water which we received from the estate. A herd of pregnant cattle will easily drink in one day, the contents of the cubes of water we have been given.

It has been five days since the supply ran and whilst we are aware of a 'problem' we would expect the problem to be resolved by now. We are fortunate to have help rebuild the cattle court and are accommodating someone in the cabin. Can you imagine how you would feel after working in a cattle shed for several days yet you could not wash your hands or body? Toilet flushed by a bucket from the cube of water outside?
I think someone from Medieval times could imagine such unsanitary conditions and that is what it feels like.

We have to double up the cattle shed as a grain store.
When the cattle go out in Spring (if the weather is good and the grass has grown). We are high up in the hills so have a relatively short growing season. Our grass comes in later that the pastures on farms a few miles away but who enjoy more sheltered areas.
Once the cattle are out then we clear the dung, wash the floors and walls then go over them again then a final wash with a steam cleaner to kill any bacteria. It is a huge task but we do not have anywhere to store our grain (as the grain shed was built in the 1800s and tiny due to carts and lower yields).

This task of cleaning out the cattle shed was hampered by a lack of water this year. I will not elaborate on how we finally managed to wash it out but I will admit it was backbreaking and laborious. Farms use a lot of water for these sort of jobs.

No, it has not been easy at all these past few weeks but I was heartened when the entire community of some 70 people came together to try to resolve the problem with an antiquated water system which has now come to the end of its life.

The landowner has exercised 'the landowner's right' and taken the grant which was available from the council (for water improvement) from the tenants. Several private homeowners also gave their grant to the estate and we await a plan plus time constraint from estate and council.
I worry that all 70 will be left without water if the weather becomes very cold or if we get snowed in. It happened to us a few years ago so it is possible.
I'm not aware of a contingency plan, bowser or anything in place for those in more remote areas.

There has been mention of connecting the farm to the pipe which runs through our land (to a big school). We are a bit wary of this option as the school appear to have issues with their supply and I believe it was off again at the weekend. It does not bode well that a former teacher has sought legal means due to having to ask for a bucket of water to flush her toilet. Neither bucket nor water were provided....

Contrary to blusterings on Twitter by Scottish Land and Estates, what I am saying is "A total misrepresentation of the situation". Why then don't some of us have a) a supply b) a clean supply c) a reliable supply? (I say 'some' as one or two have giant water storage tanks with filtration systems).
I Tweeted this yesterday-

Community (70 strong) working with council, estate, SEPA etc. Still think boreholes are the cheapest solution.
Please do clarify the situation, SL&E because an entire community would love clarification.
We are not working against the estate, to the contrary, residents are willing to explore any means possible of receiving clean, plentiful water. We are working with estate, council, SEPA, Scottish Water and anyone else who can help. It is just not acceptable to deny that there is a problem.

It is written in the title deeds of the private homeowners that the landowner owns the mineral rights. This prevents the sinking of boreholes (as favoured by several in the community).
Scottish Water mentioned circa £2,500,000 to connect the glen to public water. Who pays? Who is responsible?
Nobody really knows who owns the water pipe itself as the land is divided by trusts, etc. My guess is that if gold was found then the owners/trustees would soon pipe up. (Unintentional pun alert).

I have been threatened with an injunction to ban me from speaking on Blogger or Twitter about the situation here yet I can assure you what I write is true. I truly fear for the welfare of our community this coming winter especially the elderly and the very young.

I would say that our problems are exacerbated greatly by the shooting and selfishness of the shooting tenant yet they pale greatly when people are without water.
If our family are unable to provide our cattle and sheep with water whilst they are inside and dependent on us then we have no option than to sell all the livestock. My husband refuses to accept this but I can't see any other option when the welfare of the animals comes first. If they stay outside, they will not put on weight plus it is easier to feed them or carry out checks on their wellbeing when they are in. Plus they are protected from the stress that a shoot brings.

A neighbour summed things up recently when she was asked to renew her subscription to Water Aid. "Can we have some water aid here, in a glen, in Scotland, in 2013, please?"