Thursday, 22 September 2011


Autumn moved in as silently and quickly as the swifts who have just flown away.

There has been so much to do, so much to prepare for winter and the rumours whisper that it will be another hard winter which arrives early.

There seems little we can do about our farmhouse; the matter was passed on to higher echelons and we can only hope that the issues are settled quickly.

The farmhouse roof groans a little with despair. It tries to hold on to life just as the leaves of the trees hold on to their summer vivacity then stung by the sharp drop in temperature, they reach the point of senescence, begin to wither and fall. Their death throes a blaze of colour, each leaf burns with the brilliance of a roaring fire.

They begin to fall and the ground becomes thickly carpeted and crispy underfoot. The air has a hint of honey and pine with an after scent of mushrooms.

The earth becomes denuded after the grains are harvested and the land ploughed. There is a rich tapestry of deep brown, purple heather, silver birch turned to gold, bronzed oaks, vivid reds of the little mountain rowans.
The land dons it's Autumn mantle to acknowledge the chill.

I had good fortune after offering to lend a hand to one of the local shepherds - he was working alone on the hill at the front, sorting out a flock of around 500 tough and tiny horned sheep, all wild and leaping over the sheep hurdles like salmon leaping in the river.
We worked steadily, ignoring the thumps and bashes of sharp horns on legs and arms, ignored the hail shower which stung, soaked us then moved on.

The shepherd very gently checked each and every sheep, he spoke quietly to them, checked their mouths and ears, their general well being. We dosed them all to prevent some of the myriad diseases sheep are susceptible to catching. Tiny hooves were inspected.

After many hours, the sheep were moved to different pastures, shepherd and helper ready for a hot toddy and hot bath. It was a good days work but did not feel like work.

From our viewpoint high on the hill, we could see the countryside in all it's glory, a huge and fat rainbow hugged the hills and briefly embraced our farm.

For a while, worries were forgotten, anxieties replaced with hope.

The pine trees which had been slaughtered by the savage winds and lay dying were briefly brought back to life by the rainbow's embrace.

I felt an energy in the air, one which fired energy into my tired soul and provided fuel to fight on for the tiny scrap of Scotland which is our home and life. The farm illuminated by a rainbow.

A farm washed clean. The dark negative influences of the past purged by the purity of the environment.

The change has begun.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


We worked through yesterday with difficulty, it has to be said.

The storm threw small pieces of trees on the ground, the rain fell horizontally and stung eyes, the wind stole conversation from our mouths and turned them into Munch screams. The thick mud on the farmyard reappeared and made walking look like we had all slipped thorazine in our tea and our legs had been sedated as a result. Concrete welly weather.

The ground became too wet to take the weight of the tractors, the digger sulked in a broken digger way, PieDog ran off for no apparent reason.
I wondered what else would go into the broth of It Is All Going Pete Tong then I ripped my best working trousers on a sharp piece of metal.
Leg was showing.
Wind found leg.
PieDog came back.

We found alternative jobs inside the big shed and continued under the shelter only a large tin roof can offer.
Munch screams turned to wild gesticulations as tractors were dodged, dung coloured duffle coats blended in to the environment so well that they were mistaken as camouflage and suffered a few close shaves.
It is hard to make a "Look I Am Getting Angry Now" gesture at a big muddy tractor when you have become as one with the dung. An amorphous blob of beige and straw. There is no point, you just have to get out of the way.

My farm work stopped when I went to collect our little boy from nursery. He was tired after playing, needed food and a cuddle and a chance to wind down. Me too.

Rosie had given him her old suitcase and it became a wonderland to his vivid imagination. He was a pirate and this was his boat, I was relegated the role of 'sea monster', he was a train driver and I had to be the passenger sitting behind him, it became the 'Krusty Krab' restaurant where SpongeBob SquarePants works and we dined with eloquence. 'Squidward' brought pudding.

Afterwards, our son began neatly folding his clothes and packing the little suitcase. He packed pyjamas, a warm top and the snake belt to keep his trousers up. He added a pair of trousers and a clean vest. His tractor and bales went in last.
"I can't find matching socks but it is ok because they are just for wellies'. The family motto.

"Where are you going?" I asked him. "Are we going to Paris on the Orient Express or to Skye by the Glenelg Ferry instead of the bridge?"

"No" he replied. I'm off to the farm"

"Why? It is pretty wild outside"

"I am going because I want to" he said. "I am going to help Dad".

Wise boy. Wise choice.

He saw beyond the storm.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Where are we now?

I wanted to write about how we are all feeling, now that our situation is out in the open.

We are shellshocked by the response. We cannot believe how many people have written or sent messages of support from many countries, not just Britain.

Today, it is very wet and stormy here. The rain has poured into the farmhouse, we swept it out as usual, we gathered around the big table as we always do.

The farmhouse which, despite it's battered and dangerous facade, is still the heart of the farm. It is still home. It is where the family congregate and shelter from the wild weather outside.

We appear to be no further forward and I am waiting for phone calls or emails which will put my mind at ease. Have I done something terribly wrong by speaking out?
It feels that way.

It was easier for some when we were silent and tolerated all the issues which seem to have horrified so many decent people.
We were easier to control when we did not speak out, easier to bully.

I am steeling myself to go outside again. The rain is blowing horizontally and the dung brown duffle coat has come out of it's Scottish summer hibernation of, ooh, three weeks and lies heavily on my back. The hood never did sit right and the wind blows it off then slaps your face.

I never wanted anger, threats, anxiety.

All we wanted was a roof, heat and clean water.

And still we wait.....

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Our neighbours.

I would like to introduce you to our neighbours, not out them, of course, just show you around what is left of our community.

The farms in our immediate area or 'parish' in Scotland, are all tenant farmers. The majority of them are third or fourth generation so have been here a long time. The surrounding area is that of stunning beauty and testament to the care and work which has gone in to respecting the land.

We are a remote community, the one that people have never heard of. When you tell people where you live, it is usually followed by "Where's that?"
We rarely see others, rarely socialise as there is always work or looking after our children or some other issue which fills the day and leaves you quite tired in the evening.

Somehow, and I am always convinced it is by osmosis, you hear how others are, you catch murmers of the latest difficulty, the latest hassle by the landowner, how well livestock did at the mart and who has died.

When The Farmer had his heart attack, we had not seen anyone else except the postman for a few weeks.
My son and I carried on with the running of the farm while The Farmer was in hospital, we continued with the children's routine so they were reassured while their Dad was away. It was the first time he had ever been away from the farm on his own.

We still do not have a phone up at the farm and no mobile reception so there was no way of telling people. The Farmer had his heart attack at the temporary accommodation we had for winter.

There was a knock on the door one morning, just two days after my husband had been ill. Our neighbour, an enormous mountain of a man, shyly stood on the doorstep and asked if everything was ok.
I told him what had happened and how the Farmer was in hospital. Our neighbour said he would "Keek in roond the farm and see what he could see". He was going to assess what was what.

Now, I have no idea about cattle and have always been wary of them. My son was a singer in a rock band. We knew to feed and water the cattle but they were all in the process of calving and this filled us full of The Fear.

Our neighbours rallied together and came up every day. They expertly helped calf, settled the cows with new calves, sorted the cows who were in the wrong pen (some cows are very greedy and eat more than their share so deny newly calved cows feed).
Our neighbours tagged the new additions, kept records of the dates of birth and organised the ones which had to be sold.

Our cattle were bought by one of our neighbours and live contentedly only a few miles away. They had realised a very good price.

Somehow, Spring turned into a sort of blur of activity, fields needed ploughed, crops sown, drains sorted.
The neighbouring farmers showed my son what to do and helped him get started. They watched as he ploughed and praised him for making a good job of it.

When my husband returned from hospital, they dropped in to see him, kept him up to date with news, asked what he needed them to do.

Our farming neighbours are the essence of this community. They have lived through harsh winters, bitter disappointments, births, deaths.
They are hardy yet gentle, they do not ask for anything in return for their astonishing support.

Every single one of them has been treated like dirt by their landowner. Every single one has spent a fortune on legal fees, trying to help them keep their farms or asking for sheds where the old ones have fallen down.

Every one of them is angry and upset at the way they have been dealt the bad card, the get on with it and shut up card, the card which says 'complain too much and we will find some discrepancy in your lease', or the card which resumes their hard worked land for sport.

These are our neighbours.

I think they are worth helping.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Doffing the cap

I wish to illustrate some aspects of how the tenant farmer lives. I have permission from my neighbours plus from friends who have been tenants, to write it as it is.

In Scotland, there would appear to be two types of farm.

The first type are large and immaculate, efficient, well maintained, plenty of good livestock and sometimes quite a few workers living in good houses. you can bet your last halfpenny that these farms are owned by the farmer.

The second type of farm is a little different.
They can sometimes look less tidy, run less efficiently due to lack of help, poorly maintained. You can guarantee the livestock will be well looked after but fewer of them than on an owned farm.
Things will be higgledy-piggledy and you will always hear the words "We are a full year behind".

Don't get me wrong. Some tenant farms are nice, new sheds, new machinery. The tenant will have invested an awful lot of his own money to make his farm thus.
Landowners like this sort of tenant. They don't have to invest any of their own money yet will reap a good return with little if any input.
Nicer farm, higher rent, no investment by owner, Bob's your uncle.

Some tenants, however, are usually paying a hefty fee to an agricultural lawyer, often for years because oooh, some of these lawyers are slow.
These tenants may have tried to diversify in a non agricultural way. They may run a farmhouse B&B or may have invested a lot of their own money in doing up an old farm building to let out for holiday accommodation.

The landowner receives a percentage of this income but does not have to invest anything in it.
Tenant uses his/her own money, does all the hard work, owner gets a slice of pie.

Almost every aspect of the tenant farm, apart from spreading dung, needs permission from the owner.

"Dear Sir,

May we ask your holy permission to go and spend an absolute fortune on replacing a roof which has fallen down because it is 150 years old and really your responsibility but we know our place and know we will have a struggle taking you to court because you are rich but in the meantime, we are more concerned that our cows are getting wet, their bedding is getting wet, their hooves are going all funny and the vet had to come in and help; heavens knows how much the vet will charge but he is now miffed as he had to lie in wet too.

Anyhoo, would it be ok? Would it, Sir?

Sorry if I have been asking you the same question for 29 years now and the barn walls have now collapsed due to lack of roof but I now receive a Christmas card from my lawyers so that is a sign that they know me quite well these days.

I don't want to upset you by asking and hope that we won't have visits just as we are sitting in the combine in the middle of the harvest.

The people you send seem to have a funny attitude. It is almost as if they speak down to you. Maybe it is just me.
It is strange but when I received my degree from university, oh yes, I was there, can read and write and everything, I was treated as an equal. Is it my wellies? Your people seem to converse with my wellies.

Can I take this opportunity to ask if you can shift your pheasant pens away from my private water supply? I would hate for them to catch anything from it, especially from the dribbly green bit on the tank. The tank has a wee crack in it but I'm sure the neighbour's sheep will enjoy a bit of water while they go to the tank for shelter when they lamb just beside it. I have even seen sheep on the tank! Fancy. I hope it did not poo too much. I have to give our bairn a bath tonight and he is a wee devil for putting the bathwater in his mouth.
Bairns! It is almost as if they are too young to know not to drink the water!

Well, I'll not hold you back any longer. I know you are too busy to reply to the likes of me but look forward to seeing you in the middle of my standing crop during the shooting season. The fields that you took from us but forgot to compensate us for.
Sorry if my cows and calves got in the way during the big shoot. If I had known that a shoot was going to take place beside our humble abode, I would have shifted the livestock and my bairns.
It nearly gave me a heart attack, all those guns going off beside the house!

I'll write again soon and look forward to seeing you send men in to do the roofs. Please put off raising the rent for a while because the crop has been rejected again this year as it was too wet. If you need oats, we have a big heap of them but they are a little mouldy because the rain came in through the grain shed.

Tug of forelock

Shuffle out backwards on knees wearing hair shirt

Doff of cap

Tenant Farmer


Give us the Absolute Right to buy our own farms. Give us this right now so our children never have to write letters like this.

End the control and humiliation, the handing over of farm income to lawyers and freeloaders.

Open up the thousands of empty houses and disused land. Perhaps some of Scotland's 22,000 children who are registered as coming from a homeless home may thrive in the fresh country air with the security a home could give them. Some of them may become farmers?

Not tenant farmers, though.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Best clothes and proper water.

This blog is a little bit hurried today.

It is such a funny feeling to have to rush when normally we move along at a much slower pace than I see in towns.

We are grounded by the farm, grounded in a good way. It keeps you down to earth in the truest sense of the words.

This morning, we have to check our stock, feed the children, chickens and ducks, cat, the dogs. Sometimes we remember to include ourselves in the list if everything else is ok.

We are going to speak with a man today and must get ready, all spruced up.

The Farmer has gone to buy some proper water so we can offer the man a cup of tea without e coli in it. No amount of Abernethy biscuits can disguise the fact that you may have inadvertently caused illness to people not used to our water.

I am feeling a bit nervous as we may no longer be the people who live at the farm at the back of beyond, the people who live 100 years out of date, the people who still live in a feudal system.

We are the people who you never hear about and we are merely a drop in the ocean. We are many.
Others will hopefully learn about our way of life and the culture we contribute to.
I hope that it can provide other tenant farmers a platform to stand on and voice how they feel, how they live and how they are treated.

I don't want people to feel scared. Not in 21st Century Scotland.

I want to hold my hand out to them and say "It's ok, you are not alone. Others care deeply for you even although you cannot see them. Take my hand because I am not scared'.

The Farmer lends me his reassuring strength, he is not talkative but when he does speak, his words are calming and wise. I gather my strength from him and our family, his source is from the very earth that he works.

It feels like an electric shock when I see references to our situation on Twitter, Mumsnet, facebook, it brings us back to modern times yet we realise that finally, someone has listened.

Somebody listened and did something about it.

I feel like the burden which we have been carrying has lessened, it no longer breaks your back or reduces you to tears of frustration.

I'd better go and prepare.

It is going to be a big day.