Health and safety has become something of an issue to me.
Sure, I understand that we need protecting from our own stupidity to some degree as farms are a dangerous place to work. Many of the dangers are not obvious and some you may only face seasonally at harvest time. Most of the risk however, is as plain as day and happens because we fall prey to our own human frailties such as impatience and fatigue. I've lost count of the times I've taken a chance to save time and then thought afterwards, 'Christ that was stupid'. It may be that trying to do too much and taking short cuts are the biggest dangers on the modern farm.
For this reason I think the current innovations in health and safety are particularly pointless. Take for instance the seat switch which disengages the drive when you lift your backside off it. Designed to stop people from going for lunch and leaving the tractor heading for the playground of the local primary school; the reality is that it knocks itself out of gear if you so much as try and scratch your arse. On top of that, reversing to hook up a trailer, which requires you to lean over the back of the seat to see the pick up hitch, will also end in disengagement and disappointment.
Or when it comes to pointlessness think of the man on his combine in east Anglia. He's working in a field the size of Fiji relentlessly driving up and down at walking pace, in complete solitude. He slowly and meticulously works his way across the barren landscape at dusk. The engine quietly whirring away smoothly in the breeze. And then he puts the combine into reverse.
'Bleep, bleep, bloody Bleep bleep'. Says the combine, 'look out field mice, hares and not so rare newts, I'm coming backwards'. An offensively deafening electronic tone rings out across the night landscape, needlessly peeing off a whole commuter belt of slumbering consumers. Who in Gods name was it trying to warn? The night time ramblers association for the blind?
But all this is relatively minor faire compared to the safety apparatus on our new Tele handler. The Merlo, made by the flamboyant Italians, is ironically a hotbed of health and safety. The mere act of turning the ignition key greets you with an ear splitting whine, audible to every canine in the county. Once you have recovered from that and started the engine, its business as usual. Except the new version has a trigger to squeeze on the joystick, without which, the boom will not operate. I have no idea which health and safety criteria this fulfils. Perhaps its to stop people with arms the length of Mr Tickle operating the joystick, whilst standing three yards away in front of the cab, from dropping the boom on their own heads. But then if you were that stupid, you would be working in Westminster or Brussels where you could spend your days inventing pointless law.
Either way it didn't concern me too much when I entered health and safety hell at the weekend, whilst trying to feed the cows. I was filling the mixer wagon with the Merlo on Saturday morning, when it became very disobedient and had an electronic tantrum. It did so with an ear splitting scream, flashing lights and disengaging all the controls. The plethora of electronic safety devices were having a row and had taken control of the machine.
But I had experienced this before and knew what to do. To reset the controls I had to lower the boom by pressing two buttons, deviously placed at more than a hand width apart, whilst turning a key, pushing down on the joystick and singing 'my old mans a Dustman' backwards in a cockney accent. Once accomplished the machine would then be back under my control. In theory.
But not this time and the alarm rang out again with its deafening bleep. I resorted to restarting the machine in a classic Microsoft style pincer movement. I sat in the cab enjoying the silence momentarily before I tried again. The ignition came on with its ear splitting whistle and flashing lights,but this time it didn't stop. I twisted every knob and pressed every button in a dozen different combinations to silence the machine. But the Merlo sensed danger and wanted to warn me.
It was right to do so, because by this time I was thrashing the dashboard with my fist, trying to kill the bleeper. Any more high pitched bleeping and my ears would be bleeding. Why won't it shut up and where was that bloody bleeper hidden? Why was I getting this grief? And why was I hitting my Merlo? I'd paid a bloody fortune for it but now I wanted to kill it. My hammering and thrashing though, proved fruitless and the Merlo refused to be beaten into silence.
So I decided to ring Motty for mechanical assistance and anger therapy. Having got a few issues off my chest to the unfortunate Motty I began to ponder about my misbehaving machine. Who had dreamt up the regulations that had lead to this electronic nonsense and why? I thought about the manufacturer and if they ever drove their own creation. If they carried on in this direction, the next breed of telescopic would be practically unusable. As far as safety was concerned, I was unlikely to have much of an accident in it, as it wouldn't lift so much as a sackfull of crap without warning me. It was far more likely to give me a pierced ear drum followed by a heart attack.
Motty came to fix the Merlo soon after, promising to let me know when the Merlo rep was in the area. He could come round to see me and we could go for a drive in his car. I would have a twelve volt battery and the bleeper from the Merlo and every time he started the car, changed gear, fiddled with the radio or didn't nod in agreement I'd give him a blast with the bleeper and let him know what its like to drive one of his bloody vehicles.
Maybe then things might change.
Feeling a little fidgety this morning, as its not my weekend to work, the kids are not here and I have spare time on my hands. During the week, the thought of doing nothing seems quite appealing but when that reality arrives I'm soon bored and I'd rather be out and about.
Having said that, its a horrible day and I am glad to be out of the weather. It has rained heavily throughout January and has been windy too. I quite like the cold weather but I find the wind and rain a little depressing. The sun peeped out briefly this morning but was soon smothered by grey cloud which was a shame because it really fires me up for action or maybe I'm just making excuses for sitting on my bum. Well actually no, the dark light and low temperatures in the winter does have an effect on how I feel and its easy to understand why some mammals pack their bags for warmer climes and others hit the sack for six months.
My gloomy thoughts soon disappear later as I watch the news and see thousands and thousands of acres of Somerset underwater and realised how lucky we were not to farm on a flood plain. The Somerset levels have been underwater for weeks and many of the crops being grown will have been drowned after prolonged water logging.
On Friday night I watched a debate on the BBC's Newsnight between a farmer with 300 flooded acres and the environmentalist George Monbio. The farmer insisted that dredging the river would have relieved the floods and let the water out to sea. George Monbio, rather predictably disagreed, advocating more undergrowth and vegetation upstream to hold the floods back.
I tried hard to picture flood holding vegetation, but nothing made sense. A watertight dam with dead ferns and bracken? Bucket trees or juniper cup bushes or was he thinking more of an army of Triffids with an unquenchable thirst.
What the hell was he on about?
Had he considered bushes and vegetation utilise next to no water out of season anyway and that the ground has been saturated for over a month and will not absorb any more rain? Did he realise that the uplands were already vegetated with the carbon absorbing perennial rye grass, which was itself a form of vegetation?
Had he considered the last thirty years of economic development and the vast increase in housing, industry and roads which give rise to such huge volumes of run off water?
No, had he hell.
It strikes me that the BBC brought him on, to put forward an environmentalists perspective. Armed with a head full of vacuous pap and countless recycled cliches gained from an army of ignoramuses he delivered the biggest pile of baloney I've heard in months.
Why don't these people ask some questions about their own information? Most of what the man said wouldn't stand a moments scrutiny. All he had done was reuse someone else's ill conceived musings and made himself feel important by appearing on the Tele.
My God, he made me angry. I found myself shouting at the TV and gesticulating ape like, with my hands making rude shapes and motions. I was trying to relax on a Friday night but Monbio was making me mad. Had Newsnight put this man on to punish me for staying up late or was he sponsored by some drug company trying to flog tranquillisers to insomniacs.
Furthermore the poor fella farming underwater wasn't that far from the sea. Its too bloody late to hold the water back there. That's when you need your ditches, channels and rivers to be as clean as a whistle.
At 10.30 Newsnight was not much of a nightcap to help me sleep. I spent the next hour with the images of George Monbio's patronising expression going through my head.