When I call in on my aged parents in the farm bungalow, there are one or two chores to be done.
First, hand over their copy of The Telegraph that I’ve borrowed; second, eat a bowl of spotted dick or a choc ice (depending on the time of year); third, listen to memories of the old days – memories that seem to be getter sharper with every passing year.
Occasionally, a new chore comes up. A couple of weeks ago a letter was thrust under my nose.
“Have I really won a car?” asked Granny Flindt.
Looking at the letter, from a well-known thermal underwear company, it was easy to understand her confusion.
“Yes, you, Mrs Flindt, have been selected as a cherished customer for a prize draw. Here is a key ready to try the lock of your lovely new car” Pages of nonsense, but nothing saying she had actually won the car.
I reassured her that, no, she didn’t have to buy anything and, no, she hadn’t actually won the car, then threw the whole lot in the bin.
And then I got a similar letter myself. I, too, have been selected for a special event, but this is a somewhat clumsily-named Health and Safety Executive Farm Safety and Health Event. It’s on a farm nearby, and at first glance, it seems a relatively innocuous letter. But then, read it a bit more carefully, and the subtle threats and insinuations become apparent.
“Attendance is free,” it says. Splendid. “And will assure HSE that you are a low priority for inspection.” Not sure about this bit. I resent the implication that if I don’t go, I’m running a dangerous farm, chain-sawing in nothing but a mankini and stripping every guard off every machine to save weight and fill the scrap skip.
Being a one man farm, I did well on my last HSE inspection – I remember the most controversial moment was a lively debate about the duty of care I have to burglars who climb on my roofs.
What if I can’t go? Ah, says Mr Ryan (the signatory), the sessions are only half a day “to ensure you can also complete essential work on your farm”. Who, pray, is defining “essential”? The end of March tends to be a busy time on a mid-Hampshire arable farm. Losing half a day’s drilling, or the only suitable pre-emergence spraying afternoon on those pesky spring beans, and the agronomist will be glowing red under his recently acquired and suspiciously expensive Maldives tan.
And I mustn’t go thinking that I can just tick the ‘not attending’ box and pop it in the post. There is a large section on the form where I must tell them why I am unable to attend.
So, with all this pressure, I suppose I’ll have to go. Actually, it’ll probably be interesting. I’d love to know if HSE inspectors come downstairs in the mornings facing towards the steps, which is how they recommend getting out of a tractor.
I’ll also be interested to know if there is a specific area of HSE policy to deal with the after-effects of a huge plate of Granny Flindt’s spotted dick laden with obscene amounts of golden syrup and lashings of caster sugar: drowsiness, flatulence and the awful guilt that yet another diet has been trashed – not to mention the fear that I might have to buy a bigger pair of chainsaw trousers.
Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, in Hampshire.
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