At any farm sale, cattle market or agricultural show you may – just may – spot a likely looking couple from Customs and Excise or, as the department now likes to be known, Revenue and Customs.
They are there, as we know, to check that no miscreant farmers are running their diesel vehicles on red tractor diesel. A fuel cheaper (though, as John complains, not a lot cheaper) than the road runner variety.
So at the weekend when one of John’s mates, James, turned up for a moan and gossip (sorry, a coffee) reeking rather of Parfum de Diesel and with a curiously ruddy appearance around his gills (not really, that was just my imagination) we were curious to know what mishap had occurred.
See also: I’m persistently outwitted by livestock
Turned out the diesel tank on his industrial loader had become rather pitted and was leaking. As he could not see a practical way of repairing it while there was still diesel in the tank on the loader, he decided to siphon it dry.
Unfortunately, the only plastic pipe he could find was one with quite a large diameter. It proved difficult to get hold of a good vacuum’s suck on the tube and, at every new gasp for air, all the diesel went back down the tube into the tank. Very frustrating.
Eventually he found his rhythm and managed to coax the diesel up the tube, preventing it dropping bank into the tank by a strong nip on the tube in between sucks. No sniggering please, this was serious stuff.
Disaster struck, or sucked, when not realising the diesel had reached the top of the tube, he took a great intake of breath – filling his mouth, throat and gullet with enough fuel to run his tractor for the next day or so.
Coughing and spluttering, he spat out as much as he could, but there was no removing the generous helping of diesel now swilling around in his system.
James phoned our local GP who reassured him that he had probably not poisoned himself, although he added that they did not normally recommend diesel fuel as an alternative nutritional supplement.
He also advised that if he smoked, which he does, he should stop, as it could be an inflammatory pastime.
A check with the National Poisons Bureau suggested that there would be no long-term damage to his “giblets”, but the suggestion was made to get in a plentiful supply of Andrex.
The final irony of the event came that night when James was in a fit state to remove the tank of the loader to carry out the maintenance work and there, sited on the bottom, hidden from initial view, one drain plug.
This kitchen/medical drop-in centre is shared, it seems to me, with an outpost of MI5. Information is traded on a need-to-know basis.
And as I may have said before, generally John considers I don’t need to know.
Whereas on my part I listen eagerly to every morsel of salacious gossip, tune into any nefarious goings on in the neighbourhood, rush home to tell John and find he already knew about it a month earlier anyway.
“Yes, I know,” is his usual bored comment, followed swiftly by an adolescent-type hissy fit on my part.
But yesterday he was more than willing to hear my news.
He had asked me to keep an eye on one of the senior matrons in the herd.
She is one of the three cows who, in human terms, would be well past child-bearing age.
In fact, you wonder they had the energy to get up to the kind of antics that led to the next generation. Anyway on this particular morning, there was the oldest of the group quietly licking her newborn clean.
Panic, however, that afternoon. Mum was peacefully grazing with the rest of the herd, but there no sign at all of the new calf.
I fetched John who moved the cow out of the herd and then waited and watched to see her next move.
She walked across the field to a clump of thistles. In the midst of them, the calf lay quiet and contented. And hidden.
Reassured Mum gave the calf a quick lick, checked all was well and them wandered off.
She knew exactly where her calf was, even if I didn’t.
And now this morning the calf has disappeared again.
The herd has moved into another field, but there is again no sight of the new calf.
John has been out in a tractor, binoculars at the ready, to scour every part of the field and under hedges to find where the calf is laid up.
Mum is peacefully grazing, oblivious to any concerns.
“If anything had happened to the calf I am sure she would be distressed and probably standing over it, but she seems perfectly content and her bag is not overly full,” John told me.
“So it’s clear she is feeding the calf, or one of the others has nipped underneath for a drink already.”
Not unheard of.
Last year we had several cows give birth in the autumn and all of their progeny lay in a gang away from the rest of the bigger calves.
They would also swap around the cows when they fancied a feed.
We called them our hippy commune.
Clearly there’s safety in numbers.