There is an old boy in our village who everyone refers to as “Sneeks”. His actual name is Brian.
He doesn’t get out much now because he’s getting infirm, but whenever I come across him inching his way to the paper shop I always shout “morning Sneeks” and he always replies “Allo young Smithy”.
It’s at times like this that I kind of wish I had a nickname like “Sneeks”.
A couple of generations ago, there was a time in villages when everyone was known by one. I grew up with old boys who worked on the farm who were called names like Brum (actual name Arthur), Nipper (actual name Derek) and Sidge (actual name Anthony).
My idle preoccupation with nicknames came back to me on learning that the new president of the American Farm Bureau was known as Zippy (actual name Vincent) Duvall.
On business in Washington DC recently, I got a chance to meet him. From his office in Washington, a short walk from Capitol Hill, Zippy Duvall has had a busy first year as president of the world’s premier farming organisation.
The seismic event was the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House – also a short walk from Zippy’s office.
In conversation, Zippy could barely contain his pro-Trump enthusiasm. What he liked was Trump’s anti-regulation ticket.
Much to his approval, within days of coming into office, Trump had nullified the Waters of the United States Rules which the Farm Bureau had long argued were unfairly curtailing farmers’ right to manage their land as they see fit.
It would seem that in the US, as in Britain, farmers instinctively warm to politicians who promise to get rid of red tape while getting the government off their backs.
But, just as in the UK, once you delve deeper beyond this initial vote-winning promise, things get a whole heap more complicated.
For starters, Zippy voiced some concern about Trump’s restrictive-immigrant ticket because many US farm businesses were dependent on this migrant labour pool.
Then there was the prospect of a Farm Bill in 2018 with its multi-billion dollar spend on farm insurance programmes.
What wasn’t clear here was which of Trump’s election lines of rhetoric would dominate.
Would it be the low tax manifesto leading to the possible curtailment of US Treasury spending on things like national farm programmes?
Or would it be more of the “America First” style where Trump might remember that much of the farm sector had proved a good friend to him during the election.
Then there are exports. US agriculture is a keen exporter which benefits from trade with countries such as Mexico and China.
A wall across the Rio Grande or a cooling of relations with Beijing could damage access to key export markets. Finally, there was the prospect of a US-UK trade deal.
To a Brit, all these issues – red tape, access to labour, the prospect of new agricultural policy and future trade deals – sound very familiar.
Just as Brexit is shaking the tree in the UK, so to the arrival of Trump has accelerated the pace of life for the agricultural lobby in Washington.
After a couple of hours with Zippy and his senior team, I came away with lots of notes. Retiring to a Washington diner, I chewed on my lunchtime bagel containing chlorinated chicken, hormone-raised beef and GM canola oil probably grown with pesticides banned in the UK years ago.
Special relationship? It’s special alright.