Elizabeth Elder: All in the national interest

“May you live in interesting times” goes the ancient Chinese curse. Indeed, we do.

The General Election turned out to be a complete mess. I think a hung parliament is an appalling result. The deal-making was unedifying and a coalition will be difficult to sustain.

That the Tories have bent over backwards for a full coalition can only mean that the scale of cutbacks ahead must be eye-watering. I suppose rioting on the streets of Athens does focus the mind. Anyway, we all have to hope it works.

The phrase of the moment is “in the national interest”. It’s a good phrase and I intend to use it. The children will soon be told to tidy their bedrooms in the national interest. I may feel able to tidy the office in the national interest, if, in the prevailing spirit of compromise, Jake feels able to cut the lawn.

It is not clear how agriculture will be affected by the change in government and by the cuts. You get the impression that previous administrations have viewed DEFRA or its equivalent as very low down in the batting order. Complete ignorance of or antipathy towards farming? Excellent, you can go to DEFRA.

I’m sure all farmers have had protracted and frustrating dealings with the Rural Payments Agency. I hope that a new government will make it operate more efficiently. We employ an adviser, John, to deal with the RPA on our behalf. This is necessary to preserve our sanity, but I’m not sure what it does for his.

On polling day, I was the second person to vote in Otterburn at 7.05am – I was in the area anyway, dropping Archie off for the school bus. I gather that some people in Jesmond (the studenty area of Newcastle) were locked out of polling stations at 10pm. OK, there should have been more capacity but students – you’ve got all day to get yourself along.

A lot of the farms round here had big election posters up. I have always been sceptical about whether these have any effect on voters. Does anyone really think, “I don’t know who to vote for but, wait, I saw a large poster for Joe Bloggs in a field, so I’ll vote for him”?

Saying that, I just saw a voter in South Shields on the TV who wasn’t sure but he thought the Prime Minister was called Tony Brown. Perhaps a part of electoral reform could be giving bonus votes to people who can pass a simple general knowledge test.

We weren’t subjected to canvassers during the election – just as well, as we were too busy lambing. In fact we never get many callers – even the Jehovah’s Witnesses have only been once in 16 years and fortunately we were out.

It could be the patrols of soldiers armed to the teeth that put off potential visitors. We also have a good farmwatch network on the range. Anybody suspicious is reported to Range Control and they can deal with it if there is a problem.

The lambing is just about over – thank goodness. The weather was largely dry but cold and we need the grass to start growing. We have already spent a fortune on feed this winter as the ewes have been the leanest ever in our time here.

I am continuing to feed Colin the calf, and he is doing well despite being castrated the other day. Sorry about that, Colin.

Jake hasn’t had time to start training Sam, the young collie, so I am still exercising him on a lead. Every day Sam drags me up the hill and down again. If he doesn’t make it as a sheep dog I’m sure he could do husky racing. Meanwhile, I am starting to develop very strong arms. Collie walking is a very economical form of weight training.

Jake has emerged from lambing, a shadow of his former not even overweight self. Friends comment on how thin he is and then they look at me and don’t say anything. I’m going to put him on a supplementary feeding programme. Chocolate and cakes have always worked for me.

News has reached me that my brother-in-law Angus is going to do a spot of modeling for a well-known premium brand of Wellingtons. It could now be said that both my sisters are married to male models – Stuart did a photo-shoot for Barbour a while back and is apparently still on display at Singapore airport.

Our neighbour, Selby, has also been featuring in promotional material recently for the only slightly less glamorous product of cattle mineral boluses. So Northumberland really is the land of the beautiful people.

Jake thinks the modeling world is rather shallow and he doesn’t want to be exploited for his looks. However, if it was in the national interest, he would be available for the Armani pants advert for a very large sum of money. They better get their offers in quickly while he is still fashionably svelte.


Elizabeth and husband Jake – who have two children, Julie and Archie – farm 253ha of hill ground on the Otterburn Firing Range in Northumberland.

They have 520 breeding ewes and 30 suckler cows and went organic 2001.

Brought up on a dairy farm, Elizabeth is an accountant by training, with a background in corporate finance and business appraisal.