It’s funny to think that when I first started a bit of pheasant shooting, if you dared to produce one of those new-fangled mobile telephones you risked being in serious trouble.
The countryside was awash with rural myths of keepers grabbing the phone from the user – no matter how high-powered or well-connected he/she was – flinging it into the air and blowing it to smithereens with 30g of no6.
Never mind the technical loopholes of such stories – the general agreement was that mobiles ranked just below 5-shot automatics when it came to the etiquette of the shooting field.
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But last week I found myself standing in a secluded Hampshire valley, trusty Browning B26 over my elbow, doing the long wait for the crack team of beaters to work their magic.
As I hopped from foot to foot trying to keep the blood flowing, I noticed that the ground was still that horrid mishmash of frozen and slippery, so I could keep my crystal-clear conscience – drilling wheat was definitely off the menu.
We had 10 or 15 minutes spare, and the quiet cold December air was filled with the murmur of intense conversation. The majority of these conversations, however, were taking place on mobile telephones.
You see, the rumour had spread round the mostly farming-related members of the gun line that the Single Farm Payments were dropping into bank accounts up and down the country, and the temptation to ring assorted “relationship managers” was just too much.
By the time we gathered in a huddle around the game wagon for much-welcome refreshments (soup and KitKats – can’t beat it), many of us had indeed had good news: payments had been made as promptly as it was possible.
The relief was palpable. As I warmed my hands around a cup of hot oxtail, I cast my mind back to the late spring, when a chance comment in the ’Pots had saved me from getting my forms completely wrong, and much last-minute midnight oil was burned putting them right.
This had involved having to submit a multitude of sketch maps showing previously unimportant hedges over the length and breadth of the farm.
And the received wisdom on SFP forms is that anything involving sketch maps automatically heads to the back of the payment queue. Well, it was nice to file that wisdom under “rural myth”, too.
It wasn’t just me feeling the relief. There are a lot of cashflow predictions being updated for late next year, and many of them feature some fairly large holes where “wheat sales” were confidently inked-in three months ago.
And the SFP cheques have been boosted – once again – by the weak pound over the crucial time period when the exchange rate is set.
This year will be the perfect illustration of what this sort of agricultural support is for: a financial cushion against Mother Nature’s tempestuousness.
I wonder if the powers that be, whoever they may be in the months and years to come, will notice this little fact of agricultural economics.
After elevenses we all put our phones back into pockets for the last two drives (except the shoot vice-captain, who nattered away noisily on his shooting chair, consistently behind the day’s crack Gun).
As we mixed and mingled at the end of the day, talk turned back to more traditional stuff like whose drill had got stuck the deepest and needed the most tractors to pull it out.
Mind you, by then the keeper had joined us so it was a good thing we were mobile-free. He’s a damn good shot.