My “mid-harvest deluge retail therapy” session in the agricultural supplies shop was not going well.
I’d got the new tub of grease (on the assumption that the combine will need it again sometime before Michaelmas). I’d found a new grain store broom (Team Lorryload had been moaning about the state of their tools – and it pays to keep them sweet, and the floor swept).
But I had failed to find another pair of the wellies that have done a very unusual three years without leaking, but are beginning to disintegrate.
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I was also in a grump, because I’d been forced to wear a mask before I could come in and do business with them.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge fan of protective masks. They were non-existent on the farm in the old days.
I had to stamp my little feet to get Dad to buy something to make grain store work bearable. He’d reluctantly buy boxes of Martindale masks – the ones with a flexible tin plate and cut-out cotton wool pads. They were basic, but they worked.
The old-boy staff saw little point in them. Somewhere in the barn is an Airstream helmet, bought for the driver of the open-top Claas Protector 6.
After only a couple of acres, the shield would be flipped up and Ernie would have his compulsory slow-burn roll-up lodged in the corner of his mouth. But we’d tried.
But since then masks have got better and easier to use, and no one sweeps a barn or helps load a lorry without one.
No pre-harvest shop is complete without topping up supplies – and it was a complete nightmare getting them in this year, of course.
I managed to track down two boxes of FFP1 on the internet, and paid a hugely inflated price to get them here – but no one else had any in stock. The more efficient FFP2? None to be found anywhere.
Three months on, I was standing in a queue with a bizarre bit of blue cloth being held on my face by loops round two scrum-damaged ears, and this bit of rag was supposed to be keeping me, and everyone else, safe.
Now we’ve all (I hope) been on the health and safety courses where we’re told that our trusty dust masks are rendered useless by even my carefully sculpted designer stubble, despite two sturdy elastic straps.
So where does that leave these dismal things against a virus? It’s like erecting sheep netting to keep out mosquitoes.
“Mmmphutl umm a mmmphphnt!” said the cheery assistant as I approached the counter. Yup, all those years of shooting, not to mention sitting between the drummer and the bass player during countless rehearsals and gigs, are coming home to roost – the hearing is going. You suddenly realise how essential a bit of top-up lipreading is.
“I’ll be with you in a moment,” he repeated, very slowly and loudly, as if talking to the village idiot who had just stumbled in. That didn’t make me feel any better.
“Is that See Haitch and Haitch Ee Flindt?” he asked, slowly, checking my account when I reached the desk.
“No,” I said, getting grumpier by the moment. Normally I can just about let this trendy mangling of the English language pass, but not today. “It’s ‘See Aitch and Aitch Ee’ Flindt.”
The cheery assistant became somewhat less cheery at this point, so it seemed best not to ask him to solve the dilemma of how you buy masks if you don’t have any.
As I left the store, the heavens opened – again. Useless masks, short tempers and no wellies. Harvest 2020 in a nutshell.