It was an odd feeling, tuning in to the radio in my tractor as the whole world seemed to be re-enacting On The Beach, 2020-style.
It made grim listening, with talk of lockdowns for the over-70s, endless advice on how to wash hands, lessons in “social distancing”, and much talk of “self-isolation”.
I got to thinking how the farming community would cope. After all, the over-70s form a major chunk of our profession, and many of them are self-employed, run one-man farms and livestock farms.
Who’s going to drive the tractors? Who will look after the animals in a lock-down situation?
It all got a bit too melodramatic on the news, so I turned it off and gave the matter some more thought. The first technical point will be keeping the over-70s in their “homes”.
Where does home start and finish? The kitchen is often a farm office and a boardroom – it’s where meetings, Hobnob frenzies, arguments with the landlord and tractor price haggles take place. Is it work or home?
The tractor cab is turning into an office, with gadgets and gizmos for recording farm activities. But it’s still somewhere to pull out a Thermos and a lunchbox, and relax for a moment.
Is the farmyard home? It has our domestic cars parked alongside the farm ones and, occasionally, a tractor. Business takes place there, too, alongside homely matters. It is just an extension of the farmhouse.
And as for hand-washing – well, I would suggest that only the medical profession ranks above farmers when it comes to cleaning up, and I bet they don’t come indoors with what we rinse into the kitchen sink.
There has been a difficult calving (anyone else held a length of intestine during a freak “wrong side” caesarean?), or a maggoty wound has been treated (blue spray everywhere).
That bearing rebuild was a messy job, the grease gun needed repairing, and yes, the fuel filter slipped when it was being changed.
As for shifting that distinctive Eau de Hypochlorite that the dairy boys wear 24/7 – thank goodness for soap, Fairy Liquid, Swarfega and, of course, Hibiscrub. Yup, we know how to wash our hands.
Self-isolating since 1985
I would also suggest that few professions know more than farmers about social distancing and self-isolation.
Geographical isolation and sitting all day, every day, alone in a tractor are widely becoming acknowledged as problems in our industry – but, bizarrely, just at the moment they’re going to be an advantage.
The chances of catching or passing on something even as infectious as the coronavirus while doing a post-winter tank of Roundup in the middle of a 60-acre field are next to non-existent.
In fact, it could be argued that the farmer simply doing his job is effectively working from home, social distancing and self-isolating – all at the same time.
I felt a bit more cheerful as I turned the radio back on and switched to the Mystery Golden Hour on Wave 105.
Two bars into The Name of the Game I knew it was 1977, and speed-dialled the DJ. “Morning, Charlie,” he said. (My name flashes up on their screens, apparently.)
We chatted briefly and he asked if I was self-isolating. “Of course!” I said. “I’m sitting in my tractor, trundling back and forth across a deserted field, with only the radio for company.”
He asked how long I’d been doing that. “About 35 years. Why do you think I get the year right so often?”
How we laughed. And we need a laugh these days.