Rain hits work and play for Elizabeth Elder

Things are looking up. In the past couple of days it has not been raining on a 24-hour basis. It has not been completely dry, of course, but at least there has not been the flash flooding we experienced earlier in the month.

The rain has affected both work and play. On the farm, the sheep clipping is at least two weeks behind schedule and we have not yet made any silage or, dare I say it, hay.

Inevitably, a lot of sports fixtures have been off and gardening has been impossible. So all in all, we have spent a lot more time than expected in the house. The TV has been dire. I think we have a fairly high tolerance level, but when we were reduced to viewing competitive bass fishing the other night, even the Elder family knew it was time to switch off. Things have been so bad that the farm records are now up to date and I have even started the accounts.

Archie’s school camping trip was cut short due to waterlogging. He returned home wearing waterproof leggings and his pyjama top, which he claimed was the only dry shirt he had left. Then he presented me with a bin liner containing a sodden, muddy mass formerly known as his clothes. I accept that conditions were bad, but I wonder if it was actually necessary to get so dirty. I think he could locate mud and apply it to his clothes in a desert.

The flash flooding at home mainly affected one field by the burn and the watergates, which were all washed away. There was also a bit of a torrent that came down the hill, through the middle of the cattle shed, the pens and the garden, before streaming down to the burn below. Fortunately it didn’t enter the house, which is damp enough as it is.

Last weekend we were due to attend the annual concert in The Pastures at Alnwick Castle. It had been announced that it was going ahead whatever the weather – which I interpreted as meaning there were not going to be any refunds. However this year’s act, pop star Jessie J, was unwell and the concert was postponed for a few weeks.

Northumberland has never been noted for its concert venues. So when, a few years ago, they started having concerts at Alnwick, these proved hugely popular with the rural population. We have had a range of performers, but I don’t think it would matter very much who it was, people just turn out for the craic.

The first concert (Jools Holland) seemed like a rather good drinks party, with the band providing background music while the patrons enjoyed chatting. At times it was difficult to distinguish any particular tune above the general hubbub. The fact it was a sunny evening and people had been eating and drinking since the gates opened two hours earlier probably contributed to that vibe.

In subsequent years a protocol has developed whereby the die-hard fans stand around the stage, those mildly interested in the music stand behind them about halfway through, and the people who are really only there for the beer continue their picnic from a sedentary position at the back.

This year’s concert is due to be a major test of parent/child relations, as Julia and her friends are also going to attend. Happily, Jake has backed down from his initial plan of turning up at the event wearing a ponytail.

It also seems to be the time of year for reunions. I was recently invited to two on the same day, but eventually opted for my old junior school, as it is being sold, whereas my old college will probably be around for a while longer. It was fun to go back and have a look around the school with a couple of my old friends. I started there when I was seven. This involved getting a service bus to Gosforth, crossing the main road, which was then the A1, and walking to school on my own. Somehow I can’t imagine any seven-year-old being allowed to do that now.

Despite all the rain, I can report that the Environment Agency is continuing in its quest to retrieve the aviation fuel that spilled out of a tanker on the A696 over a month ago. They seem to be well dug in. As I’ve sat in the queue at the temporary traffic lights, I’ve noticed they have a portable cabin, a loo and a lot of equipment, which luckily didn’t float away during the recent monsoons. I’m sure they know what they are doing.

I also know environmental officers don’t always attract universal appreciation. A friend of ours from the Borders relates the tale of a farmer who circled suspiciously around a Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) van that had drawn up on his farm. When he spotted the sign on the van, he stopped and said to the man inside: “Sorry about that, I thought you were that bastard from the Tweed Purification Board”.

“I am,” came the reply. “We’ve just changed our name to SEPA.”

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