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I had been hoping for some follow-up from the ‘meeeja’ after The Independent wrote a very positive review of my little book ‘Crushed, My NHS Summer’.

The following simple email appeared in my inbox.

‘Dear Jan,
I wonder if you might consider doing an interview on ‘Saturday Live’, Radio 4’s weekly magazine programme broadcast on Saturday mornings,
kind regards,…’

I didn’t want to gush too much about how much I admired The Reverend Richard Coles for his gentle wit, Sian Williams for being, well, for being, both brilliant and gorgeous, there! I’ve said it… and Corrie Corfield for having one of the most sensuous voices on the planet, as well as being an accomplished Ipad daubette. J.P. Devlin’s voice carries the memories of my Irish influenced childhood. I first became hooked on Saturday Live in the days of Fi Glover, her unique quirkiness made me smile so much. Put simply, it is a truly great programme.

I was even more thrilled that my presence was actually required, live, in the studio. I have done a few radio interviews over the years, mainly BBC Radio Leicester with Ben Jackson, Tony Wadsworth, Jonathon Lampon, and Damien St John. I have done a fair bit of telly with my friend Clarissa Dickson Wright, Great British Food Revival on BBC2, and more recently Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner on BBC4. In 2001 I filmed a Foot & Mouth special with Tony Francis and before that had huge fun working with Aaron Patterson of Hambleton Hall on both series of Wild About Food. But, Radio 4 has a special place in my heart as it saved my business back in 1998 with its ‘On Your Farm’ broadcast with Oliver Walston. Six months or so after having started Northfield Farm Shop, following my redundancy from banking, and before the existence of the re-born Borough and Broadway Markets in London, the business was just not reaching enough customers. That Radio 4 broadcast, early one Sunday morning, had customers beating a path to our door within a couple of hours. Many of those customers are still with us today all these years later.

On the Saturday morning, December 2012, I walked the short distance from a nearby hotel to the bright new BBC Broadcasting House, and was redirected to the original building next door. Rookie error at the time. Already waiting in the reception area was Emma Kennedy, unknown to me then, but, I soon discovered, a superwoman for modern times. Emma writes, acts, amuses, entertains, tweets and is addicted to BBC 4’s ‘The Killing’. In fact, so addicted, that she has taken on the self-appointed role of official stalker to the series’ star character, Sarah Lund and written ‘The Killing Handbook’. As if that were not enough, she dropped into Masterchef in 2012, and won. Emma and I were quickly shown upstairs to meet Chris Wilson, the executive producer and shown into the studio where I was introduced to the two presenters. They, Richard and Sian, are really just as I had anticipated and have described above. The four of us sat in a slightly gloomy, but very atmospheric room, gathered around an octagonal desk kitted out with screens, microphones and headphones. My back was turned to a large plate glass window behind which the production team sat and weaved its magic. This was the BBC at its sparse best, think the retro newsroom feel of ‘The Hour’ , late and lamented, on BBC2, without the fishnet stockings, cigarettes or Single Malt. Some of the lights appeared to be held together with sticky tape and post it notes, definitely no over-spend here. The room exuded what the programme achieves namely, relaxed, refreshingly old-fashioned professionalism.

Listening again to the broadcast, I realise that I failed miserably at answering Sian William’s questions. I seem to be a master at answering part of the question and then rambling away in my own direction. I hope she forgave me.

It really was huge fun to have become even a tiny part of the history of this great show.

You can listen to it here about 18 minutes in: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p027s

You can buy the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1908684194/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

Available in Paperback or Ebook form

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Allow me first to set out my credentials for addressing this issue. Between 1983 and 1997 I worked at or around Director level in the Investment Banking Divisions of six different banks based in The City of London.

I have watched the latest banking crisis unfold over the last few years from my little farm on the Rutland-Leicestershire border where I have spent my time since 1997 building a small diversified farming business, and a farm shop with outlets at London’s Borough and Broadway markets.

On every single occasion on which a financial institution has made a negative announcement, I have felt it in my bones that there was far worse to come. I have listened to, watched and read the opinions of a wide range of pundits, some self-styled, some appointed; some, like Robert Peston, knowledgeable, many, if not most, woefully out of their depth.

The so-called ‘Banking Crisis’ has raised one simple question more than any other. That question is:

WHAT CAUSED THE BANKING CRISIS?

I have just read an anecdote which comes close to the answer. Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer of Sunday 1st July 2012 relates a tale told by Ed Balls, City Minister in the Brown Government. Balls was being shown around the trading floor of a financial institution by its Chairman. Balls pointed to a group of traders and asked his host what they did. The Chairman confessed that he did not know. Apparently at the time Balls thought little of the answer. It should, of course have alerted him to the fact that something was terribly wrong.

I moved from bank to bank during my fourteen years in the City for a variety of reasons. Such job-hopping was partly the ‘hired gun’ nature of my job. Moving was learning. Moving was a way of moving quickly up the pay scale. I was poor at playing the political game necessary to stay put and advance my career.

My first banking employer was Nomura International. Nomura was then the largest and fastest moving of the Japanese Investment Banks. I was very young, but fell quickly into a position of huge responsibility which involved underwriting substantial financial risks for my employer. Our Chairmen, however, during my time there, were regular visitors to the trading floor. I can still feel the force of their respective hands on my shoulders on the many times when they would come down and stand behind me as I sat at my desk managing positions of hundreds of millions of various currencies in the International Bond Markets. These Chairmen, in sharp contrast to the one remembered by Ed Balls, knew and understood what was going on. They may not have been experts in each and every of the products we were involved in, but they understood the principles involved and, most importantly, they understood the risks undertaken. They would appear without warning and quietly walk around the trading floor stopping at each department. If they had entered on the other side of the floor the earliest sign of their approach would be of a sea of people jumping to their feet and bowing. In the early days we normally had a Japanese head of department who worked along -side or nominally in seniority to a non-Japanese (Gaijin) head of department. The Chairman would normally talk first to the Japanese person and then to the Gaijin. In the case of the International Bond Syndication desk, that was me. Of the six banks I worked for, a major cause of my departure was my inability to stand by and play the political game when members of senior management put their organisation at unnecessary risk because they did not understand the business of which they were in charge.

I remember Nomura International’s Chairman speaking to a group of graduates early in their careers. The most important message of his presentation was for us to understand that despite our different jobs and titles we were essentially all doing the same job. That job was to represent the institution that employed us. We were all, in effect, salespeople.

At the heart of what I learned at the beginning of my time in Banking was an understanding of risk. The meaning of risk was taught like a religion, it underlined, underpinned and pervaded everything I did.

As I rose through the ranks, I took on more and more responsibility and with responsibility came more and more risk.  In time I became one of the key people who priced the risk which the bank took in certain areas. As I learned more, so the market took on what were viewed as greater and greater levels of sophistication in terms of the structuring of deals. I was never the greatest fan of the derivatives market as its products became more and more esoteric and complicated. In part this was because I found the structures proposed more and more difficult to understand. In many cases I simply could not see how the structure could possibly do what was claimed of it. Now we know that in many cases, the structures did not do, could not do, what had been intended. Ultimately I formulated a very simple rule based on an assessment of my own capabilities. I reckoned that I was in the middle of the stream of intellectual ability and so, where the decision was mine, If a deal was proposed that I could not understand, it did not get done unless it could be explained fully and properly to me.

That simple rule, call it the ‘rule of clarity’ began to be ignored by senior bankers in the late 1990s, and as Ed Balls’ tale demonstrates, a massive lack of contact between the top of these financial institutions and the shop floor, coupled with lack of understanding made for very, very bad decision making.

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I was upstairs when my phone rang, my elder son’s name, Leo, showing on its screen. A short pause.

“We’ve got two for the price of one here” his slightly breathless voice called across the crackling line.

“What are you on about?” I asked, laughing.

Leo was driving home from Agriculture College and stopped to check on our in-calf cows in one of our fields. One of our rare breed White Parks had just calved, a bonny heifer calf already up on shaky legs and tottering towards Mum’s teats to suckle the all-important colostrum. Colostrum is the first milk, thick, golden in colour and full of the antibodies without which the new-born would be left exposed to many otherwise harmless illnesses. As he walked quietly up to the old cow Leo saw a movement in the long grass a few feet away. Puzzled he altered his course towards the movement to find a second calf. At first Leo looked around thinking that another cow had calved, but he quickly realised that this was the last White Park due.

“We have a set of White Park twins”, Leo answered, “a boy and a girl” both seem to be doing really well, as is Mum”.

I don’t know the statistics, but twins are very rare in cattle. Our rare breed British Lop pigs frequently have litters of ten to fifteen piglets. Our ewes commonly have twins, and even triplets every now and then. I have been breeding cattle for over twenty years. Twenty Years!  I barely feel old enough for that to be possible. This is only our third set of twins in all that time. Even then the last twin was a calf we found wandering around the barn early one morning, disowned by its Mum, so we never actually managed to find out who produced her. She was hand reared largely by Dom, my youngest. For many years we used a more than life size photo of him bottle feeding her in our marketing. Dom hated this photo as it apparently did nothing for his considerable street cred.

A couple of days later, I went to check on the cattle outside. Rain drove down from the hill above the farm and raced across the land under glowering skies as the evening light faded early. I drove my old Land Rover up the lane to view the cattle. They were all there, oblivious to the elements, except that one of the twins was nowhere to be seen. Calves are funny sometimes. They like to sleep a lot, and often will search out the tallest grass, or a thick clump of nettles or thistles, as if by instinct, like Brer Rabbit, they understand these to be the safest places to snooze. So, almost certainly, the missing calf was nearby, but any stockman worth his salt would want to know for sure, as did I. No matter how well you know your cows, it really is not a great idea to walk among them newly calved. We’d had so much rain recently that while my trusty Land Rover was unlikely to get stuck, it would certainly make a mess of the long lush grass. The light was failing fast so I drove quickly back to the farm and took our quad out of its secure hiding place and gunned it up the lane. I didn’t have time to dress for the weather, and the sharp needles of the rain pierced through my clothes to my skin within seconds. Once in the field I rode across and up to where the cattle were huddled, not far from an old hedge, backs turned into the howling wind and biting, cold rain. The cattle called to me in unison and trotted over to where I had come to a halt, no doubt hoping that I might have some food for them. The mother of the twins held back, watching over the same calf that I had seen earlier which lay curled up asleep nearby. She called to me again, but this time she also clearly looked all around as if searching for her other calf, which no doubt she was. I could barely see as my spectacles lacked windscreen wipers, but the cattle settled down once it was clear that I bore neither food nor harm. I moved the quad as close as I dared to the White Park cow. Its calf woke up, raised its head and looked at me for all the world as if it saw wet farmers on quad looking down upon it with great regularity.

I spent the next hour searching the field from the quad, going over and over the same ground again and again. Part of the field is very steep and leads down to a brook which normally babbles innocently along. The innocent babble had turned into a furious torrent which, in a few places, had broken its banks. There are ancient hawthorns, bent and twisted, shrouding hobbit-like refuges dug out over the years by sheep and cattle sheltering from the elements. Old trees and bushes grow in thickets, probably dating back centuries to when the whole of this area was covered in forest, and only populated by truly wild animals.

I was really cold, by now soaked to my skin, tired and having been quite jolly about the adventure initially, now very down it the mouth and increasingly certain that disaster had struck in some shape or form. It was almost dark and visibility sorely lacking. I have heard tales over the years of people snatching young animals from fields and barns. There is an increasing amount of poaching and butchery happening in fields. Reports of farmers finding mutilated lambs and ewes in their fields abound. With these tales in mind, I took one more slow turn around the field, searching the fence line. Down a steep slope in wet corner, furthest away from where the herd was still standing in the relentless rain, I thought I saw a flash of white. I stopped and looked again, but it was gone. I turned the quad carefully around to look again, and there, barely visible through the long grass, and only visible from that one specific point and at that one specific angle was something white. Hopeful that it was the missing calf, half certain that it was probably not, I inched the quad bike slowly forward. Whatever it was, lay on the far side of the fence, just at the top of where the river bank dropped steeply down to the swollen torrential water flow. I stopped alongside the fence, stood up on the bike and leaned over towards the white thing. Sure enough, it was the missing calf. It lay very very still. It noise, ears and feet tipped in black, the rest of its body brilliant luxurious white with flecks of black randomly splashed over its body. I dismounted from the quad and clambered over the fence. Still the calf stayed curled up tightly in a ball, either dead or asleep. I bent down and gently caressed its head and moved my hand down the length of its body. To my relief, the velvety coat was warm to my touch. First one eye, sheltered by long 1950’s movie star lashes, opened, so slowly and then the other. Seemingly oblivious to the Lear-like weather conditions and the loud thrumming of the bike a couple of feet away, the missing person looked me straight in the eye calmly and slowly blinked a couple of times.

I rubbed its body more vigorously to get the blood flowing and helped it to its feet. I lifted it up and lowered it gently over the fence into the field. The calf shook himself like a dog in the rain and then took off like a race horse, along the line of the fence, found a hole in the wire and tried to return to the safety of the long grass. I grabbed his back legs as he tried to disappear through the wire fence again. He was too skittish for me to be able to herd back to the family group, so I carried him over to the quad and held him in my arms while I sat astride the big machine. The calf, actually not so little when he’s slung across your lap, struggled at first and then settled down. I pointed the quad at the hill, lent forward over the great hairy lump on my lap, one hand on his back and used the other to open up the throttle and head up the steep hill. Once at the top, I could see the rest of the cattle still stoically resisting the rain at the far end of the field. I felt like a cowboy in an old western film, bringing back the lost calf to camp and to the adoring eyes of some tightly clothed Hollywood bombshell. In my case, no bombshell, and the only eyes on me were distinctly bovine. The calf, surprisingly strong, tried to leap to the ground a couple of times during our journey, but otherwise behaved very calmly. I pulled up as closely to his Mum as I dared and called to her, making my best impersonation of a calling calf. As she began to come towards me, I let the calf slide gently off my lap onto the ground. With no look back, its tail high in the air, the little thing raced over to Mum, immediately searching for the milk bar. I stayed watching for a couple of minutes, savouring the moment. I drove happily back to the farm and a hot shower.

If you enjoy reading about Northfield Farm you might like my E-Book available on Amazon at  www.amazon.co.uk/Crushed-My-NHS-Summer-ebook/dp/B007X4L2LM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335351051&sr=8-1

 

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If, at any distance from home, I mention to someone that I live & work within the Borough of Melton Mowbray, most immediately make the association with Pies. This association of object to place is almost unique. It is the sort of association that branding and marketing experts would, and do, dedicate their careers to achieving. Others might think of fox hunting, privileged young thrusters painting red crosses on doors late at night. Windmills, cheese, beer, pigs, castles, canals, elderflower cordial, farming, music, cinema, dog food, sport, cloth, bread and baking, all these and more form part of activity in and around Melton Mowbray.

The town itself is, like so many towns, a jumble. A mix of rich and poor, proud and humble, light and dark. Within and without the town, if one only looks, are buildings and places of real beauty. The key words there are ‘if one only looks’. This beauty is not unique to Melton Mowbray, but it is there and it is there in abundance.

The beauty I refer to may seems strange to those of us who live in the area because we are all guilty of seeing but not truly appreciating what surrounds us.

This is a familiar theme, but came home to me more strongly than ever before since I have read and watched television programmes about David Hockney’s Royal Academy exhibition, ‘A Bigger Picture’.

I am no art expert, but one of the many ways in which this seems unusual is that all the work within it was painted and created for this particular exhibition. Another, pretty well known now, is that Hockney used his Ipad to create many of the works on display.

When I first watched an interview with Hockney about this exhibition, I couldn’t help wondering whether he might not be testing us all a bit, whether the impish seventy something year old is not in fact teasing us all, pulling our legs. At one stage I even had the temerity to consider the Ipad paintings akin to the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Many better men than me have sought to define Art. One simple definition of sorts has always seemed to me to be for the viewer of a piece, to ask two questions.

‘Do I like it?’ and ‘Could I do it?’ In general if the answers are ‘yes’ and ‘no’ respectively, then It is Art. Of course this is a rubbish definition for many reasons, but for the reason I have just cited, I’ll pursue it no further.

Although I have not been to the Hockney exhibition, I have looked and looked at the works. The more I look, the more I see, and the more I look. This work of Hockney, which also explores film in a way which is so familiar, because of the ubiquity of television, and yet so new in its approach, is a lesson in how we should look at our surroundings. These works are all depictions of a small number of places in the countryside of East Yorkshire.

Similar places, many more beautiful, exist all around us in and around the Borough of Melton Mowbray.

 

Northfield Farm Shop & Restaurant

Open for Lunch & Dinner Thurs, Fri & Sat & Sunday Lunch

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I know this subject seems miles away from my normal area of expertise, but please have a look & let me know what you think.

I am so sickened by the whole Royal Bank of Scotland bonus debate. It is a small, almost irrelevant, part of a much larger and infinitely more important question which is that of the real responsibility of banking and bankers for the current global misery of recession.

I spent fourteen years as an Investment Banker working for seven different so-called global banks. I was based in London, but travelled extensively during that time.

The year was 1982 or ‘83. I applied for my first job in banking in part because I did know what else to do. I had a law degree and was heading for a rather dull, but thoroughly respectable job in a small North London Solicitor’s firm. I applied for a Graduate Trainee job with the then rising house of Nomura. Much to my surprise, I was invited to attend an interview. I knew nothing about Japan and even less about Investment Banking. Realising that this interview could be a massive opportunity for me, I needed a crash course in Investment Banking, and in matters Japanese, if I was to have any chance of landing a job away from the world of Law.

I had two weeks to prepare for my interview.

I covered the Japanese element in a number of what now look like rather amusing ways. I had a hair-cut at a Japanese Barber’s shop, I went for my first meal in a Japanese restaurant and I read the novel Shogun from cover to cover, writing down any Japanese phrase and words, their English meanings and committing them to memory.

To address my shortcomings in financial knowledge I read the Financial Times every day and I devoured any copies of The Economist I could get hold of. I needed more. As I concentrated more on the interview, I became more and more determined to do anything I could to acquit myself well. I needed to meet someone on the inside. Not someone inside Nomura, but someone who really understood how the world worked inside The City, especially for graduates new to that particular world.

I remembered having met, a few months previously, a friend of one of my fellow students at Law College. The friend of my friend had been at Oxford with him and was generally regarded as a rising superstar. He had always had a clear vision of working in a top league bank in The City of London and, I believe, was offered a job by all but one of the dozen or so banks to which he applied. Of his many offers, he had chosen to work for Credit Suisse First Boston, known as CSFB and had started there at around the same time that I had started my one year course at The College of Law. CSFB was the London based subsidiary of the then Swiss banking giant, Credit Suisse.

I telephoned Stephen Hester at his workplace and explained that I needed his help if I was to stand any chance of success in my impending Nomura interview. Hester, whom I had only met briefly before, checked his diary and said that the only way he could help was if I could collect him at nine O’clock the following Friday evening, from his office. Already the consummate banker, he knew that his advice had a serious market value. We struck a deal that I would buy a Chinese Takeaway for us both which we would eat at his flat in return for his crash course in Investment Banking.

Buying a Chinese Takeaway for Stephen Hester was without doubt the wisest investment I have ever made. Hester and I stayed talking in his small flat until the early hours of Saturday morning. I suppose I was there for around six hours in total.  Hester was without doubt the cleverest person I had ever met and possibly remains so. He gave me, in a few short hours what amounted to a passport into a totally new world. Calmly, and with extreme patience, he led me through the workings of international debt and equity markets. He furnished me with a list of questions to ask at my interview which would simultaneously educate me and impress my interviewer. He answered my own list of questions gathered from my week and a half of deep enquiry into banking. I remember Hester as a very serious person, but someone who had a clear view of a wider world outside his workplace. I remember him as humorous, patient and very, very bright. Even then he had a rare combination of presence and lightness of touch.

I sailed through the Nomura interview process and, in due course, was offered one of twelve jobs out of 600 applicants. My new employers were so impressed with me that they took me out of the Graduate scheme and put me straight into a front line position in the New Issues Bond Syndication Team. The extent to which I lived up to their expectations is a whole other story.

I think I met Hester perhaps a couple of times in the next few years. I hope I was well-mannered enough to write to him by way of thanks, I honestly cannot remember. Despite not having had any contact with him for many years, I have always remained, and always will remain, grateful to him.

Hearing and reading the constant bleating of pundits on whether or not Hester should be paid a bonus, and if he should, how much, sickens me. It sickens me because it is a distraction. It is a distraction from the real issues which are destroying communities, destroying businesses and destroying lives. The RBS bonus debate, focusing mainly on Hester, cloaks the real issues behind the financial mess, what caused it and what can be done to resolve it.

Now that it has been decided to award Hester with an almost £1 million share-holding in RBS by way of bonus, the debate has exploded again.

I certainly do not have all the answers, I doubt whether any single person has. I am certain though that unless Hester has become a very stupid man in the nearly thirty years since I knew him, in which case he should not have been hired to run RBS, he is likely to be worth all he is paid, bonus included, and probably considerably more. I am far too busy trying to survive as a farmer, restaurateur & shop keeper to be able to research this properly but Hester seems to have managed to stabilise RBS.

Stand back for a moment and think about it. Even in my banking days more than fifteen years ago RBS was regarded as a basket case on the Investment Banking and Derivatives side. Structures it came up with and deals it won regularly left other experts scratching their heads in wonderment at how the numbers worked. Obviously we know the answer now. They didn’t work, the numbers did not add up. Add to that, the most extraordinary chaos in financial markets in living memory. Saving, running and then resuscitating RBS is a job way beyond most people. RBS is a huge publicly owned asset. It is central to the financial future and well-being of us all. As I understand it Hester’s bonus is made up of shares. This is surely the best way to continue to motivate him to succeed. If RBS collapses, his shares will be worthless, as will those that we, the people, own. If RBS recovers and its share price recovers, Hester will do extremely well, as will all its other shareholders, some 80% of whom are The Great British Public.

If the ongoing job of reviving RBS can be done by a Muppet, let’s find that Muppet, pay the going rate for Muppets and say goodbye to Hester. On the other hand, unless Hester has become a dribbling useless fool, the decision is fairly simple.

Who is the best person for the job? If Hester is still that person, let’s pay him the going rate, give him the support he needs and let him get on with what is a near impossible job.

This government is at serious risk of falling into the same traps which caught out the last government. It needs to recognise value where it lies. It needs to analyse risk where it lurks and it needs to get on with freeing up the clogged wheels of business, productivity and innovation.

 

Jan McCourt

Northfield Farm

27th January 2012

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Sorry if this is a bit long, but I hope it puts the reader right into the straw with me & shares the gore & the glory of the experience.

 

I got back to the farm from a night away and went straight to check our first British Lop Sow Sally. She had seven piglets scrambling around her teats and her ‘lady bits’. Some were clean and bright while others still had a thick layer of mucus around most of their body. Thanks to their determination these had at least broken through sufficiently to breathe. I cleaned the piglets up with some clean straw and settled mother and little ones down. Then I watched quietly for about five minutes. The scene of quiet had me fairly convinced that there were no more piglets to come, so I headed into the house to catch up on a variety of issues that required my attention, waded through the carnage created by the young Labrador puppies overnight and headed upstairs to change into clothes more appropriate to porcine midwifery.  When I got back to the farrowing pen, barely ten minutes later, five more piglets were squirming about. As I set to cleaning these up, small shrivelled, black mummified Halloween, horror story of a creature slid out of her back end.  Sows quite often give birth to these distorted mini versions of themselves. They tend to have died at a much earlier stage of the pregnancy, and though often quite putrid, the sow seals the monstrosity in its bag so that it rarely affects the rest of the litter. I set the nasty mess immediately to one side just as more slithering hot baby pigs began to squirt out of the mother. They were now coming so quickly that I barely had time to assess each one as it landed onto the straw bedding. I quickly pulled each piglet, firmly but gently away from the mother so that the umbilical cord would shred in a natural way. Cut the cord and the piglet chances bleeding to death. Next I would clear the mucus from around the head and pass my finger through the mouth as far back as I could without choking off the air supply. Eight more slipped out like sausages out of a machine. Unfortunate imagery, I know, but accurate. Two came out and unlike the others were neither breathing nor wriggling. I took the first, went through the routine described above, rubbed its side roughly with clean straw, still no sign of life. I then held it upside down and patted its sides quite smartly while swing it gently but bringing it to a fairly sharp halt at the bottom of each swing. These actions combined seek to clear the airwaves and shock the pathetic little creature’s system back into life.  This all takes quite a few moments of concentrated activity during which it is just about possible to continue to go through the basic actions needed to process the other slithering lives as they pop out. An immediate decision needed to be made, however, as I certainly do not have the skill to do this to two unbreathing piglets simultaneously as well as tending to all the others. I put the second unbreathing piglet to one side. Fortunately after a few minutes of application the heart of the still corpse in my hands began to beat, although the lungs were not pumping and the eyes were still firmly closed. The gently beating heart encouraged me to continue until the eyes opened slowly and the little mite took its first breath. Now breathing, but with no strength or co-ordination in its body or legs, I inserted the good sized but paralysed piglet in among its siblings to keep it warm. I checked through the other piglets and attended to the last few newborns. Nineteen live in all. Putting the little near dead piglet in with its fellows also meant that it was jostled constantly by the general push and bustle for a limited number of teats. This often works as a way of massaging the life back into these borderline cases. I checked on this one regularly over the following hours or so and each time it was a little stronger until it was soon impossible to recognise it among it fellow guzzlers.

It is nearing mid night. I have sat with Sally and her 19 survivors since around 4 O’clock. I am writing during one of the many lulls in activity. A very jolly Spanish themed Chieftains tune is playing via Itunes on my laptop. At this moment a cockerel across roosting with his girlfriend on the side of another farrowing pen decides that he really want to join in with the jolly tune and starts crowing very loudly indeed. Sally has decide to dig around to find the somewhat well-trodden placentas which she has firmly ejected over the last few hours and have a goulish but very important midnight feast. I have made a cordon of packed straw and half pushed, half thrown, gently of course, all nineteen piglets into the corner under the low heat lamp, and managed to persuade them that this is the safest place for them until their mother settles down again. Her snack completed, Sally tries to impress upon me that she really should be allowed to squeeze in with and on top of her babies, which of course would mean that I might as well be in bed and just let nature take its course. Trouble is that nature in this instance would probably see no more than one third of her babies survive. Of course, even with all my efforts, this may be still what happens.  Persuading a very large and determined sow that she should not lie down on top of her offspring under a very inviting heat lamp, is none too easy, but eventually we compromise and I allow Sally to lie with her head next to the pile of wriggling, but content piglets.

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I wrote this in early 2009. I was driving over London Bridge on my way to Borough Market. The financial world was dancing on its head. The Borough Market management seemed to be living on a different planet from normal mortals and the future looked very uncertain indeed.

The sun was shining brightly and as my car crawled through the traffic I saw a group of striking women standing on the edge of the bridge holding and waving enormous flags on great high poles. I can’t remember what they were promoting, but it made a stunning spectacle.

White flags flutter on London Bridge

Leaden-footed folk glumly walk,

run or drag themselves from train to work.

Familiar faces from another time

now bent and creased with lines.

And the girls are still smoking

——————————-

Trapped prisoners in an open jail

so many doomed to fail.

Can’t understand where it all went wrong,

stuck on tracks that come and go,

fighting on, fast and slow.

And the girls are still smoking

———————————-

Dreams taunt lost hopes,

crushed by pride and greed.

Trust is in short supply,

ruined lives asking why?

Blame, excuses, lies.

And the girls are still smoking

————————————-

Cameras film our every move

as money rolls by on frozen wheels.

Cash falls in showers but never lands,

billions in empty boxes on display.

Cars stand silent, unwanted badges of today’s history.

And still the girls are smoking

———————————–

Why do the white flags fly?

Held aloft by smiling beauties

they fly for victory.

They fly for you and me

they fly for surrender

And still the girls are smoking

Jan McCourt Northfield March 2009

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