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MEAT, MEDIA and MOTORS August 17, 2009

Posted by markswill in Cars and Bikes, Media, Politics, Schmolitics.

Ruminations in my last blog (Feeling Sheepish) on the degree of self-revelation tolerable within the medium weakly concluded that it really depends who one’s audience is. Then again, that same scribble drew responses from two correspondents who claimed that their “lives had been changed” by columns I wrote in various motorcycle mags back in the ‘70s, columns which were considerably more self-indulgent than any bloggery I’ve broadcast thus far, so who’s to know what’s acceptable these days?

Which is a convenient if not plausible excuse for once again touching on the state of my health which whilst somewhat improved, has also found me on four occasions this past week in healthcare waiting rooms. Which in themselves were convenient excuses for picking up magazines that one wouldn’t normally read as I waited for blood tests, x-rays and yet another locum I’d never met before to contradict the conclusions of the previous unknown locum. With their relentless tales of infidelity, obesity and z-list sleb nonsense,  Chat, Pick-Me-Up, New etc. are morbidly fascinating but during one such medical interlude I came across a copy of Land, the journal of the Country Landowners Assoc.

THE MATTER OF THE MEAT     Now I’ve had some considerable truck with the CLA over the years, representing as they do the remnants of our landed gentry with all the barely contained feudal arrogance that this implies, not least as a member of my Local Access Forum where they are disproportionately represented and, as such, ever keen to stop anyone using unsurfaced rights of way who isn’t on horseback or off to do a spot of shooting in a 4×4. Anyway, with much the same perverse curiosity as I scanned low-rent womens’s mags, I waded through Land until I got to the inevitable last page opinion piece by one Caroline Cranbrook OBE who actually had something sensible to say about the threat to local abattoirs.

Not a very sexy subject I know, but one that’s crucial to local communities being served by local producers and the consequent reduction in food miles, something I touched on in June’s Dropping the Shopping. Back in the early 1990s the cost of meeting EU meat hygiene legislation put hundreds of small abattoirs, and often the butchers who owned them, out of business and the subsequent cost of transporting animals to distant slaughterhouses had a deleterious economic effect on the trade and, many would say, the quality of its meat.

As Cranbrook recalled, the government were persuaded to change the charging system for hygiene inspectors to monitor abattoirs, thus providing a lifeline for many of the smaller ones. But the annual cost of doing so has now risen to almost £100million and pressure from the exchequer to reduce this below £75million by 2010 will inevitably result in further closures. And that will push up prices at local butchers and reduce the choice of locally raised meats, something the CLA is once again campaigning to avoid and so, albeit begrudgingly I find myself supporting them.

TWITTERING ON           Someone else whose opinion I often take issue with is Janet Street-Porter. As the (ex-) wife of a good friend I used to know Janet a little and like her a lot, but in later life she’s used her media clout to shrilly oppose much I hold dear, including my right to ride (perfectly legal) motorcycles on (perfectly legal) unsurfaced rural rights of way. I, on the other hand, for many years used my considerably inferior media influence to try and counter such selfish, ill-informed bigotry – a fight I’ve now abandoned due to the myopia and infighting within the organisations who gave collective voice to such protests.

But for once I must now sheepishly concur with La Street-Porter who in today’s Sindie lambasted Twitter far more incisively than I ever could. Opining that  “Twitter works for the middle class, the middle-aged and wannabe trendies because it lets them feel part of a  big happening club, when in fact all they are doing is exchanging mindlessness,” she later added that it “panders to all that is shallow and narcissistic in our society”. Bemoaning the growing tendency for politicians, august institutions and, heaven forefend, even the meeja to embrace this dumbed-down means of communication, she concludes that “we’re so keen to stop talking and writing in sentences, and are swapping having real conversations for knee-jerk reactions.”

Will this growing tidal wave of Twittering subside and turn out to be a passing phase just as it seems Swine Flu now has ? Not according to my web-designer friend who advises me that the fastest way to increase the readership of this blog is to open up a Twitter account. Oh dearie me.

AN ELECTRICAL STORM    And knee-jerk reaction got me much personal grief this past week as I wrestled with a wiring problem in my beloved Lancia Gamma. Classic car fans will know that Italian electrics are infamously mercurial and having by-passed some dodgy junction terminals to improve the headlighting from unacceptably murky to tolerably dim a few weeks ago, illumination of the sidelights and instrument panel suddenly ceased. Attempts to pin-point the cause led me to dismantle the dashboard, remove said panel and replace it with a spare I happened to have, none of which did the trick and involved a lot of cursing, cut fingers and lost screws. Of course I should’ve listened to my Gamma guru who’d told me I should simply replace the column switch which, being Italian, is notoriously failure-prone but which (a) involves first removing the steering wheel (involving two strong people) and (b) requires finding a replacement unit for a car whose manufacturer abandoned it as a lost cause 30 years ago. And so for just a fleeting moment the government’s car scrappage scheme seemed like a very good idea as, I suppose, did self-revelation, Europe-wide meat hygiene standards and, indeed, Twitter.

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Feeling Sheepish August 7, 2009

Posted by markswill in Navel Gazing.

As I write, it’s not raining. Mundane though that may sound, it’s actually of great significance for the last 48 hours were the first 48 hours for at least six weeks that it hasn’t rained here in Mid-Wales. This endless precipitation may elicit little more than ‘we told you so’s’ from the climate change lobby – of which we naturally have an abundance hereabouts – but for those of us who ran Sheep Music 2009, it has a greater, even bitter resonance. Yup, here it comes, the story of My Festival Hell.

Before the deluge

Before the deluge... (Pic: Alex Ramsay)

Actually I’ve been putting this off for some times despite, as boasted in my last scrawl, being regularly asked about it since it ended by, well at least half a dozen well-wishers. Or cynical misanthropes. That I’ve stalled reflects my uncertainty about the degree of personality I should invest in such an account, indeed the degree of bent subjectivity one should invest in any blog. Do people read this stuff to know about me, about what whatever comes into my head, or merely to have a bit of a smirk?

Well this conundrum remains intact, and having been quite unpleasantly ill since the first day of the event itself, there was the nagging concern that whatever I wrote would be skewed by infirmity of body (and thus mind). Indeed who wants to read a blog written by an exhausted ill person?

But prompted by two days of good weather that will doubtless benefit The Big Chill which is (almost) due to take place (almost) just down the road from where we sloshed around with Sheep Music, here we are (almost) three weeks after the event, and I’m (almost) returned to something approaching rude good health. So I’d better get on with it.

You’ll have noticed the ‘almost’ motif here, a crucial adverb when considering the entire exercise, for Sheep Music wasn’t a screaming success financially, musically or (at least as far as I was concerned) socially. But then neither was it a huge failure on any of those scores… except possibly the first. And even though it rained throughout build week, it started off so well: the layout of the site itself was brilliant because whilst as in previous years there was Main Stage inside a Big Tent and smaller stages elsewhere, there were also a number of minor venues offering a wonderfully eclectic array of entertainments dotted around the gently sloping Wents Meadow. And the food was fantastic.

"A wonderfully eclectic array of entertainments"

"A wonderfully eclectic array of entertainments" (Pic: A. Ramsay)



But shortly after we opened on Friday afternoon it rained, and the already sodden grass started to give way to the brown stuff.  Fortunately the rain wasn’t heavy and didn’t last long, and even so, a lot of folk came through the two gates which, you may recall, it was my responsibility to manage. Well me and a wonderful team of 35 doughty souls who had the tricky task of selling (or processing pre-sold) tickets, issuing wristbands and, it unexpectedly turned out, being responsible for managing the ‘freebie’ lists of the festival’s different ‘department heads’. (N.B. being run entirely by volunteers, Sheep Music, the workers only get free tickets as, in the great R’n’R tradition, do bands and their hangers-on. So whilst just over 2000 folks paid to enter, 800 didn’t. Numbers that would scupper a capitalist enterprise). So ‘running the gate’ could be pretty demanding at times and without a trusted deputy, I had to be in post virtually the entire weekend… a masterpiece of poor planning  ensuring I got to enjoy almost no music and almost no socialising. Grrrrr.

Then as I was walking to the site with my rucksack full of cashboxes and tickets early on Saturday morning, a not unfamiliar pain hit me in the chest. And that’s as far as I’m willing to engage in self-pity – at least on that score – but suffice it to say that for yrs. trly. the rest of the fest was both painful and debilitating and for many of those who attended it, muddy.  Not as muddy as the quagmire that was the 2007 festival (see pic),

A balmy July day in 2007

A balmy July day in 2007 (Pic: M. Williams)

but after a blessedly rain-free day on Saturday, it bucketed down from midday Sunday, effectively deterring the families we desperately needed to make a day of it. The ultimate consequence of which was a financial loss which, being a charity, makes it extremely difficult for Sheep Music Ltd to mount another festival anytime soon… unless it does some serious fund-raising in the meantime.

Although many of the punters plainly enjoyed themselves despite the weather, for the hardcore of volunteers and ‘departments heads’ who made it happen it was a draining and frustrating experience – none of us really believed that we’d be beset by crappy weather twice in a row, and as a new and inexperienced team it had proved a steep learning curve in terms of the amount of time, effort and sensitive co-operation it would involve. To go into further detail would be one-sided and churlish, but beyond doubt were the adverse effects a recession clearly had on advance tickets sales (as they have for much bigger, professionally-run wing-dings of which there are now probably too many), and the fact that you can never second-guess the weather in these globally-warmed times.  

Even given these obstacles, would I do it again? Well… almost.

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