“I work on the Mornings programme on BBC Radio Scotland. On Monday the 27th July we’re going to be speaking to Donald Macsween about his new series of An Lot and I would like to widen this out a little and have a bit of a look at modern crofting. Ideally we’d like to speak to a female crofter who is relatively new to it. Could you recommend anyone like that who we could possibly speak to?”
So that’s when I come in. My response? Aye, that’s fine, but bear in mind I have no media background like MacSweenie (ok, I’ve done two days of filming with a German film crew but that’s not really a ‘be up there and go live on the radio’ deal). MacSweenie is on Series 5 of ‘An Lot’, he’s confident speaking AND he’s bilingual (this goes back to the David and Goliath blog when we were both shortlisted for the Young Crofter Awards in 2018).
However (as always, there is always a however). If it means helping people to understand that they don’t have to be from a family that have been in agriculture for the past 700 years, then ok, I’ll sign myself up.
The wee ‘research chat’ a week ago was fine. Easy chatting, nae bother. About three days before the event I started to wonder what I had done. Two days before I started thinking of question/answers they may ask. The day before I did a blunder; I listened to the programme by the same lady. And then I really wanted to know why I had agreed. I don’t really listen to Radio Scotland. Any programs that have call ins are an instant ‘turn-the-radio-off’ deal for me. But I had gone and signed up for this.
Insomnia and I are often pals, catching up frequently; the night before was no different. The brain rewriting answers to potential questions. It was becoming worse than preparing for an interview. This would be on the phone. I hate phones (I am much more likely to go round and tap on someone’s door than make a phone call).
The minutes were etching toward the time they said they would call. It ticked past. I had already picked up that each topic was snippets. No depth, no background. Just fire and run. The radio discussion was currently on gardening. Just started to think I had the wrong day, or maybe that they were running out of time so decided to skip it…I could be in luck. Fat chance, the phone rang.
All that to say, yes, it did feel like I was back at school in a French oral exam and yes, I was introduced by my maiden name (and no, people can still not pronouce it). At least both MacSweenie and I spoke of deadstock. He mentioned the abattoir. And I was about to post a blog about the abattoir. Which funny that, the German film crew got a trip to the abattoir and now Radio Scotland tie in to the abattoir.
And voila, it was over. Thankfully my mind pulled a blank screen over what I said so I can’t really reflect on it. I’ll go back to talking to the cows. Oh, and don’t make bread the morning of an interview, it will rise quicker than you have ever seen and will need the oven about, ohh, 15 mins before you’re on the air…
During lockdown, the bicycle and Thule chariot were in frequent use. But for this adventure, I needed the livestock trailer and although I’ve improved my cycling fitness, I am not in the iron lady category.
As Radio 2 hit speakers, I heard the road traffic report. Incidentally, they were all down south. So as I came across a hold up on the A95 into Aviemore I was tempted to ring them up. Yep, there were a small herd of cattle frolicking along, enjoying the gorse bushes while traffic come to a complete halt in both directions. On my left was an open gate into a field with another group of cattle. Not a field that they looked like they should be in, but never mind, that group weren’t trashing the lush, green growth. No, they were looking bemused at their new spectator sport of the Cairngorm version of Spain’s running the bulls. As the cows finally moved off to the side, traffic started to gingerly creep past. The deliberate slow moving traffic seemed to attract the attention of a few steers; they decided to stand like VOSA inspectors, checking license plates and road tax of passing vehicles.
There was no sign as to where they had come from and I couldn’t tell who they belonged to. Just because I was pulling a livestock trailer didn’t mean they were mine either (I got a look from one car that seemed to imply that). However, just a bit further on I spotted a quad bike racing for the road, the driver looking specifically for something (and not a lottery ticket search, but a ‘let’s stand up and peer frantically in both directions’ look). Figured I had just lost my chance to ring Zoe Ball to let them know about the major traffic jam for the road report. It may not have been a ring road round some major city, the slip way that’s blocked again or the lorry getting a wheel changed but it stopped traffic both ways and caused some excitement. Albeit, the traffic hold up was about three one way and five the other. Pretty major for those of us who haven’t been out much. Wish it had been the most exciting part of the day, but no, t’was merely the aftermath of the rollercoaster ride with one of our cows.
I was down that neck of the woods to drop a cow off at the abattoir. And it was Wild Thing (aka Breena) who was getting taken. Yes, that’s right. After two years of having more than enough stressful situations with her, a winter where she bullied several of the others yet looked like she was under duress, and her ability to show that for whatever reason, she didn’t like me, I had given her adequate warnings but to no avail. So she was told her she would be going. Which she did, just not quietly. And I still have a slight shudder when I go near the livestock trailer.
Covid-19 has affected one or two things in the croft and we now have to pre-book the butcher ages in advance. Add to this was her age, (being slightly older), which meant I couldn’t take her to my preferred choice of abattoir, but to the most ill thought through abattoir I have every seen (ok, I’ve only seen two but really, who designed the access!). Entering with a livestock trailer and having to turn the vehicles to off-load livestock is equivalent to getting a hippo to reserve into a hoola-hoop and ask it to do a pirouette. Once you are successful at off loading the beasts, you have to do some funny angled reversing to either drive out or reserve the entire way through a ‘C’ curve entrance. All do-able, just not the easiest with two kids in the car and a beast in the trailer when you want it to be calm and peaceful.
However, in this instance, I was more than happy to leave the job until the Crofter got back. Not necessarily because of the manoeuvring in this instance (I’m not bad for pirouetting a hippo in a hoola-hoop) but it was the idea of having to get Breena loaded and unloaded that terrified me. So we decided it would wait. But then I got the offer of a helping hand, someone else who could come, keep their distance but still help me load her. So I got a bit of courage and booked her in.
Loading her up went better than anticipated. She gave a final kick in my direction, a good shake of the head and a snort through the nose like a charging bull. The door was shut and I breathed a sign of relief. Except, where’s the entertainment when things go perfectly? I nipped up to the house to grab a coffee and to cancel my helping hand who was about to arrive. By the time I got back to the pickup, the trailer looked like it was holding a raving disco. I had been about to check the back lights but when she saw me near by; the bang off the side made me quickly change my mind. She was communiting her feelings perfectly. I set off. Pulling forward two feet and something wasn’t right. The jockey wheel had dropped and was now stuck. I rolled back slightly to take the pressure off; it was now the opposite way and still a problem. The vehicles now looked like they were swing dancing while the disco was still in full throw in the trailer. Eventually I got it up. The disco rocking of the trail now looked more akin to a Calmac sailing to Lewis on a stormy day. If the police wanted to check the back lights up close I was more than happy, I’d let them decide and figured it was safer to just get moving.
Arriving at the slaughterhouse, both of us were breathing slightly more normally. The hoola-hoop manuver was going pretty well until a sudden head appeared from a door and wanted me to change the angle. Slight problem was I couldn’t understand everything he was saying. That peeved him off. I was now slightly unnerved. Not only that, a Food Standards Inspector had also appeared at the back of the trailer with a clipboard. Now I realised why the abottoir man wasn’t quite himself. Before I got round the back to warn him, he had the back of the trailer down. Breena started to walk straight off. I breathed out thinking my time there would be short and sweet and what was all the stress. But no, one hoof off the ramp and she decided, fat chance, and high tailed it back in. Abattoir man told me to try pushing her through from the hatch. Upon opening the door and giving her a prod from behind, she pirouetted on the spot faster than I or Mr Hippo and charged at the open hatch, eyeball to eyeball before I managed to slam it shut. I glance up to find Inspector Man had dived behind me and Abottoir Man was running off up the entrance road. My brain,
‘Where pal, are you going?!?’ Heart rate now on a cardiac zone according to my Fitbit.
Give him his dues, he was racing up to shut the gates before she managed the Great Escape. How he thought I could win against a charging cow I have no idea.
‘Bit of a wild one?’, he said when he got back (Inspector Man still behind me).
‘Aye, why else am I bringing her to you?!’
‘Hmm, just poke her through the holes’ was the reply I got from a less peeved off man. And with one of us on each side she went straight in. Abattoir Man sprinted up to close the gate behind her and I sprinted round to close up the trailer and be out of there as soon as I could. Well, I would have done if I could have turned hippo in the hoola-hoop properly. But no, that day, I had to reverse the trailer the full distance back to the road. Good job I can reverse a trailer better than pirouetting it in the space of a hoola-hoop.