There was once a farmer... where have I heard that before?

Posted 18 January 2016

There was once a farmer who let a field to a hard-working tenant who always delivered his rent and tithes on time. One day the farmer discovered that wind turbines were coming to the village, and that if they were erected in his field, they would yield a rent that would make him richer than he had ever dreamed. Since the law dictated he share any profits with a current tenant, he sacked him on the spot. And now - six years later, still no turbines, and the field is a mass of briars, brambles and thorns, an unprofitable eyesore.

Sounds like a parable Jesus might have told, and it certainly is - of life in modern-day France, well of life almost anywhere in the world.

We read in the news of a farmer near us who has cut down a twenty-four acre forest in the hope of letting it for wind turbines. No one seems to have told him that the French courts have just ruled that when the turbines become obsolete (as they do, very quickly) he will be responsible for removing them - at the cost of every euro of rent he will have gained over twenty years and more.

I see so many parables here. To plant anything is a major feat of building works. You’re lucky if your pick axe gets down to two inches before it hits rock. And then, risking the poor, benighted sacroiliac joint (which frequently wreaks its revenge on me), you hack at rock until it breaks up enough to get the edge of the blade beneath it to lever out some bits, allowing some water, and maybe even the roots, to pass through - a basic necessity in a garden.

We are very definitely the folk who built their house, garden, shed and all on the rock and a fight it is to make anything grow.

If its not the rock or the clay soil that stunts plant growth, it’s the elements - wind, frost, and drought, or nature - rabbits, snails, voles, badgers, the deer which strip the bark off all our trees, and the moles that turn our lawn into a crazy golf course.

Those of you who were rooting for the little creatures will rejoice to hear that minutes after Peter last laid explosives a loud bang rocketed the firecracker, not the mole, into the air. Manifestly our mole recognised the device and chucked it back out at us. Either that or the mole fraternity has now acquired a bomb disposal unit.

At least we now have a lavender patch, covered in netting to keep out the rabbits.

“They have a field day, the rabbits at your place,” my nearest English neighbour, Bev said. “They think it’s an adventure playground.” So there I was hacking at the earth yesterday, merely to plant some chives in my herb garden (the last lot eaten away by rabbits - now with spicy breath, presumably) and this morning my reading from the prophet, Jeremiah says,

“Is not my word a hammer that smashes the rock into pieces.”

Very funny, thank you God.

Presumably, you have as much trouble getting through to people as I have planting, and have to smash your way into, round and through the solid stuff in our heads and hearts. I followed it up with a look at a sermon by Spurgeon on the subject, to ensure I had understood it right and read, “If any of you are in the habit of hearing sermons which are very fine, very elegant, very logical, very proper, yet if they never strike you as the hammer strikes the rock — if they never aim at breaking your hearts — do not waste any more Sundays in hearing them, for they are not God’s Word!”

Ouch. Seems I did understand it right. As those chives constantly remind me.

More hacking - now in the house. The builders arrived a few days ago to install a new shower room downstairs. They have smashed down two walls and created a vast empty space with tiles hanging off what remains. It is strange to see what one’s home would have looked like had I lived through the blitz. I asked them if they wanted tea and they were highly amused.

“English builders need a cuppa every hour to quench the dust or they grind to a halt,” I said. “A little coffee first thing in the morning is all we need, and we bring it with us,” replied the boss, pointing at a flask. Then he opened a large freezer bag stacked to the top with cold drinks, French bread, patés, cheeses, lettuce, tomatoes, and fruit.

“Our lunch”, he explained, pulling out cutlery. “We’ll eat it at your garden table, if you would be so kind as to provide chairs.” “You’ll freeze.” He smiles, charmingly. “Ah, but we don’t make a mess.”

I look at the rubble and the dust, and stifle an ironic laugh. There are times when its hard not to like the French.

Clearing up the dust (even without any crumbs) after they’ve gone seems very hard work. Why is it such an effort? And then I realise - with a shock - it’s nine years since we first came here. Despite the hacking and planting it appears my get up and go is getting up and going. And that’s not another of those aging-things I’m prepared to accept.

I was covered from head to foot in white powder when Henri called to have a nosey at his former basement. He does like a beer, and to put the world to rights. He says he’s not sure he agrees with the new farmer’s agricultural methods i.e. intensive farming.

“But isn’t it becoming impossible for any farmer to make a living unless he thinks big?” we ask. “The old Limousin cow farmers are disappearing.” He shakes his head. “A big financial risk. I let my cows graze off the land. Then they always have plenty of food. If you grow maize for them and from May to September there is no rain, what then? Dead maize, that’s what. Possibly dead cows. Be kind to nature and it will be kind to you. Don’t put it to the test. You will never win. And be kind to your neighbours too.” “And you know this from hard experience?” I say, with a certain irony, the French rarely get - only this time he grins.

“You showed me that. With M Lavale. You were wiser than I.”

He lets slip that he is the one of the farmers who has held on to a field that might be in demand for wind turbines. He hasn’t sacked a tenant, he keeps all his fields in good order, but behind a perfect mask of environmental magnanimity, the pound signs glisten in his eyes. What a funny world.

If I were God (and just as well I’m not!) I think I’d let everyone hear what was said about us after our death - best way of encouraging altruism, methinks.

Meanwhile, we have just heard that the appeal against our wind turbines has failed - on a technical error made by the solicitor. I’m not against turbines. I just wish that like the rest of Europe, France stipulated that they be one kilometre, not 500 metres from our house. Out of concern for the wellbeing of the inhabitants the minister of the environment was asked to consider it some months ago, but rejected it out of hand. I think I see big lobby groups and those pound signs again.

The French make enough nuclear fuel not to need wind turbines at all, and would have enough renewable energy if they replaced the oaks they burned every year – but that’s not how the EU sees it. A rule is a rule. But why oh why hasn’t the EU done something sensible for once and legislated as well for their distance from people’s homes?