Hardly a day passes in this office without the arrival of yet another anguished press statement, announcing that an action group has been set up to fight some new outrage of modern life.
All the same, it was a bit of a surprise to hear from an organisation called Charm which aims to “protect the rural tranquillity of the countryside for the sake of our families, kids and dogs”. Curious, I rang their spokesman Rory Pitt-Farquahar and asked first of all what the name Charm stood for.
“Combine Harvesters Are a Rural Menace,” he said, his voice crisp with outrage. “Not many people realise that these things are blighting the life of country folk all over Britain and no one is doing a thing about it.”
I must have seemed a touch surprised, because Pitt-Farquahar went on to explain his position. “Let me give you a personal example,” he said. “I’ve done reasonably well for myself in the City, the boys have gone off to boarding school and my wife Celia is always banging on about de-stressing – birds, flowers, getting a labrador, that sort of thing. Lots of our pals have moved away from the smoke and so this spring we sold up and moved to the Cotswolds.”
“You were down-sizing, then.”
“After a fashion,” said Pitt-Farquahar. “Got a farmhouse, listed, spot of land, that sort of thing and at first, it couldn’t have been better. Sitting on one’s mower, one really did feel in touch with the soil. We thought we’d cracked it, quality of life-wise.”
“What went wrong?”
“Well, I couldn’t believe it, frankly. We had some chums down a few weeks ago and were lunching al fresco, all very
agreeable, when suddenly there was this God-awful clumping noise from a neighbouring field – a bit like a washing machine. ‘What on earth is that?’ Celia asked. ‘I think I’m getting one of my migraines’.”
“A combine harvester?” I asked.
“Not quite, but almost as bad. Apparently in the early summer, farmers don’t mow their fields like the rest of us do with our lawns. They let the grass grow so that it’s impossible to have a decent walk through the fields. Then, just when the weather cheers up, they cut it down, making this most appalling racket.”
I was slightly confused. “But they’re making hay,” I said. “That’s what they do for a living.”
“I buy and sell shares,” said the man from Charm. “That doesn’t mean I have to disturb the neighbours. But worse was to follow. The boys had just come back from school, when suddenly one day, drowning out the sound of the songbirds, there was this extraordinary roaring sound, like a jumbo jet, a couple of fields away. But this didn’t just fly past – the noise goes on all day, all evening, sometimes through the night. One field after another.”
“What did you do?”
“Spoke to the farmer. Man to man. Told him, in very reasonable tones, that we had nothing against this so-called harvesting per se but we just had to lay down some ground rules. There should be no combining outside basic working hours. Frankly it’s not what the country is meant to be all about. We’ve seen the programmes – Midsomer Murders, the little chap Oddie looking for the lesser spotted whatsit – and not once have we heard this deafening sound. D’you know, he laughed? He actually laughed.”
“But if there were no har- vest, there would be no bread.”
“Charm is totally in favour of local produce but one has to strike a balance My wife has a splitting headache. That’s not right in the heart of the countryside. She says that she’d prefer to sleep on a traffic island on the Old Brompton Road.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
“Get Hilary Benn down here to hear the problem for himself. Campaign for a change in harvesting practice. If they did it during term-time it would be far better for the community. So are you with us?”
“I’ll try to give you the publicity you deserve.”
“Good man. It’s about noise pollution, basic human rights. We country folk are people too, you know.