Archive for February, 2010

Hair’s apparent

You haven’t been waiting here since Wednesday night to find out who was crowned NFU vice president have you? Oh dear, I should’ve directed you to NayLo’s website – after all, he’s the place for breaking news, hey Kit Papworth?

In case you don’t know, Gwyn Jones got the nod for the job. Gwyn’s a former NFU dairy board chairman and seems like a good chap – whenever I’ve interviewed him I’ve found him clued-up on his subject and passionate about the industry.

While I like him and I think he’ll be great at the job, I was a little surprised he won. He had some stiff competition, and a few farmers I spoke to at the conference had expressed doubts over whether Gwyn would be a good person to stand in front of a camera and promote farming to the public. This wasn’t because he isn’t intelligent or eloquent, but because (and I quote) “his hair quivers in the wind”.

After he’d been voted in, one mean photographer in the press room was overheard lamenting  that he hadn’t brought his wide-angled lens with him to fit the whole of Gwyn’s magnificent mane in shot. Even Gob of the Wash has got in on the act, teasing Gwyn’s peachy ‘do.

It’s got me wondering how important appearances are if you’re trying to get a message across. I think part of Peter Kendall’s success at communicating with the public is because he looks like a normal bloke – he doesn’t really fit the stereotype of a farmer so the public ‘gets’ him. Uncle Meurig always looks dapper in a suit and is quite statesman-like, which gives him an automatic air of authority. There’s nothing about either of them which distracts you when they’re speaking.

Having said that, I like that Gwyn’s got something a bit quirky about him. It’s getting people to talk about him, which can only be a good thing. Would NayLo have blogged about him twice this week if he only had a crew cut? And anyway, if he didn’t have a spectacular hairdo, some meany would only find something else to take the mickey out of…


Bursting with excitement

Oooh the drama – it was just like something from the West Wing.

We followed the ballot boxes to the council room. We stood outside the meeting room’s door to see if we could hear any of the goings on inside. We paced the corridors eagerly waiting for the NFU council member to emerge with the news of who was the union’s new president.

Then I nipped to the toilet and managed to miss everything.

I have a horrible feeling that something very similar happened in a Bridget Jones film. For the record, I’d just like to say I’m not as clueless as her, nor am I wearing giant pants.

Anyway, I managed to keep my legs crossed for the vice president announcement and even won the press room race to be the first to tweet the news *punches air and does little dance* (I realise that’s a sad thing to be excited about, but not seeing daylight for two days does strange things to you…).

In case you missed the news (what do you mean, you don’t spend your entire life watching my Twitter stream?) Peter Kendall and Uncle Meurig have been reappointed as president and deputy.

I think it’s the right move – Peter’s a great face for agriculture, he can speak eloquently and passionately about the industry and gets messages across to the wider public well. Meurig is a good, steady side-kick too – he’s John Prescott to Peter’s Tony Blair (without the philandering and punching of journalists, I hope).

Just the vice post to fill now. I may burst with excitement.


Picking a leader

This must be how catholics felt when they were waiting for the next Pope to be announced after John Paul II popped his clogs.

Not that NFU president Peter Kendall has keeled over or anything, but the union’s AGM is underway, which means in about half an hour the vote to elect a new president will begin.

I won’t go into the whole intricacies of how the voting works – you can read about that here – but we could be in for a long night. NFU conference gossip over the past couple of days suggests Peter is going to keep his title, but the jury’s out over whether Uncle Meurig Raymond will lose his deputy president post to Gwyn ‘the hair’ Jones.

There are so many people going for the vice presidency job that I wouldn’t even like to take a punt. I’m too much of a wimp for that.

I’m not sure how the vote’s going to be announced – I’m hoping there’s going to be some smoke signals coming from the AGM room once the decision’s been made.


Standing by your convictions, even if you’re upstaged by a sausage

Who’d be a politician, eh?

Day one of the NFU conference in Birmingham and DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn is welcomed to the stage. From the off Hils looked like he knew he was going to be in for a hard time, so he switched on the charm. He said farmers had done a super job in looking after the environment and insisted it was farmers’ clever ideas which had shaped agricultural policy.

He made it through his speech in one piece and even got a smattering of applause, but then the audience questions started. I’ve heard his response to criticism of his bovine TB policy so many times I can recite it in my sleep. But this time he seemed a bit sharper in his defence – he quickly slipped from charmer to politician mode as he picked apart one farmer’s claims about TB eradication and left the poor chap fumbling for words and red in the face.

Hils must know he’s lost the vote of farmers. This was no doubt the last time he’ll address the NFU conference and he’s probably in the twilight of his DEFRA career before he’s shuffled elsewhere post-general election. But he clearly thinks he made a right and balanced decision. He could’ve just stuck to being charming in an attempt to win round a few voters, but he wanted to argue his case to show he hadn’t just taken the easy route during his time at DEFRA and pandered to the public. Whether I agree with him on TB or not, I think better of him for it.

If the response to the speakers who followed Hils is anything to go by though, I can make a pretty good guess of who’s going to come out on top at the general election.

Shadow farm minister Nick Herbert’s crappy opening joke actually got laughed at, while his speech was twice interrupted with applause.

Meanwhile during his speech, poor old Tim Farron from the Lib Dems got upstaged in the press room by some idle chat over a few sandwiches and sausages on sticks:


Reasons not to be healthy

I’m at the Hilton hotel in Birmingham at the moment for the NFU conference. It’s the third time I’ve been to it and I’m wondering if this year is proof I’ve finally made it in the world.

For the first time ever my hotel room is actually in the main hotel block, is bigger than a postage stamp and is overlooking the car park (I realise this doesn’t sound exciting, but compared to previous views, it’s amazing).

car park

Unfortunately, being in the main block means to get to the hotel’s gym you have to cross the main foyer and walk right past the bar. I didn’t realise this until I had got downstairs, clad entirely in Lycra, looking like a cross between Rosemary Connelly and Vanessa Feltz.

Sadly, despite attempts at stealth, I timed my dash across the reception area with the arrival of a busload of NFU members from Wales. My efforts at dashing were obviously pretty rubbish too – I was still in earshot when the sniggering started.


Normal service resumes

The problem with being a journalist in a modern newsroom is that it’s very rare you can switch off and collect your thoughts.

I had a tough week last week, hence my almost-silence in the outside world. It was hard enough trying to pull my brain together to write articles for FW, let alone making any attempt to be entertaining or amusing on here or on Twitter or anywhere else.

The whole 24-hour news culture, coupled with ever-stretched editorial teams, makes it very difficult to have an off-day.

In the same way, it’s sometimes difficult to take the time to really think about articles and angles for stories before the next deadline has hurtled past.

Taking the time to think about how I go about my job is one of the reasons I applied for a Nuffield Scholarship in the first place.

I’m off to Washington at the end of next week for the start of my Nuffield adventure, so hopefully I’ll come back from there full of beans and fresh ideas. At the moment the thought of an eight-hour flight filled with trashy films seems like bliss.


It’th all in a name

When I was very titchy, I used to have a lisp. With a surname like Stocks, my parents rightly recognised such a speech impediment would result in much teasing at school and eventually put me off ever speaking aloud.

To encourage/bribe me to keep my tongue from flapping out of my mouth whenever I said a word with an ‘s’ in it, my mum and dad promised me a pet if I managed to speak lisplessly.

The test was to be able to say ‘Santa likes sizzling sausages, especially on toast’, and I practiced for hours until I got it right and was taken to pick out two gerbils.

Being five and not really aware of lisp-based irony, I decided to call my new little friend Snowy. Here’s a pic of me, Sissy Joanne and the gerbils (yes, that is a satin top Joanne’s wearing and no, I haven’t looked as sinister since):

Joanne, Caroline and gerbils

Partly in protest of being squeezed so hard her little eyes bulged but largely, no doubt, because I’d bestowed such a crap name upon her, moments after this photo was taken Snowy bit my finger.

I’m not sure how something so tiny managed to draw so much blood from my hand, but it did – and I never dared go near Snowy or her sister, Honey (Joanne had even worst taste in names than I did), ever again.

Call me a susperstitious fruitcake, but my gerbil experience has taught me that picking a name – whether for a pet, a blog or a business – is incredibly important (as I’m sure Mrs Wiggly Wigglers would tell you). So for that reason, I am turning to you to help me pick the name of the latest addition to my household (he’s not dead, he’s just sleeping. Honest):


Previous residents of the tank have been named Henry, Seigfried and Ezra, and his current tankmate is called Arlo, so bear in mind I don’t go for soppy names like Goldie, Chips or Flipper.

It’s over to you…


Health tips from cows

So, did you spend your Friday afternoon being massaged with horse cream by a man with a tiny beard and an American accent as good as Matthew Naylor’s? You did? Why what a coincidence – me too.

It may not have been the most conventional of physio sessions, but it turns out that the same liniment used on ponies, when mashed vigorously into your back and shoulders, is bloomin’ great for sore muscles.

Admittedly I was slightly concerned by Mr Physio’s technique, but after checking out his methods with my farming chums on Twitter, it seems I’ve been the only one foolishly missing out on this wonder cure. Apparently though, it’s not just the horsey stuff that’s good – I should be going for the stuff that dairy farmers rub on sore cow udders.

The very wonderful DiggerEd (my new hero) is popping some in the post for me so I can give it a whirl next week. So I’m just letting you all know now – yes, it’ll be me that’s making Farmers Weekly Towers smell minty-fresh, and no, I don’t have mastitis.


Video thrilled the television star

Minutes after I’d finished recording this week’s Farmers Weekly noos revoo this morning, I went to an excellently-timed company workshop on how to be a better video presenter.

The session was run by one of the stars of a rather popular 1980s TV show (as I’m about to mock him a little, I won’t reveal his name. Sorry if I seem unfair, but That’s Life).

Having been ribbed mercilessly (sorry, constructively criticised) about my video appearances, I wish I’d sat in on a session like this when I first started doing the revoos.

He had some tips that are worth remembering if you ever have the misfortune of appearing in front of camera – the most obvious but useful of which were remembering to keep a good posture and taking deep breaths to keep your voice steady and clear.

He also said you shouldn’t be afraid of stopping an interview to record part of it again if you don’t think you answered the question in the way you meant to.  Of course, you can only do that when it’s not live, eh Prezza?

Mr Video Workshop Presenter had some helpful suggestions, but he just couldn’t stop himself from illustrating his points with a spot of name dropping from his 80s hey days. Dr Miriam Stoppard anecdote anyone? A quip about Esther Rantzen? No? Hmm, thought not.

I’ll be trying out some of the things I learned on next week’s noos revoo anyway. Though rest assured I won’t be getting a bad perm, wearing shoulder pads or hunting out Alsatians with party tricks…


Spilling the beans on badgers

I went to a media briefing at the Science and Media Centre in London on Monday, but I wasn’t allowed to tell you about because it was under embargo (which means I would’ve been chased by angry scientists with clip boards had I spilled the beans).

Anyway, the boffins had called us there to talk about their latest study on whether culling badgers is any good for cutting TB in cattle. There were journalists there from the specialist press (i.e. me) as well as hacks from the nationals, including the Times, the Guardian and the D*ily M*il.

I have a pretty good grasp of the subject, but it was obvious that I was one of the few journalists in the room who had ever written an agricultural story, let alone one about cows and TB. So today when the stories were published I was intrigued about how much the reporters had really grasped, or how differently the story would be reported.

The M*il proved me wrong by not writing a story about immigrant, single-parent badger families being responsible for spreading TB and for the death of Princess Diana (in fact, they proved me completely wrong by not covering the story at all online).

The biggest surprise was the Guarniad, who decided to lead with the headline that badger culling doesn’t stop the spread of TB.

I wouldn’t like to brag about whose article is right or wrong, but here’s my version. Not a single-parent badger in sight or anything.

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