Davidson Fellows – 2009

17 August, 2009

davidson fellows

Over in the USA, Bob and Jan Davidson have been awarding substantial scholarships to enormously talented teenagers since 1999, in order to support and encourage them in the pursuit of academic and/or musical excellence.

These young people are truly amazing, and I’m always staggered and humbled to read about what they’ve been up to. Take a look at what this year’s batch have been doing!

Davidson Fellows 2009 — Press Release

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Cumbrian woman awarded over £250k for trampling by cows

16 August, 2009
Cows blocking public footpath on Dales Way

Cows blocking public footpath on Dales Way

Scanning through some websites earlier today, I was delighted to see that a woman has been awarded an interim payment of £250k for massive injuries she sustained in 2003, when she was trampled almost to death by a herd of cows in a field near her home in Penrith. I hope this will cause the farming community, and walkers’ representative bodies, to take a long, hard look at the very real dangers to walkers–either with or without dogs–presented by cows–either with or without calves–in fields containing public footpaths.

There’s an article in the North-West Evening Mail here, and another from The Telegraph here.

Miss McKaskie, who had been walking with her dog on a public footpath, was tossed around by a herd of Simmental-cross cows, each of which apparently weighs approximately half a tonne. She needed emergency brain surgery, and was also left with a broken arm and ribs.

A judge at Preston County Court found that the farmer had been negligent in failing to erect any sort of warning to walkers to alert them that the field contained cows with calves. It was also found that he’d failed to mark the line of the footpath, making it difficult for walkers to know precisely where to go. The report states that the farmer is planning an appeal.

It’s important to note that this decision doesn’t establish that farmers mustn’t graze cows in fields through which public footpaths pass. Clearly farmers have a living to make, and their livestock must have somewhere to graze. What it does recognise, though, is that cows with calves do represent a danger to walkers, and that farmers therefore have a duty to take reasonable care for the safety of members of the public passing legitimately across land on which they’ve chosen to graze their stock. According to the report the judge concluded that the farmer could reasonably have been expected to post a warning, and in failing to do so he acted negligently, as a result of which Miss McKaskie suffered devastating injuries.

I’d be very interested to see a copy of the whole judgement, because it’s not clear from the reports referenced above precisely how Miss McKaskie’s case was put. The North West Evening Mail report states that the judge concluded that a warning should have been given, but I’d love to know whether it was suggested that the farmer should actually have gone even further than that: for instance, by fencing off a narrow path around the edge of the field, or even in choosing to put the cattle in a different field if, in fact, he had such a field available. Had I been arguing the case (in my former life as a lawyer) then those are arguments I’d certainly have considered raising.

If the case does get to the Court of Appeal then it’ll be very interesting to see what the judges there make of it. For what it’s worth, it does seem crystal clear to me as a matter of the simplest common sense that cows represent a significant hazard, and that farmers owe a duty of care to those traversing public footpaths across their land.

What a farmer needs to do in order to discharge that duty of care should depend upon all the circumstances of the particular case, including such factors as the availabiity of alternative fields for grazing, the ease with which it would be possible to fence off part of the field through which the footpath passes, and the cost involved in doing so, and the degree of risk presented by the livestock in question. At the very least, it seems to me that clear warnings should be posted at entry points when cows are present in fields, and taken down when the cows have been moved. This sort of thing…

Old and redundant sign

Old and redundant sign

…doesn’t cut the mustard. There were no cows in that field, and nor were there last time I saw it. If signs aren’t current then people will naturally learn not to rely upon them.

As walkers, I feel that we should all be breathing just a little easier if this judgement stands, because finally it’s going to be necessary for some thought to be given to how best to strike the necessary compromise between the rights and needs of farmers and those of walkers on public footpaths. Sad, isn’t it–albeit predictable–that it’s likely to be significant financial damage to an insurance company that finally kicks this debate into gear, rather than the regular deaths and injuries caused by cows to walkers on public footpaths?

Anyway… this whole issue of public footpaths running through fields containing cows is something I’ve been concerned about for years, now. My mother, who was brought up on farms in Ireland, taught me as a toddler not to be afraid of cows, but as I grew older and started walking alone I realised that had been bad advice. (I now wonder whether she was trying to get me killed…) Indeed, a few years ago one of my cousins took me through a field in Ireland containing a group of bullocks, and when we got back to the house his father (i.e. my uncle–a dairy farmer) was very annoyed with him, pointing out that they’re bloody dangerous.

Lots of the reports that get into the papers concerning walkers chased by cows refer to the presence of dogs, but it’s not necessary for dogs to be present for cows to constitute a menace. I’ve been threatened and/or chased by bullocks on a number of occasions, and these days I’m very reluctant indeed to pass them in the same field. I’ve taken many detours involving a lot of barbed wire and precipitous ascents/descents of rickety fences and dry-stone walls over the years. It’s all very well for people to say bullocks are simply curious, but their motivation is largely irrelevant when they weigh as much as a small car.

Cow-confident people also say that it’s easy to move them on by waving a stick and/or shouting and/or assuming a confident and commanding demeanour and/or mouthing warm endearments like “Cush cush, Daisy m’dear!”, but I’ve found that none of those tactics works with determined knots of malignant bullocks. Maybe they detect my fear, but that’s not something I can do anything about. Those pesky little fear pheromones are impossible to control.

On the Dales Way last week I was very anxious about encountering cows, because for the first time I was going to be walking with a dog. I read up on all the dog v. cow advice I could find before I collected my puppy in January, so I knew that The Word is to let the dog off the lead if cows become aggressive and start to approach.

The first cows we encountered were hanging around in fields just outside Grassington. I was very nervous, and I decided to pick Piglet up and tuck her under my arm, in the hope that the cows mightn’t spot her, or might possibly imagine that she was just some sort of semi-animated furry handbag. I also unfastened her lead in case I needed to put her down in a hurry–the dog walkers’ equivalent of undoing the backpack waistbelt when crossing a fast-moving stream, perhaps. Anyway, the cows watched as we passed through the field but didn’t grow agitated, or attempt to follow us. Save for the fact that my heart-rate rose to a dangerously high tempo, no damage was done.

That’s how it was all the way through Yorkshire, in fact. When we did have to walk through fields of cows they showed little or no interest in us. There was a potentially nasty moment when a ram out walking with his ewe decided to try to butt Piglet, but I was quite glad of that as a warning to Piglet not to assume that all sheep are cuddly and taste of gravy bones.

The problems began for us when we left Sedbergh and set off towards the M6. In a field near Beck Foot (the GR was approximately SD 611 962) we encountered bullocks. Once again I was anxious, but I reminded myself that we’d survived all previous encounters and set off cautiously into the field, Piglet tucked under my right arm and unclipped from her lead, just in case.

The bullocks were about 100 metres in front of us initially, and spread around a bit, so that it wasn’t possible to take either a higher or lower line through the field to avoid them. When we got to about 20 feet away a group of 5 or 6 suddenly began to walk quickly towards us. I tried to look commanding and stare them down, but that didn’t work. I shouted, and although they stopped for a couple of seconds they then came on.

By that time they were only about 10 feet away. The ground was sloping and uneven, and the bullocks formed a very threatening semi-circle to my left. I was frankly very frightened indeed, and Piglet was completely silent under my right arm. I didn’t want to move too suddenly in case I precipitated a charge, but at the same time it was clear that the bullocks weren’t going to lose interest and drift away.

I spent a minute that felt more like an hour yelling at the cows, while with my left hand I frantically struggled to get one of my walking poles out of the elastic fastenings attaching it to my Exos rucksack. Having finally managed to get the pole lose, I somehow managed to extend it, and began to wave it towards the bullocks. They didn’t back off at all, though. In fact they continued to creep closer all the time, in small lurching movements, as long as I wasn’t actively screaming at them or waving the stick. Each time I tried to move forwards they came closer, and so eventually I began to back away along the path. At that point they stopped following me, and I was finally able to escape with Piglet into the next field.

When I put Piglet down she was cowering and scared–hardly surprising, what with all the yelling, let alone the bullocks–and I had to give her a biscuit to perk her up a bit. I’d have preferred a Valium myself, but unfortunately I didn’t have any with me. When we’d both recovered our breath we retraced our steps to Beck Foot and followed the road to the point at which we were able to cross the M6.

Bullocks blocking the Dales Way last week

Bullocks blocking the Dales Way last week

(I took the picture once I’d escaped, by the way, and from a distance.)

I’d thought that maybe we’d just been unlucky, but that wasn’t the end of it. A little later in the day we were crossing fields near Holme Park Farm when we encountered the bullocks pictured at the top of this posting. They weren’t immediately visible, in fact. I’d decided (thank God!) to stop for a wee cigarette break at the stile, and it was as I was sitting there gazing out at the field in front of me that I was almost frightened out of my skin by the sound of galloping hooves behind me. When I got up and turned round a bullock had rushed across to the stile, and it was soon joined by two of its pals.

Bullocks blocking access to public footpath again last week

Bullocks blocking access to public footpath again last week

The reason we’d stopped for a break, incidentally, was that Piglet and I had been attacked only about ten minutes earlier by a collie and two huge Alsation dogs, who came rushing out of the yard at Holme Park Farm onto the public road and began to bark frantically. One jumped up at me while the other went for Piglet, who cried out in fright since she was trapped on her lead. Fortunately the farmer heard the commotion and came out to get them. As he was leading them away he told me that this had happened because a cyclist using the public footpath that runs through the farmyard had once kicked one of the Alsations. I wonder why on earth that can possibly have happened!…

Anyway, it was quite obviously not safe to try to continue into the field, and so once again Piglet and I had to go back and take a detour round the road. For reasons that are probably obvious I didn’t want to go back through the farmyard with the bunch of savage dogs, and so we skirted up the side of the field to a point where I was able to climb over a fence. The bullocks followed us all the way, snorting and stamping up and down in the muddy grass as Piglet and I negotiated yet another batch of barbed wire to escape out onto the road. By that stage what was left of my wits almost entirely deserted me, and I managed to get us both comprehensively lost. That’s another story, though…

We did have to pass through another two fields of cows the following day. When I saw them I thought seriously about taking the road to Kendal and getting an early train home, but I decided to give it just one last try. Once again I was very scared, but on that occasion the cows left us both alone. If I ever do the Dales Way again, though, I’ll definitely be finishing in Sedbergh. I can hardly think of a less impressive introduction to Lakeland than the one that Piglet and I had last Thursday. If I’d not walked there almost all my life I’m pretty sure I’d not have wanted to go back.

I thought quite a lot about this whole cow v. walker issue as I was walking, and it seems to me that the only really safe solution is for farmers to be provided with grants to fence off a narrow track around the edge of grazing fields so that walkers–and, if necessary, dogs–can pass safely through. We did actually pass through several fields with that arrangement earlier in the walk, and it worked well. Finance is always an issue, of course, but even if it’s not feasible to protect all public rights of way in that manner then surely it should be possible at least to cover the National Trails.

In the meantime, I wish the very best of luck to Shirley McKaskie in recovering her damages, and from her injuries. She must have been very seriously injured indeed to have been awarded an interim payment of £250k, and as I read through the reports this morning, and also those relating to the recent trampling to death of vet Liz Crowsley, and Graham Dugdale‘s letter in the Lancaster Guardian about his own recent very narrow escape, I really was thinking that any one of those reports could very easily have been talking about me. Or then again, it could have been you.

Edited to say: sadly, I read today of the death this week of Harold Lee, trampled to death by his own herd of cows which had been startled by a fire engine. See here for the BBC report.

Some advice from The Ramblers

HSE Information Sheet for farmers


Help! Name this tune…?

16 August, 2009

aaagh

This is driving me mad!

I heard a pop tune from (I think) the 80s when I was in the farm shop yesterday, and I can’t get it out of my mind. I can’t remember what it is, though. A young woman was singing it, and the tune to the chorus goes as follows. Sorry for the naff rendition, but I couldn’t think of another way to get it across. It’s a very upbeat sort of thing: fast, catchy, infuriating… *g*

Click here for MIDI rendition of the chorus

PROBLEM RESOLVED! Eternal and undying gratitude to Gayle for identifying it for me ♥ It was Rush Hour by Jane Wiedlin 🙂


The Dales Way

16 August, 2009
Wee Piglet

Wee Piglet

Piglet and I walked the Dales Way last week, and got back late on Friday night.

I’ve been before, but this was Piglet’s first long walk and she was an absolute star, camping happily in a tent and walking mile after mile on her tiny wee paws. She slept like a log at night, and developed a love of rivers during the day. She learned to climb the stone stiles all on her own, though she needs a lift over the wooden ladder ones. She met, and was terrified by, her first hedgehog, and was roundly told off for attempting to chase a sheep (despite her lead). Unfortunately, she also developed a habit of barking at distant dogs and walkers! She was mugged by adoring children in Kettlewell, and bore their cuddles and stroking with a patience that amazed me. She was a little reluctant to leave the tent in the morning, and tried to run into every open doorway we passed along the way, but the sight of her sprinting up and down the river banks and rolling in grassy fields on the odd occasions when I was able to let her off her lead brought joy to my heart and a wee tear to my eye ♥

Wee dog meets hedgehog!

Wee dog meets hedgehog!

Oooh!

Oooh!

Arriving in Sedbergh

Arriving in Sedbergh

Sleepy doglet in little coat

Sleepy doglet in little coat

Piglet with piglet

Piglet with piglet

In Appletreewick

In Appletreewick

Wet but triumphant!

Wet but triumphant!

I have no idea why the walk doesn’t finish in Sedbergh. I realise that even Sedbergh is actually Cumbria, rather than Yorkshire, but at least it forms a natural finishing point and has transport home. The stretch from Sedbergh to Bowness is pretty, of course, but it’s no part of the Yorkshire Dales. Besides… it’s full of malignant bullocks, and the bit just after the M6 is a bit of nightmare because sombody’s taken down a lot of the signs, which makes it very easy to get lost. What with being lost due to missing signs, and having to take detours to avoid savage cows, and being terrorised by 2 Alsations and a collie, the last couple of days were almost no fun at all. If I do the walk again–and I probably will, at some stage–I’ll finish at Sedbergh.

Having mummy love

Having mummy love

This tune has nothing to do with the Dales Way, but it’s here because it’s beautiful and I haven’t heard it since I was at Uni, a thousand years ago…


Test Card music!

16 August, 2009
The Original Test Card

The Original Test Card

Wow! I was remembering yesterday evening how I used to dance to the music which accompanied the BBC television Test Card when I was a tot back in the 1960s. I loved the music, but I’d resigned myself to never hearing most of it again since I’ve only been able to identify one tune, and all this time later I’ve forgotten how the other ones went.

A quick rootle in Google this morning, though, has revealed that there are other Test Card music enthusiasts, and that there’s even a club! How extremely exciting 🙂 I’m off to see if I can find some more of the tunes to listen to right now. How truly fantastic it is that the internet is able to reunite us with so much beloved stuff from our childhood.

If I recognise any of the others when I find them I’ll post them in here.

A little later: it turns out that somebody called cwilliams1976 over on YouTube has posted just about every single Test Card tape that the BBC ever broadcast! Phenomenal! What a star 🙂



Tunes for today :)

15 August, 2009

I once listened to this tune repeatedly all the way to a meeting of the people I worked with in Manchester, and then said a whole load of things everybody was thinking but nobody else was willing to say in public. Some of them never forgave me. Music! It’s inspiring, dangerous stuff 🙂

This one, on the other hand, I first heard on Wogan way back in something like 1987, only a few months into working at the place I mentioned above. I was utterly transfixed by the beauty of the harmonies and the tune, and spent the whole of the following day on the phone to the BBC and record companies desperately trying to find out where I could get a recording. In the end–and amazingly–it turned out that a dusty little record and tape cassette shop (this was in the days before CDs) at the other end of Deansgate actually had a copy of the album! I almost cried when the proprietor put the cassette in my hand. To this day this recording brings a lump to my throat, and the cassette remains one of my most treasured possessions. I can sing along with it phonetically, although I have no idea what the words mean. Please have a listen to the Trio Bulgarka – it’s phenomenal stuff!

ZOMG, I can’t BELIEVE I’ve found this one on YouTube! This is Elizabethan Serenade by Binge, and I used to pass the time by dancing to this as a tiny, 5 year old child when they played it on BBC television to accompany the Test Card, back in the 1960s!!! Does anyone else remember the Test Card? I used to listen to it all the time as a wee sprog. I never forgot this tune, and when I grew up I searched until I tracked it down and identified it. It’s one of the most beloved tunes of my entire life. And I simply can’t believe I’ve found it on YouTube ♥ ♥ ♥