Friday, 8 July 2011

Mad Cows and Englishmen.

Back in the UK the big local news concerns the cows on Petersham Meadow who are now under the management of our National Trust friends at Ham House. Earlier in the year the herd were attacked by a pit bull and although none were killed it put them under a great deal of unnecessary stress and prompted a fair amount of erratic behaviour. Based on the advice of the herdsman Gary and his team decided to remove the cows from the meadow until they calmed down a little and it's this act of apparent cultural sabotage has caused an uproar amongst the locals. In the end a compromise electric fence has been temporarily erected and the cows have stayed put.

This evening a public meeting in Petersham village hall, packed to the rafters with righteous indignation from the political correctness gone mad brigade. Fearing the worst for Gary, we went along to try and offer some support. The meeting was chaired by local councilors who've been quick to jump on the bandwagon and demand the fence be removed.

What we saw was an incredible display of arrogant localism as a string of villagers stood up to remind us of the history of the cows - painted by Turner no less - the nanny state, the insufficient signage, the value of common sense, the threat of health and safety legislation, the take over of the National Trust by woolly do gooding liberals and the collapse of civilisation itself.
Poor Gary battled in vain with a rather limp PowerPoint - including pictures of people who've been gored by stampeding cattle - and a refuted offer that we all brainstorm alternative ideas on large sheets of sugar paper around the room. A suggestion which was met with:-

'I don't want to make this personal but by God you're pushing me damn close!' by one enraged and ruddy resident.

In the end the mauling achieved little. Although the locals did go home with, what I presume for them is, the satisfying taste of blood in the mouths. The smug councillors were applauded for their public service and we took Gary and head gardener Sandra off to The New Inn to lick their wounds.

I wonder if this is the Big Society in action. The hall was filled mostly with elderly professionals, none of whom work in heritage or conservation, but all of whom seemed to want to tell the Trust how to do their job. I was struck that nobody with a young family - who might be grateful that the meadow remains a safe place for children - was in attendance nor was anybody really interested in Gary's strategy to reintroduce the cows and remove the fence. The politicians skillfully wound up the mob and let them loose. Of course any decision that affects a community deserves scrutiny but it's a big worry that as we de professionalise public service work more and more it'll be the easily outraged with time on their hands who set the agenda and force decisions.

It was very ugly.

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