Alex James: Thieves will take anything – even sheep

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

"See, the truck's got really high sides," said Charlie as they drove off. "It's so you can't see what's in the back." I couldn't. Might have been anything in there: a sheep, a tree, a car, a chicken hut – goodness knows.

A quite unusual-looking vehicle, full of quite unusual-looking men, had pulled into the yard. One of the men looked at me. With my eyebrows raised, and slowly nodding and smiling, I looked right back at him, long and hard, taking the full measure of him, carefully memorising his face.

The other two guys' eyes were darting everywhere, and even as Charlie gave them the brush-off, the driver was craning his neck around to see what he could see.

Rogues come round occasionally, asking for scrap metal. They're actually casing the joint: if there's no one around, they'll help themselves to whatever's lying around. Sometimes, if they see something they want, they'll come back at night. Two diggers have been stolen from neighbouring farms in the past couple of weeks. About this time last year we had four sheep go missing – sheep, for goodness' sake.

Word soon gets around of their presence, however. I'd already had the drum from two separate sources before the truck showed up. The au pair looked terrified when I asked her to park her car across the farm entrance when she returned from yoga, but I don't think there's anything to fear. At worst the pilfering is annoying, I told her.

As I was doing my best to secure everything, I realised that it was an impossible task and it suddenly struck me as quite amazing how little does get stolen from farmland. It's not really protected in the way that houses are, by security systems, dogs, residents.

I suppose anybody who is so minded could just tuck into anything – from livestock to plants, iron gates to dry-stone walls. It goes to show just how much the entire countryside runs on trust and honour. A very fragile and wonderful arrangement.

Blades and grass

The man who came to fix the lawnmower said that it was a design fault with these particular machines that sometimes the blades have to be taken off, filed down and put back on again. "Design fault?" I said, "We've used it once and it's broken." Then he started talking about different kinds of grass, but I wasn't listening. I was thinking that sometimes the thing you think is going to solve your problems just brings you even more problems. It broke again this week: blockages in the fuel line. I suppose grass was designed to be long and that's that.

It's a proper mad May

I drove through the heaviest rain I've ever seen, anywhere, on my way home last week. It was like the end of the world. The M40 was almost at standstill. Then an hour later we were in brilliant sunshine, everything sparkling and springing: the whole thing like a bright jewel with a million moving parts. One minute Fred is getting sunburn, the next pneumonia. "It's a proper mad May," he said, bending down to pinch a particularly bouncy lamb. True.