Farm folk have reason to leave the bunny hugging to townies

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The Independent Online

With the countryside so much in the news you need a reliable guide to the issues. It is important that you know, despite my metropolitan sheen, that I have been there myself, a member of that hidden sodality. A country person. We lived a parallel existence to the normal bourgeois world, invisible to it. When country people complain that they are not understood by the town, it is impossible to disagree.

With the countryside so much in the news you need a reliable guide to the issues. It is important that you know, despite my metropolitan sheen, that I have been there myself, a member of that hidden sodality. A country person. We lived a parallel existence to the normal bourgeois world, invisible to it. When country people complain that they are not understood by the town, it is impossible to disagree.

I had a farm in Arrfricarr. It's what I say to myself now, on melancholy afternoons in my long, thin, suburban garden with the autumn pressing on into the shortening days. If you insist on the details, the farm was in New Zealand but there's a music in the word "Africa" that "New Zealand" lacks.

It was 200 acres of heaven to which I had no right, being neither a New Zealander nor a farmer. We lived there or thereabouts for four years. The seasons changed. The herds grew. The eternal realities of the country revealed themselves, the principal one being the mockery of your observers.

If you are from the town, if you are English and from the town, if you are English and from the town and don't keep your engines properly lubricated with the right sort of oil, if you are English and so forth and don't know the difference between a two-tooth and eye dog – you are a natural source of entertainment. This is as it should be, I don't know why.

But it's worthwhile because you find out all about birth and death and the mess of life in these places called farms. The brutality of daily existence is astonishing. Horses are sent to the slaughterhouse simply because they get old and useless. Sheep have their throats cut to feed the rest of them to the dogs. Once a year, everything is sent off to the works and killed (be careful you don't get bundled into the wrong truck, not if you're English and from the town).

The people, rather magnificently in my view, treat themselves no more easily. Farmers break their legs out there in the fields and walk home without complaining. One of my acquaintances had a heart attack at midnight but waited until morning to phone the hospital (he didn't want to be a nuisance). A neighbour, very close to death after his four-wheeler rolled over him, closed all the gates behind him on his four-mile trip back to the main road.

This isn't how people behave in Kingston Road. No, here in the suburbs we benefit from the slaughter (usually in the form of lamb chops) without blooding ourselves.

So it's clear to me that farmers, indeed landowners generally, are formed by forces different from those that form gardeners.

For instance, hares are interesting and likeable creatures to many of us, but they are hunted in New Zealand by red coats on horseback. When the hare is caught it is torn to pieces. I went to half a dozen hunts and never saw this happening, but that is the principle of the thing. The cute little hoppity things are hunted to death.

And if you have been planting trees you are likely to agree thoroughly with the process. You are a hunt supporter. You want to kill all hares. You have ceased to hug bunnies because they've insulted you and attacked your living landscape, your anti-erosion programme, your carbon-eating contribution to global cooling. Because there is some drive in the hare, some instinct, some genetic compulsion that makes him chop young trees down. Why? It can't be malice. They are hares, not journalists. Maybe they feel some ancient, ancestral threat from forests. But we're talking about seedlings six inches high. Hundreds of them. Oaks. Beeches. A few pines. Gone, all gone.

They take a lot of planting these things. Days together bent over a spade under a brilliant midwinter sky. And you return the following morning to check on them – and they've been chopped – a diagonal, 45-degree slice has felled every one of them (the hare has hare-shaped teeth).

Who knows what you would feel about foxes if you came across the eviscerated ball of wool and tendons that make up the remains of a fox attack? Town people can't even really guess at it.

The male organism: redundant, but fun

Things are bad for men but we didn't know how bad until last week. We're not just useless, smelly, human litter that clogs up the house. Our problems are even more fundamental. Essentially, we've come to the end of our evolutionary history, Steve Jones tells us in his new, uniquely depressing book ( Y: The Descent of Man).

We, or at least our defining chromosome, are now described as parasitic. The Y chromosome is the most decayed, redundant and parasitic chromosome of them all, he tells us. As if we hadn't enough to cope with. Sperm counts are down all through Europe, in some places they can be reckoned on the fingers of one hand. And indeed are counted on the fingers of one hand. Men are in retreat on every front. Society has been so feminised that boys can't thrive in it any more. Now we're told that our male chromosome "has only 20 genes on it, most of which are employed in keeping the cell it is in alive."

Perhaps the human race will return to a hermaphroditic, frog-like condition. As we were told in Jurassic Park, when there are no male frogs around, female frogs simply inseminate themselves in some disgusting manner too horrible to go into. "Life finds a way," the scientist so wisely said.

Evolutionary biology tells us that life was originally sexless. There are those who want to call that essentially female. It doesn't sound very nice but there it is. For billions of years things multiplied by dividing (an early paradox). Suddenly, a first organism split asymmetrically and spent the rest of its life trying to recover its lost identity. Or missing bits. Or missing parts, to put it more delicately.

Whether that first male was able to go looking for what he'd lost in all other "female" organisms, or whether he could only return to his one, original, personal origin is a question that would wait two billion years for Sigmund Freud to work out.

The never-ending search produced an awful lot of poetry over the years.

Biological theory tells us (I'm assuming you're a man) that the male was a mutation from the basic model, an evolutionary leap forward. The same theory tells angry women that the first male organism was a rogue abnormality, a deformity which led to distress, disease and early death.

Both of us can agree that sexual reproduction was a way of creating variety. It added interest to life. It gave us a chase, a quest, a purpose: to find our other half. What else would we all do? Float around humming some amoebic pop song in a welter of togetherness?

On this basis, that is what males can still give the world. We may be useless at course work, we may be inarticulate and indolent and incapable of compromise, we may have more accidents, and die early and we may the source of torment and oppression on a global scale, but we're just more fun than women. And that is why, against their better judgement, they still put up with us.

Two parents are twice as good as one

Civitas, a think-tank, has analysed 100 pieces of field research conducted over the past 20 years and has concluded that children from two-parent families are healthier, happier, more successful, less prone to accidents and illness, and less likely to become drug addicts or criminals. These findings go right across class and income levels. Single parenthood is an indicator for drunkenness, depression and unsafe sex.

Is it true? I'm a single parent myself and would never offer myself up for this sort of research. I will admit to two out of three and let it lie there.

But remember: all research has opposite research. The National Council for One Parent Families denies that one-parent children are any less healthy and happy.

When I look at my happy, healthy boys I'm pretty sure that both of them would have been healthier and happier to have been brought up in a household with both of their parents. They're healthy enough, but they would have been healthier. Happy? Of course, but they would have been happier. There are signs of neglect you could identify in the little one's manicure at the very least. His schoolwork wouldn't have suffered so much had there been two of us to surround him.

Mothers have an infinite store of caresses that fathers seem to lack; fathers throw children into trees in a way that causes mothers distress. Two parents provide the variety, the angles, the different role models.

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