Farming, you might have thought,
is not a subject which is likely to grip the imagination of those who don’t
farm. The myriad little idiosyncrasies of sheep, cows and
sows are, you might suppose, of strictly limited interest
to anyone who is not obliged to clear up the mess after
Why have I got a picture
of two cooch dancers in the column this month? And
what is a cooch dancer
anyway? One of the answers to these questions will
be revealed if you keep reading; the other may,
perhaps, be lurking somewhere on the Carnivale
web site (or, if not, try HERE).
In any case, from the site you can email the picture
above to a friend or colleague - so it has to be
worth a visit, hasn't it...?
On the other hand, catastrophic storms
that sweep across the landscape blowing away houses, toppling
trucks and raising huge dust storms which turn daytime
into night – well,
these, I’m sure you will agree, sounds a lot more
interesting. It’s the stuff of Hollywood films and
Stephen King novels. Towns swept away, entire populations
on the move across vast, desert landscapes, beneath a relentless,
baking sun – and at their back, a huge and devastating
wall of red dust relentlessly pursuing them.
But it isn’t fiction. If you’ve read John
Steinbeck’s Grapes Of Wrath or seen the film of the
book, you may recognise the scenario. Back in the 1930s,
huge areas of the United States were transformed into a
dustbowl where no water flowed and few plants grew. Terrifying
dust storms swept across Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and
Texas, blotting out the sun so completely that chickens
roosted at noon.
And what has all this got to do with farming? Well, as
it happens, quite a lot...
All The Fun Of The Fair…
I must admit that I had, until recently, never given any
thought one way or the other to the great ‘Dust
Bowl’ of the 1930s. I had been vaguely aware that
something had happened to spoil the crops and cause a mass
migration of poor farmers to California. But as to its
causes, well, it hadn’t even occurred to me to ask.
Recently, however, I bought a set of DVDs of a television
show called Carnivale. This was purely an impulse purchase.
I was looking for something more interesting to watch than
the mindless pap that passes for entertainment on British
TV these days and I was intrigued by the review on Amazon
UK: “Like a cross between Twin
Peaks and The Grapes
Of Wrath, HBO's acclaimed television drama Carnivale fashions
an allegorical fable about the mythic battle of good and
evil set against the surreal backdrop of a Depression-era
Well, with a description like that, how could I not buy
What a great series it is too! I won’t trouble you
with a blow-by-blow description. Suffice to say, this is
better than anything I’ve seen on UK TV in a very
long time. It also got me wondering about the Dust Bowl.
And that set me searching using Google. And that’s
how I ended up on a site all about farming.
So, you see, there really is more to farming than the
wit and wisdom of sheep.
The causes of the calamitous dust storms appear to be
somewhat complex, involving a combination of poor agricultural
practices, exceptional weather conditions and just plain
bad luck. There are a few internet sites that will give
you some of the background such as Modern American Poetry’s
guide to The
and NASA which
has a good account of the peculiar meteorological conditions
at the time. But my favourite site of all is the one hosted
Wessels Living History Farm of Nebraska.
Now, that's what you call a dust storm! But what, you may
wonder, has it got to do with farming...?
Heck, this is a good site! Yes, I realise it take good
degree of ‘suspension of disbelief’ even to
consider the possibility that a farming site might be worth
a visit, but, bear with me for just a minute. This site
has a terrific section devoted to the Dust
Bowl, with lots
of fascinating video interviews with people who lived through
“It was like a black wall… just like shutting
a barn door. It was that dark,” is how one man describes
a dust storm; “The whole sky in the west, as far
as you – just a black cloud,” says another.
There are photographs too off surreal scenes: the tops
of tractors sticking out of dunes of dust; a dark cliff
face of dust looming over a tiny town. This really makes
you realise to what extent the history of farming is the
history of a nation. What can I say – The Archers
was never like this…
To return to the triviality which so frequently characterises
these ramblings… I have to say that I have been
getting pretty ticked off recently with the number of bits
of software that have taken to inhabiting my PC with the
tenacity of genital lice. Some of these I foolishly invited
in; others turned up unannounced.
In the former category is the Blogger
toolbar which has
attached itself to Word. I admit that I did willingly install
this. It’s supposed to make it easy to write blog
entries in Word and email them direct to your blog. In
fact, I’ve never used it. However, my attempts to
remove, hide or disable it by setting Word options were
fruitless. In the end I had to take the brute-force approach,
using Settings/Control Panel/Add or
Remove Programs and
uninstalling the damn’ thing for good and all (I
Toolbar turned up unexpectedly. I don’t
recall asking it to install itself. It just arrived one
day, docked into Internet Explorer just beneath the Google
Toolbar (one add-in that I actually find sufficiently
useful to keep). The only explanation I can find for the
Yahoo Toolbar’s arrivals is that I joined a Yahoo
group recently. Maybe there was a checkbox on a page somewhere
when I signed up which, unless specifically unchecked,
gave Yahoo the go-ahead to install the thing on my PC?
In future I shall read the small print much more carefully.
Once again, it took a Control Panel uninstall to get rid
Another software download which I chose to install and
which I find occasionally useful is the Google Desktop
Search. This indexes the files on your PC and lets you
search for files containing specific words just as you
can use the online Google to search the internet.
However, it now appears that Google is ‘enhancing’ its
Desktop Search tool
by making it upload copies of your personal data to
the folks at Google. Well, I don’t know if this
is really as bad as it sounds. But when a Google vice president
says that "We
think this will be a very useful tool, but you will have
to give up some of your privacy," my reaction is: “Have to”? Oh no, I rather think not.
When any software company tells you that you ‘have
to’ do something, it’s time to do something
different. Heck, if I just organise my files better I won’t
need to search for stuff anyhow…