Friday, 18 October 2013

Strike Wake

A Letter to the Secretary of State for Education

Dear Mr Gove,

Recently (I hope you don’t mind me saying) you seem to have come up against quite substantial criticism for your efforts and I couldn’t help but notice you looking somewhat down in the mouth. It wasn’t long ago that you were likened to various Mr Men characters was it? It can’t be nice to be compared to Mr Grumpy. So, I thought that in this current turbulent climate, I would write a story to cheer you up. I hope you like it. Please excuse any grammatical inaccuracies; if I falter, I obviously weren’t taught proper.

The Saga at Cove Farm

Many a difficult year had gone by at Cove Farm. Some said that business in recent years hadn’t been at all satisfactory. They declared that it had been a sorry state of affairs. The animals ran riot they said, the buildings were run down and there were very few successes at local agricultural shows to shout about. Whenever the cattle did manage to bring home a rosette or two, it was only because the competition had been poor. Worryingly for its owners, even with the most conservative outgoings, the farm’s budget deficit was growing. Despite the workers investing their all into the farm and putting in daily, hard, manual labour, some said it was not enough. Some said it was all going to pot.

However, the fate of the farm seemed set to change when the management changed hands. The man who bought the business was called Farmer Michael. Right from the off, he registered his concerns with anyone who had the patience to listen and made it clear that he had grand plans to sort out the mess he inherited. He wanted more. So, without warning, he put CCTV cameras on the farm and monitored the workers. He monitored them and he monitored them some more. He inspected and monitored and inspected some more. In order to work out how to ring the changes, he also looked to other farms for inspiration. After a few hours of internet research (and lots more inspecting and monitoring) he drafted up his vision for making this business the best it had even been.

The trouble was that Farmer Michael didn’t actually have a clue what he was talking about. In fact, he knew **** all! He had never worked on a farm before and didn’t know the ropes at all. So when the farm workers got wind of his first proposal, they weren’t happy. One evening, after Farmer Michael had retired to bed and they’d finally finished the day’s jobs, they assembled in the barn to discuss the situation.

“I just don’t think he gets it. He says he wants the most well qualified workers to run this place but he’s trying to entice them here with shorter holidays, longer working days and less pay. It doesn’t make sense.”
“Quite. Anyway, I’m not sure I could make my working day any longer! I got up at 6.30am this morning to milk the cows and prepare the tractor for a day out in the fields. Then I spent all day making hay bales (I ate lunch on the go of course) before getting home at 6.30pm. I must admit, I did then sit down for ten minutes for a cup of tea but I felt guilty about it because I had so many more jobs to plough through! I was knackered tonight but I forced myself to go back out so I'm not behind and I finished at 9. It’s not physically possible to squeeze anything more into my day. And don’t get me started on working a six or seven day week every week either. How we’re meant to maintain this work rate until we’re nearly 70 I have NO idea. He’s talking crap.”

The conversations went well on into the night. As Farmer Michael’s proposals hadn’t come into effect yet, the workers decided to sit tight. They very much cared about the future of the farm after all.  Many of them had been loyal to the business for many years and had invested a lot of time and love into its success. They’d never doubted the success of the farm even when people like Farmer Michael had bulldozed in and told them things weren’t good enough. Farmer Michael didn’t like to measure the worth of the business in the same way that they did.

Even when the sheep went through a phase of refusing point blank to be rounded, even when the cows yielded fewer prizes at the local agricultural shows, even when the sheep dog puppies constantly pooed in the farmhouse because they couldn’t be trained, even when it was an arduous effort to get all the jobs done with one of the workers on long term stress related sick leave and a temp who didn’t know right from left, even when the roof of the barn leaked and made the hay bales soggy, and EVEN when they had to work day and night and forgo their social lives, they were STILL committed and they STILL celebrated their successes.

However, Farmer Michael didn’t understand and the fact that he soon made a second suggestion didn’t come as a surprise at all.

“He’s going to limit our pay if the hens don’t lay eggs? Are you joking?”
“It’s called performance related pay.”
“Balls isn’t it?”
“Well, it’s not great.”
“We’re going to have to work out a new way of getting them to lay more.”
“Bloody brilliant. Well, I guess we could always try putting classical music on in the background to help them concentrate.”
“We tried that before didn’t we? I seem to remember it working alright. Well, before we were told to stop worrying about the laying environment."

Once more, the workers debated the issue and made their way home feeling vulnerable and more than a little concerned about what Farmer Michael might dare suggest next.

A few weeks past and, feeling bedraggled and in need of a break, the workers were relieved that Farmer Michael had been spending so much time in his home office. They hadn’t seen him for a while and were hoping that he wasn’t brewing any more shit to dump on them. Unfortunately, he was doing just that.

“He wants us to start training the sheep dogs IN UTERO?”
“He told me he’s been analysing the tapes of the sheepdog trials and the dogs aren’t performing well enough. His mountain of data, which he was very proud of by the way, is apparently the answer to everything. Farmer Wong’s dogs rounded their flock twice as quick as ours, they ran faster, jumped higher and the handlers made their calls in three languages as well. For their final flourish, once the sheep were in the pen, the dogs hopped onto a podium and chanted their 17 times tables, identified Roman numerals and recalled the entire catalogue of Britain’s monarch’s past. BECAUSE THIS IS SOMEHOW USEFUL. Apparently, Wong starts training his dogs when they’re two days old so Farmer Michael thinks we should start when they’re in the womb. He reckons if starting them young worked for Wong, it’ll work for us.”
“He’s wrong.”

Over the next few months, the workers continued to assemble regularly to discuss what action to take. Something needed to be done. The continuous barrage of change was becoming too much. It seemed that Farmer Michael just didn’t appreciate how hard they worked and the implications of the numerous initiatives he was forcing on them. On many occasions, they’d tried to get their point across but it fell on deaf ears. One worker suggested that they all upped and left. The grass did often seem greener on the other side. 

However, nobody could face abandoning the farm. They had little faith in their leader but working on the farm was what they were good at and, setting the latest threats aside, they loved it. They were interested in what they were doing, their work was full of exciting challenges, the animals brought them great joy and the rewards were huge. So, in the face of the adversity, they decided to stay. They decided to stay in the hope that one day he would appreciate their hard work. They decided to stay in the hope that one day he would actually listen.

The end. (For now.)


Yours sincerely,

P.S. Try typing ‘Michael Gove falls over’ into Youtube. It’s LOLZ.

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