THERE I was last Monday afternoon wrestling with the decisions of the Rent Review Group’s view on how to improve rental negotiations and I admit it was pretty tortuous stuff trying to translate it into everyday language.
All the time I was also thinking about the forthcoming crunch time for talks on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy where, despite every politician saying they want to make the new CAP simpler, the one certainty is that it will be far more complex.
At that point the phone rang. I reluctantly answered it as, like the rest of the population, I am deaved by cold callers offering cheap mobile phones, compensation for injuries unsustained or mis-sold insurance.
The person said she was from the Scottish Government communications unit and did I realise I had made an error in my copy on a ministerial visit to a farm in East Lothian.
In the article, I mentioned that the rural affairs minister had forgotten his wellies on this visit to see the damage done to a typical arable farm by six months of excess rainfall.
The article was accompanied by a good photograph of the minister bending down to inspect the sodden ground, his shiny shoes in the mud in complete contrast to the farmer hunkered down beside him who was wearing a pair of wellies that had seen sterling service over the past so-called summer.
The contrast struck home because shortly after the piece appeared I received a text from a well-known pig producer who did not admit that he was narked by the size of the cheque he had just signed for wheat for feeding his pigs.
He just wondered if “well off” (his words not mine) farmers could not afford to have a spare pair of wellies for visitors to use.
He had a point, because most back doors of farmhouses that I visit are littered with quantities of outdoor wear well beyond the wearing capacity of the residents. Seldom though are these “spares” in pristine condition.
The article moved swiftly on to deal with the main substance of the visit, which was to try and see what could be done to prevent the same amount of damage in any future year when the rain forgets to stop falling. The buzz phrase for this is “building in resilience”, although I think a few of the older generation might just consider it is no more than ensuring the farm drains and ditches are in good nick.
However, back to the complaint that was being made about my story. The official caller wanted me to know that the minister had not forgotten his wellies. I was informed that the appropriate footwear had travelled down with the minister in the official car.
Now as you know, hoax calls do happen and even if it was nowhere near gowks day in April I was on my guard. “You are joking,” I replied.
No, I was assured, this was no joke. The minister had his wellies with him and my comment was inaccurate.
Now, I know we live in a no-blame culture but I firmly believe if I have erred then I am honour bound to admit it. So I offered to write a correction – even though I thought if I wrote that the minister prefers not to wear wellies when visiting a muddy field, those reading the piece might take a different and less charitable view of the non-wellie-wearing person.
No correction was needed, I was informed, but my error had been noted and we signed off with me saying how much the caller had cheered me up.
I had been bogged down in explaining the tortuous twists of agricultural law and European Union-inspired techno-jargon of the type that faces the rural journalist of today and this piece of light relief was welcome – even if I have a slight residual concern that the Scottish Government has a black book on those who misinform the public about the wellie- or non-wellie-wearing habits of ministers.
I end by mentioning that this article has been extremely difficult to write as my automatic spellcheck does not recognise the word “wellie” and insists on replacing the first “e” in the word with an “i”. If any of these so-called “corrections” have slipped through and amused the reader, I apologise…