Staring out of the window today at the rain drenched Devon countryside, I took a break from writing my second novel and thought about some of the projects I produced for the county. One particular project came to mind as I opened the window and heard a cow lowing at a nearby farm. In February 2002, my theatre company Turning Point received a commission from the Community Council of Devon to write a new play about the aftermath of the Foot and Mouth tragedy in Devon.
As part of my research, I interviewed many people living and working on farms in the South West. The project was funded by The Lloyds TSB Charitable Trust. One Man’s Meat told the story of the Kingdom family who had been farming the same 118 acre farm for two hundred years. Diversification, following the loss of their animals to foot and mouth, leads to the farmer’s wife setting up a variety of small businesses, including bed and breakfast and showing tourists around the nearby town.
One Man’s Meat was a black comedy. It was presented on on 16 October 2002 at the Annual General Meeting of The Community Council of Devon.
The company of eight professional actors performed the play at Bradford and Cookbury Village Hall in North Devon to an audience that included farmers, people who live or work in the Devon countryside and young people from a local college. A discussion followed the performance.
It was obvious that the play struck a chord with the audience and the Community Council was delighted by the response. The discussion was animated, with farmers telling their own stories and enthusiastically debating the issues raised by the play.
One of the aims of the Community Council of Devon was to get farmers together and encourage them to talk about the issues. At the time, the Foot and Mouth epidemic was a huge disaster. It took years to recover from it and some would say that many people never recovered. Standing by my open window today, I remembered the awful stench of animals being burned, the fear, as each day dawned, that the disease would invade yet another farm, the animosity and conflict over compensation, the exhausted vets, the sense that the horror would never end. The country side looks so peaceful today. It smells of wet grass. The wheat in the field is wet but golden. As soon a there is some sun, I think it will be harvested. The farm animals look and sound happy.
I hope that we never experience such a terrible disaster again. But viruses are canny. They lie low and pop up when you least expect them. They are part of life and no doubt, some other disease will attack at some point. But not to be too pessimistic, scientific research moves fast and who knows when the next vaccination will emerge to protect livestock? I really hope it is in my life time. That would be good news. I never want to witness out farmers go through what they did in 2002 in the beautiful county of Devon.
This video makes me happy! Life goes on…