April 18

We have just returned from a couple of days away as a family. That's the first time we have done that for 20 years, but we so needed a change of scenery, and we simply wanted to go all together. Whilst away we celebrated the last of our children's birthdays, with Kiley's (our son) 30th. So that's a wedding, F&M and three birthdays in five weeks.

We have arrived home to find that the cleaning contractors and all their gear are still here. Now why doesn't that surprise me?

Our eggs didn't do spectacularly well, with only three ducklings and a chick cheeping away beside me as I write.

The great vaccination debate goes on apace. I am just glad I'm not the one to take the decision; they'll be damned either way by the press and other odd bods who seem to know so much more about this disease than any of us who are involved (by choice or otherwise) in trying to bring this plague to a speedy end. It is worrying that no longer are all within our industry and MAFF singing the same tune, as we were right at the start. This can only prolong the agony, whatever the vaccination decision.

April 23

The "Gang" finally left us on Thursday 19th, and the last of the equipment was picked up this afternoon. How bare the place seems now!

We have been told that, unless the boffins at MAFF change their mind, it will, in theory, be possible to bring in stock again on a very limited scale three weeks after the farm was declared fully disinfected - i.e. after May 6th. - provided movement restrictions are not still in force. These animals are then closely monitored and tested to make sure we are well and truly free of F&M. If we do not restock, it will be four months before we are automatically be free of restrictions. Obviously, we will not be putting in any valuable stock just yet, but the chance to get going again in time for the Summer school holidays can't be passed by.

I have just spent three days helping on the annual bellringing course, run by the Essex Association of Change Ringers. This is something I have never been able to volunteer for previously, as we have always been too busy. Coming on top of our trip away, it gave me a real break from the farm. In a large number of churches in infected areas (ours included), the ringers are ringing every Sunday at mid-day for the duration of the epidemic to let those affected know they are not forgotten. This is especially appreciated by my family, as we are, with the exception of our youngest who is handicapped, all bellringers.

April 27

It must be Spring - I heard my first cuckoo today. I guess it was celebrating the lifting of restrictions in this area. It should make life easier for those who have been struggling to look after their stock through these past weeks, and hopefully, should see the beginning of the end of the welfare problems caused by the restrictions. The fields are all so cold and wet that I am quite happy we do not have a herd of cattle waiting for turn-out; the place would be a quagmire in no time.

We have started tentatively looking for a source of milking sheep, but this is going to be no easy task as several flocks were taken out, and there were few enough before.

I spoke last evening to the neighbour who lost the sheep (see Mar 17), and was shocked to hear that, not only has she not received one penny of the compensation money yet, but that the Ministry hasn't even bothered to contact her. The MAFF website still says payment in two to three weeks. This really isn't good enough; it's adding insult to injury. During those first two awful days, the people who were making the decisions were right here on the farm, and at least accessible; now, decisions are taken in some office somewhere by goodness knows who, totally insulated, it seems, from all those nasty farmers who are looking for money or answers to questions.

The chick and ducklings have been into two schools in two days, so it does seem as if we are returning slowly where we came from.

Since the disinfection, Kiley has been busy fencing and preparing the yard for concrete repairs, whilst I have been getting the books up to date (I completely forgot the VAT return for February) and cutting back trees along the footpath in readiness for when people are allowed to use it again. Certainly we haven't noticed time dragging even though our labour doesn't produce an income.

April 30

My first day in my new job as French Teacher. The children were all very good and everything went well until I was invited to join them for a mid-morning assembly. Imagine my horror when the Headmistress asked me to come to the front! What had I done? Scenes from my misspent schooldays flashed through my mind - canings, slipperings, detentions. I need not have feared, however; what I was needed for was to receive a huge card, signed by the whole school, a book of drawings and a wonderful cheque to be spent on acquiring new animals. The whole thing had been dreamed up by the pupils, who had raised the money by all sorts of methods: sponsored silence, boys spending the day dressed as girls, swapping places with the teacher (very popular - Mrs Derrett was sent to the Head for bad behaviour!).

This community support seems to go on and on, and makes me very proud to live in such a caring place.

I was talking on the 'phone last night to a friend of mine who has just returned from Cumbria. He went as a lambing assistant a few weeks back and spent his time instead helping with the slaughter of the flock and the subsequent clean-up. The experience shook him profoundly, even though he was just a temporary helper.

May 9

A quiet week as far as the farm is concerned. Sunday was three weeks since disinfection, and we can now officially restock with a few "sentinel" animals. Unfortunately, (surprise, surprise!) the movement regulations don't allow it. Talking to the Ministry vet yesterday, he tells me that they are keen for restocking to take place in areas declared clean and that there is to be a meeting tomorrow (Thurs) to see what can be done. I must admit that I am quietly optimistic about the outcome; could this be anything to do with the coming election? Perish the thought!

Our second cheque arrived from MAFF this morning, but it doesn't seem to bear any relationship to any claim. I can only assume it relates to the hay, straw etc. destroyed. One only hopes that the rest - payment for fire guard, clean-up work and so on - will eventually arrive. I did read somewhere yesterday that a new department is being set up to speed the payment system. Let's hope it achieves its aim.

We have re-concreted our first section of yard and, in traditional style, Buzz, the young collie, walked straight into the newly laid concrete.

May 16

Our outstanding claims have now been pretty well settled, but our neighbour who lost the sheep tells me she still hasn't seen a penny - that is after TWO MONTHS! Even more interestingly, she is going to have an "A" Notice served on her tomorrow!

The Ministry man is also coming here tomorrow to discuss the mechanics of restocking. It seems they are working in the dark, not knowing what animals to allow where; let's hope we can make a bit of progress in the morning.

One curious point that I had forgotten to mention was that, on the very day we were condemned, our answerphone packed up, as if in sympathy. I have just remembered this because today I succeeded in persuading the thing to work again. That's one small step....... Actually, this whole trek back to normality is going to be like watching a baby grow - rejoicing over every little detail.

May 24

Things are beginning to look a bit brighter now. To start with, our neighbour has, at last, been paid for the sheep - over eight weeks after slaughter. It really is not good enough to have to chase and chivvy to get the money.

We were offered a small flock of milking sheep in Wales, and have struck a deal. We have the use of a "clean" field until the farm itself is certified clear but, unfortunately, the sheep themselves are stuck in an infected area so we can't get them home.

We have the go-ahead to arrange our "sentinel" animals, and, if all goes well, we should be bringing them in in about a week's time.

I was interviewed by a reporter from Danish State Radio last Saturday. It seems that the NFU had suggested me as someone who was happy to talk to the press. We have to think of our future as an "open" farm, even in the darkest times, and the right relationship with the media could make all the difference when we are finally able to open up again. So, apart from the first couple of days when the shock rendered me incoherent, I have not shied away from the press. There is no way we could ever buy this amount of publicity; there can be very few around here who can claim that they haven't heard of us now.