Sad Cows: active citizenship and cynicism

I get an inbox from a friend. Well, the brother of a friend. A friend with a dog and a camper van and a mum who snogged Mick Jagger in the Sixties. A friend I haven’t seen for ten years.

The inbox is about cows. There are plans to build a US style mega-dairy in Lincolnshire. It asks me to sign a petition. There's a link. It'll take two minutes, it says, just a few clicks.

This strikes a chord with me because I saw a documentary on mega dairies on the BBC once. And they don't look good, not good at all: there's no grass; no free  roaming; no England's green and pleasant land; just heaps of grain and dusty stalls and sad looking cows. Just as battery hens get a reprieve from the EU we're starting afresh with cows and I'm feeling an overwhelming disgust at humankind's greed, a sort of tired loathing of the things we're willing to do to get stuff cheap.

Nevertheless, I hover over the ‘sign the petition’ button.

I wonder if the campaigning group are kosher. I wonder if they'll abuse my personal information. I wonder if the government will keep my name on a list for being subversive. I wonder – really wonder - if it's wise to sign.

I'm not a great fan of cows. I don't look into their long-lashed eyes and melt. I'm scared of them: it's cows that make me walk the long way round a field, cows that lumber fast towards me when I'm trying to vault a stile, cows that make my heart race on a would-be peaceful ramble through the countryside. I'm not signing out of sentimentality. I hover my mouse over the link. I remember the BBC footage again. I sign. Actually it takes ten seconds.

It’s been a month of on-line petitions and surveys in the Greenwood house:

One late afternoon, my girls and I do the RSPB Garden Birds Survey. We watch at the window for an hour. We put out stale cherry cake to tempt the birds in. Is this cheating?

We see: 3 black headed gulls, 4 blue tits, 6 blackbirds, 2 pigeons, 1 crow. We know it is a crow and not a rook because Grandad says: “See that rook? It’s a crow. See them crows? They be rooks.” Which is something to do with size of flocks. Got that? Clear? Glad you are!

Our local heron does not turn up. He’s more of an early morning kind of guy. We’re gutted.

We also do the British Astronomical Association’s Star Count survey: it’s early evening; there's a cold wind blowing; behind us the lights of the sports centre glow in the blackness of the park. Robin’s walking ahead with her swimming friend Summer. It's freezing and they've both got wet hair.

“Right,” I call ahead, stopping on the path in the dark. “Stop there! Star count!”

Fenella, Summer's mum, halts obediently. Robin and Summer muck around with the torch. Robin flashes the beam in my face.

“Turn the torch off!”

“Oh,” her bottom lip sticks out. “Why?”

“Because you can’t see the stars with the light on. It’s bad enough with these street lamps.”

She waves it about more. I try to grab it. She runs away, but turns it off.

“Okay,” I continue.“Girls are you listening?”

I lecture about Orion, about Betelgeuse on his shoulder and about Sirius his dog. I go on about the star count survey and about light pollution. To be fair the girls listen well despite their chattering teeth

“How many stars can you see inside Orion?” I ask. It's the question on the survey sheet, but it’s too much to ask: the girls squint at the sky, they try to find Orion, they search for perhaps one minute. Then Robin flicks on the torch again and they giggle and run off along the avenue of lime trees and street lamps to the car park.

“I can see four,” says Fenella.

I gaze up. “Five!” I say.

Fenella shakes her head. “Nah, four.”

I'm trying to point out the mystery fifth star, but Fenella's looking away across the dark common after the girls. I can see the torch waving about; a spot of white light in the darkness.

Later, I let Robin submit the results for both surveys: birds and stars. The surveys will provide data to help decision making in the UK. I feel good about myself. I'm contributing. I have the freedom to express my opinion; to influence my environment.  Unlike those cows. 

True these are only tiny drops.  But drops do make an ocean.

BTW the cows won (for the moment) and I feel proud.

Read last month's post: road works.

Emma is a columnist and feature writer for Liberti Magazine.

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