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Plymouth artist Neil Mawdsley    Plymouth U.K.      Email: neil@mawdsley.co.uk
Foot and Mouth Outbreak   Diary:  Farm : April 2001 A visit to a friends house. They said it was OK to visit, although the outbreak was within the three miles radius. With interest, we had followed it day after day on the news, from the few red dots on a map to a rash of cases throughout the country. An epidemic of ‘foot and mouth disease’ was spreading rapidly, and about the worst place was here in Devon. Most of the farms affected were to the north of the County, but now there was a case here in a South Devon Farm only a few miles from the friends we were visiting. That was a few days ago, but all the cattle and two thousand sheep had been killed as a precaution and they were now saying that there was no recurrence of the disease. So we could go and visit. The army had stopped blockading the roads, but we were told to have our tyres sprayed as a precaution. So that evening, as the dusk was gathering, we set off, probably half an hour to get there. My wife was navigating as usual while I was driving. Before long, the fast straight road of the A38 was behind us, and we began to weave our way into the maze of high-hedged roads of the South Hams. And then it hit me, this wasn’t my cosy sitting room, watching another news item; it was the real thing! We were suddenly driving into this deadened world towards a red brooding sunset. There was feeling of ‘a landscape in pain’, no cache of sheep or cattle in the grey green sombre fields, just empty spaces, just empty fields, bare and bereft. Then unexpectedly a bend in the road wound past the farm, a silhouette of desolation against that glowing twilight. No flicker of life, such stillness as though something, someone, had passed away here, or was hiding quietly behind its injury. A shell of what was a tomb. Still we went on, towards that fiery sky with its plumes of orange and gold towering towards us. It seemed to say ‘this is the fire of funeral pyres, enter at your peril! On either side, tall banks of darkness gently curved, like heaps of carcasses innocently fallen victim to the mass slaughter. . We did enter, in quiet dignity, along the lanes, reaching our friends house, with an eye to that watchful sky, a sky of mourning and great beauty, and as it faded so did my thoughts change back to the everyday. It was all just another memory to store away.