'While the happier-ever-after ending might indeed belong firmly in that genre, as a New Year and a new future beckon, the rest of the tale might ring a few bells'

By Brian Henderson

A long, long time ago - in a land far, far away - lived a poor farming family…

“Right Jack, we’re trusting you to make a good job of selling this year’s malting barley crop, don’t get distracted, and don’t let us down”.

With that Jack’s mother checked he’d washed behind his ears, gave him a quick kiss on the forehead and ushered him out the door of the tiny cottage, making sure he had the address of the local market corn exchange clutched in one hand and a carefully prepared sample of Golden Promise in the other.

“Don’t worry Mum, I know we’ve fallen on hard times, what with the terrible weather and the price of fertiliser, but you can trust me…”

Sadly, however, as Jack made his circuitous way towards the sale room it wasn’t long before he found himself bumping into two of the sort of characters who tend to get a pantomime audience either shouting “boo” or going “hiss”.

One was a maltsters and one a whisky maker – and they both greeted the gullible Jack him with a hearty “hello ”and began chatting about the weather and the harvest and the general state of farming - and all the many troubles and difficulties facing the industry.

Slowly but slyly they turned the conversation round to Pantoland’s new obsession - carbon audits and Scope 3 entire supply-chain emissions:

“And you know how difficult all these sums you have to do to complete the audit can be - and costly as well,” said one who had already tied Jack’s family into buying all their seed from his company and listing all the inputs they used to grow their crops.

“Surely you don’t want to be bothered with all that headache-inducing arithmetic do you Jack? We can make things much easier for you and do them for you – and then we can simply tell you what you must do to reduce your carbon footprint,” said the other.

“Yes, that’s right Jack no one wants all these nasty dark marks over their land, as if some giant had stepped over it. Of course we won’t charge you very much at all for this - all you have to do is sign all the information we need over to us and, if you do exactly what we tell you, you’ll be free to focus on having a good time and helping your mother out in the field, rather than spending hours in the office with a calculator and pencil and paper.

“We’ll even give you a small present in exchange…”

Jack didn’t need much more convincing and despite the loud hissing noise coming from the audience, he didn’t notice the cruel sniggering they were making to one another behind their hands as he accepted the free gift.

When he returned home, gaily playing with the pocketful of magic beans which they had given him, he was surprised to see his mother’s despair as he related what he had so lightly given away.

“Jack, our climate change and environmental credentials were all we had to bargain with if we were to get a fair price for all the extra work and costs we always have when we’re trying to do our bit to save the planet. And you gave them away from nothing!

“And, on top of that, we can’t even grow these beans,” his mother cried in agitation, grabbing them from him and hurling them out the window of their tiny house, “they’re genetically engineered and as everyone but you seems to know, it’s been decreed that we aren’t allowed to grow them commercially in this part of Pantoland.”

There was a tear in his eye as Jack headed for bed that evening after a miserable supper and he spent a restless night - but as his mind raced as he thought about the bad decision’s he had made, he decided to get up early in the morning and try to make amends.

But, as the first rays of dawn broke over Pantoland that day, Jack got a huge surprise as he threw back the curtains of his tiny cottage window – for there in the garden stood a huge beanstalk in the exact location where the precision-bred beans had been thrown the night before.

On seeing this amazing sight, in true panto style Jack obviously decided that the best thing to do was to climb up the beanstalk - which by this time snaked its way up past the clouds – and discover what lay at the top of its lofty heights.

After what seemed an eternity of climbing he reached the highest-most reaches of the stalk - and, spying a huge castle he decided to look inside.

Sneaking under the back door he found himself surrounded by everyday furniture and utensils – all of which were leagues larger than those he had left behind below the clouds.

And no sooner had he decided that it might be a good idea to sneak back down the beanstalk and tell someone where he’d been and what he had found than he heard the slow but heavy pound of enormous feet heading directly in his direction - after which the door was drawn slowly but surely open.

Immediately Jack realised he was in the domain of the legendary – but very, very slow – giant whose real name was Harold the Obfuscator - but who was better known to one and all by his abbreviated name of ‘Arry-Ob. (Note: you might need to say that one out loud –The Ed)

“Fee-fi-fo-fap” rumbled the giant in a terrible voice, the words seeming to roll out at the speed of continental drift:

“I’ve got to draw up a replacement for the Cap,” it eventually concluded over the course of what seemed like days.

Now the Cap was a mythical thing in farming circles which many now realised had actually been the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs – but, as everyone knew, it had flown the nest quite some time ago and ‘Arry-Ob had been charged with discussing a replacement with the farmers while the Green aldermen secretly plotted to transfer all the support payments to trees.

Of course many of the other town guilds were also putting their oar in and demanding that their requests were met – and so ring-fenced funds which had been promised for agriculture were diverted to pay for the higher wages demanded by the lumberjacks and the park keepers - as they were looked upon as being far more important than the tiny voice of the farmers.

Realising that the good people of Pantoland were being conned, Jack decided that he had to warn them – and, as he would have little trouble outrunning the slow-moving ‘Arry-Ob, he raced to the beanstalk and started his long climb home.

As his descent finally took him below the clouds Jack became aware that while he had only been gone a day, many years had passed below – and he looked on in shock at the changed scenery which lay below him.

The green fields of grain and grass and the rolling hills which he had left were no place to be seen – and he found the land almost unrecognisable. Much of it was totally over-run with a thick, dark forest while what little other land wasn’t flooded was chock-a-block with beavers, sea-eagles and townspeople demanding access.

Even the dry portions of the few fields of grain which remained sparsely dotted across the countryside lay in tatters, trampled underfoot and run over by people involved in their leisure pursuits.

In his despair at seeing such a changed landscape, Jack lost his concentration for a second and suddenly his foot slipped and he could feel himself tumbling from the beanstalk. Striking every branch in the trees in the thick forest which lay below, he prepared himself for the inevitable impact as he hit the barren floor of the deep dark forest.

However, instead of a thud and enveloping darkness Jack’s eyes were exposed to a sudden flash of light:

“Come on lazy bones, it’s time you were heading to the corn exchange – don’t forget this is the big day when we’re trusting you to get the best price for our grain,” said his still-smiling mother.

It had all been a terrible dream!

And that morning when Jack travelled to the corn exchange he knew just what to say to the unsavoury characters who waylaid him on his journey and tried to fleece him of his carbon credits and environmental credentials – and he managed to secure a good price not only for his grain but for all the other public goods which his farm delivered.

And, armed with the knowledge that while he was indeed slow, ‘Arry-Ob wasn’t actually the villain of the piece, Jack exposed the green pied pipers and secret plotters who were hoodwinking and brainwashing the townspeople into thinking farmers were the problem rather than the solution which they really were…

A fairytale I hear you cry – but while the happier-ever-after ending might indeed belong firmly in that genre, as a New Year and a new future beckon, the rest of the tale might ring a few bells.