AS IF our farmers weren't already up to their oxters in the Slough of Despond, with a sickeningly deep crisis deepening by the day with foot-and-mouth, the EU has to be even sillier than usual.

Red-tape merchants in their expensive Brussels offices, where the only living thing is probably the pot plant, have decided that those working the land must be protected from the dangers of vibration. Tractors vibrate, so do combines and other harvesting machinery. So, says Brussels, do the nippy little quads that get farmers from A to B across their land.

The Physical Agents Directive (physical agents? No, Spectator doesn't know either) will make it illegal for one person to use such machinery for more than two hours a day. After the expected approval of this directive, just in time for harvest, British farmers will have nine years to comply with it. Cloud cuckoo land sounds reasonable by standards which will make ploughing, drilling and harvesting impossible by 2010.

However, Spectator may have to tone down his comments in future, for fear of becoming a criminal. The EU is also in the process of ruling out any criticism of itself.

The old school

OUR obituaries column this week records the death of Miss Christine Jewsbury, for 23 years head of Darlington girls' high school.

Her girls ("hers", though she was no Miss Jean Brodie, because she took a personal interest in them all) were probably among the last to benefit from a particular type of teacher: the unmarried, highly academic and dedicated career grammar school mistress. Much was expected and generally given, but standards extended well outside the school walls.

There are still DHS old girls who simply cannot walk along the street munching a pasty in modern style because eating in the street was deadlier than any of the seven regular sins and almost as bad as not wearing your beret. But those who got to know her in their adult life found a warm, very generous and thoughtful friend.

What a view

Spectator was heading on the M6 this week enjoying the sun-bathed Cumbrian fells in the distance. The view was, however, chillingly spoiled by the plumes of black smoke coming from the foot-and-mouth funeral pyres