A bouncy ewe and a speedy calf!

 “This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”

Among the best story lines are those that leave the reader unsure whether to laugh, cry or despair. There were two stand out such stories this week.  

The first, a senior American politician talking about the Ukraine ‘standoff’ said that he thought it likely that most Americans had no idea where Ukraine, a truly huge country, might be found on a map.  

The second was our own Foreign Secretary, in terms of providing NATO support let slip she thought the Baltic States were situated on the coast of the Black Sea. One has to laugh, but after that, despair.  

Farm Life 

On the farm life is somewhat easier for Chris as Tim returned to work this week, but the other significant point was that on Thursday the ewes were scanned. The ratio changes little from year to year; it is fine, but somehow, we never achieve the magic figure of 2.00. As always, the numbers will be looked at carefully, but on the face of it, there is nothing remarkable. The scanning is done by ultrasound and the attached photos will give you a sense of all but the noise and smell!

The number scanned is one short since one animal decided to avoid the process. It is quite amazing how both cattle and sheep from a standing position can jump over hurdles and in the case of cattle, gates. Of course, the relationship between goats and sheep is anatomically very close, although they may look very different, and goats have a well-known habit of jumping fences.  

The ewes will now remain in the area of the barn with access to it open to them. This will certainly mean feeding and health checking will be a quicker task and perhaps as important, tracks made to the feeders can recover. Despite the dry weather, tractor tyres cut up anything but very dry ground and hence the need for a period during which the land can recover.  

We had yet another calf during the week, and despite being in the barn with the suckler herd around them, the calves somehow manage to jump and run around just as they would in a field. The adults seem completely unperturbed by this activity which is a great relief.  

The weather remained dry until early Friday morning, and the days were a little warmer. The two storms of the week passed us by, and we experienced no more than the odd strong gust of wind. The farm generally looks green but the key sight which strikes the eye is the sculptural character of the leafless trees.  

There has been more from DEFRA, but still little of substance as regards possible grants we might apply for. Even the Pasture Fed site has been quieter than usual. From that site, using the rights relating to Freedom of information, DEFRA is only aiming to spend 0.4 of its total environment monitoring budgets on soil monitoring each year – and yet everyone now accepts and understands that the condition of the soil is of the highest importance, apart it seems from the government.  

A common enough statement is that a week in politics can see much change, and that has certainly been very, very true lately. The same is the case in the garden. A week ago, I wrote the only colours to be seen were varieties of green. This week the snowdrops are out in profusion, clumps of cyclamen provide splashes of purple while on one wall the periwinkle stands out against the reddish colour of the bricks. (photographs). Even the decorative apricot tree has open flowers on it. I read this week that in many places’ plants are showing a whole month ahead of the ‘usual’. Our concern is, of course the late frost since as I have written before we are situated in a bad frost pocket.  

Birds seen in the garden appear to have escaped the avian flu which is great. Less satisfactory is the fact that that the corvid population have worked out how to get seed from our bird feeders – all apparently can operate like helicopters. Sadly, though I am not too bad at identifying birds, it is only a few birds that I can identify by call or flight.  

Ploughing 

For some reason we continue to foster an old plough, which, as I remember it, had something to do with a school project. As I think you can see from the photograph, this is the kind of plough which, pulled by an ox or horse and guided by a ploughman was the norm once upon a time in this country and is still used in many places in the world. It’s use looks straightforward, but experience reveals what skill, strength and stamina is needed to use it.  

A bright spark in our school community in Lundazi, Zambia borrowed a plough and a steer from the local village to make turning over his garden a shorter and simpler task. An afternoon not to be forgotten. First the steer had to be harnessed to the plough, and this was a first for it and all of us. After a considerable struggle needing all the strength of five men, that was achieved. ‘Game over’ was the feeling, until some poor idiot had hold of the handles, and the rest attempted to move the animal forward in an approximately straight line – it was at the point it was realised that to actually plough the land required both skill and strength, or else the plough head just skittered along the surface. Think of how long it would have taken to plough even a small field.  

Although there were substantial improvements in agricultural practice, resulting in higher yields, in the 18th century, as I have written before, the real agricultural revolution came in the 19th century when steam power enabled greater areas to be ploughed and at a far greater pace. Using a single plough, pulled by an ox, might manage no more than an acre a day. Two steam engines working in tandem made the ploughing of large areas speedily possible, though not as fast as a modern high-powered tractor.  

When is a lie?

Changing tack totally, having largely given up watching the BBC Parliament channel, I made the mistake of watching some of Prime Minister’s Questions. Two observations: How is it that Erskine May allows members to lie or slur others, but requires a member who accuses such a person of lying be forced to either withdraw the statement or be required to leave? Some on Saturday suggested it was the Speaker at fault, but this seems very much a minority view.  

Secondly, has the BBC got it wrong in concentrating on showing events in the chamber rather than the work of select committees? I have three reasons for posing this question: The first is that in the chamber there is no chance of follow up questions by ordinary members, unlike in Select Committee hearings where, should the members of the commit have sufficient knowledge, ministers and others can be properly grilled; the second is ‘showboating’, and finally, particularly at PMQ’s, the prevalence of meaningless or sycophantic questioning.  

All-in-all though, I believe it important that we should be able to see democracy in action, and I can actually understand what Erskine May is attempting to achieve, I think that that work needs some revision as does the approach of the BBC. 

The French Revolution 

I used up many hours this week reading and thinking about the French Revolution, and though not all I read was new, I did realise both how superficial my knowledge was and how I had failed to see it in the round.  

I had failed to connect the dire financial position the French monarchy was in in 1879, though only recently I had referred to the cost to France in supporting the rebellion in the American States, and previously to the disastrous financial consequences of the Seven Year War which ended in 1759 for France to the awful weather in 1788 and its effect on wheat production, and the price of bread which, when both situations coincided meant there was fuel in plenty to support unrest. The Marie Antoinette alleged statement relates to the latter point.  

I had not properly understood the way in a number of continental countries, in the main absolute monarchies, were governed. Indeed, I would not like to face an examination question on that today! However, their systems seem to have been designed to fail under extreme stress.  

Add to this the number of republican publications that were circulating, including James Harington’s magnus opus ‘Oceania’, the number of wars France was engaged in between 1789 and 1799, the hosts of discounted groups and grievances about the power of the Roman Catholic Church, it was no wonder a weak and vacillating King lost his head despite many efforts to find a solution which would allow a role for the monarchy.  

In this chaotic situation, Napoleon Bonaparte, fresh from military success seemed the answer, and from 1789 he it was, in power and the story thereafter has greater clarity. But to return to the revolutionary years, though there was no likelihood of revolution in England, this was the period of the group called the ‘United Irishmen’ – a mix of Catholics and Protestants, inspired by the situation and with proper grievances sprang into dangerous prominence. Attempts by the French to support the group eventually caused serious English military intervention. At the decisive battle, contemporary accounts suggested up to 60000 deaths, though the latest research suggests the number was probably around 6000. The uprising was not confined to Ireland but wherever significant numbers of Irish were found, in particular from the maritime states of Canada and Australia and the authorities there had to suppress unrest.  

Two results were yet another festering sore of a grievance, and ongoing anti English struggles and less expectedly, the union of Ireland with England.  

Finally, it is abundantly clear to see that what happened in France and the American States as similar events, holds no water. It was a revolution in France, while in the States it was a transfer of power from an authority 3000 miles away, and an authority not even sure it was an argument worth trying to win given the other challenges it was facing. Hence the total withdrawal of British troops in 1788. After the huff and puff and loss of life on both sides the new American Republic, with the movement north of the tens of thousands of ‘loyalists’ could largely carry on as before.  

Having written of Napoleons assumption of power, I feel I should end by writing about his fall from power. His tenure as Emperor ended, for a period at least after the Battle of Leipzig in which 500,000 soldiers from all over Europe were engaged, and it was defeat here after the terrible losses in the attack on Russia the year before, that led to the peace of 1814 and his banishment.  

I have never taken any serious interest in the idea of Republicanism, probably because though I am not a fervent monarchist, our situation of having a constitutional monarchy seems to avoid the dangers that seem inherent in a republic, though when one party has a huge majority and a leader who seems happy to trample over parliament, perhaps our approach to the franchise needs revisiting.  

My personal position is a mixture of, just look around us, and a feeling that any “ism” is bound to fail since it ignores the reality of human nature. However, recent reading suggests I may need a more philosophical basis to my position, so I will turn my attention to that as my next project, as well as exploring further the rise in nationalism which has bedevilled first Europe and then the whole world.  

Poetry

As to the poem, it was actually written in Latin, but Diaper was one of the four who translated the poem into English. The poem in made up of four chapter, the quote below is from chapter 4 which actually runs to 810 lines – hence my offering you an extract. The poem is about bringing up a beautiful child. But before that as perhaps a counterbalance to last week’s poem a short verse familiar I am sure to you all from Hilaire Belloc


‘The moon on my one hand, the dawn on the other:  
The moon is my sister, the dawn is my brother.  
The moon on my left and the dawn on my right.  
My brother, good morning: my sister, goodnight.”  
  
Callipaedia  
 
“For when slow Time and studious Care reveals  
Where sacred Truth is hid and Honour dwells;  
When by an odious Train of formal Rules,  
And the rough Discipline of tedious Schools  
Man comes to Reason, and begins to know,  
The glimmering lights, at best, imperfect show  
What is our Good, but cannot Good bestow.  
For ah! What Pains and Doubts distract the soul,  
While fond desires the Judgement’s Choice control!  
How hard a s task to guide th’ unruly Will,  
Or fix the certain Bounds of Good and Ill” 

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