A new male calf

I have managed to say little about the cricket World Cup but at this stage of the competition there can be no excuse for ignoring it further. Leaving aside the quality of the semi-finals and the final itself, what must have struck any observer is the numbers attending and the total absence of any discomfort about the multi-ethnicity of the crowds. Cricket remains one of the few games where good play, by friend or foe, is equally appreciated. I can now add the fact that by the slimmest of margins England won and the scene in our sitting room was one of complete nervous exhaustion!

This can I know happen in tennis, but an article on Saturday revealed that Angela Buxton, one of the very few British players to win a final at Wimbledon, was not accorded membership of the All England Lawn Tennis Club because she was Jewish – so anti-Jewish feeling lurks underground still, or in the case of far left openly. Utterly shameful and unbelievable but true.

Farming life

Few are comfortable in a situation where they don’t know what is planned for the coming days. With this in mind, particularly when we have woofers, I try to provide on a Monday morning the daily tasks for the week… Would that life be straightforward, this week’s actions planned for the first two days of the week rapidly went out of the window.  Monday was naturally not going to be a comfortable day with the condemned heifer expected to be collected between 8.30 and 9am. The lorry driver had been told 7.30 and arrived on time so I was on the back foot at once. Next it turned out Aélis and Florian were wanted elsewhere. The day was not of course wasted because, over the weekend I had spotted hemlock along the bridle path and this, in addition to the plants on the windrows, left Jack with plenty to do after helping Tim with the stock.

And then on Tuesday it was found that a lamb had fly strike. When one is found, experience requires all the animals to be run through the race for, and here I am tempted to use that much-loved phrase of news presenters, “a fingertip search” to be carried out. In the event it was only the one that was affected but given this heavy moist weather it made sense to use Clikzin on them all. Thereafter they all moved onto a new pasture.

So it was, that a key task of weeding the business park and trimming its bushes has not yet been fully completed. However, the vegetable garden is as well-kept, and as productive as it has ever been. That means fresh vegetables and soft fruit every day for all of us – woofers and family alike. Although there are no apples on our two big trees, we do have plenty of juice left to enjoy with meals.

For Tim thereafter the field in which the barn is set needed selective topping, while field 13 on the other side of the stream, from which 135 bales had been taken, required a good spread of compost and then grass harrowing.

Sadly, we lost another lamb – survival for it was always an issue since not only had it been orphaned, it had a deformed leg. We did our best but sometimes that it is not enough.

We may have lost a heifer to TB, but I am happy to say we had another calf this week – a male. In theory this means we have only another three to come from the February scanning. Unfortunately, the eye infection has returned and currently three young cattle are held in the barn with their needs being attended to. For the two herds, the threat of hot sunshine at the weekend meant we took the decision to hold them in their current fields where they might find good shade. As we should have expected, the forecast was less than accurate. Talking of the weather we really do need much more rain. This week we have had the odd light shower but nothing more, and though the overcast, skies have reduced the potential for evaporation from the fields, concern is now growing.

On Friday afternoon we began the exercise of spraying the whole farm. We had previously sprayed the newly drilled fields, but we are actually overall behind schedule. The spraying was completed on Sunday, and now our stores of the preparation 500 are all used so I now need to buy more. With the arrival of southern planting time next week, dates have already been identified on which 501 will be sprayed.

There have been other events during the week of course. On Thursday it was Florian’s birthday, and Aélis cooked a great crumble for desert at lunchtime, and then at teatime we had a rather special birthday cake baked by Brendan. Florian then had his ears battered by a hearty rendition of Happy Birthday from the whole family!

Earlier in the week I discovered we could have been selling our wool as organic and so earning a premium of up to 50%. Well better late than never, and this year our bags are so labelled, and a date fixed for their delivery. Dealings with the RPA were mainly amicable, and we were able to draw their attention to a fault in their system. At least it would appear from statements made at the Select Committee that the RPA has realised the level of general discontent among farmers. Sadly, that cannot be said of our MP who stuck her head above the parapet and met a group of local farmers at the end of the week. She clearly is just not up to the job.

With Florian, Aélis and Boots building a raft to use on the pond the young moorhens have had their calm disturbed. Also by the pond is a cage containing six young guinea fowl who will be kept in it until old enough to roost in safety in the willows. This week we also had evidence that the swallows nesting on the house have produced fledglings. The ‘grapevine’ suggests numbers of swallows and swifts are down this year and I certainly have not seen a swift yet. With considerable chagrin I share the news that a wood pigeon is nesting in our Wisteria – pigeons are not among my favourite birds. We have, at least, ensured there are no jackdaws nesting nearby. One of the family recently saw a yellow wagtail which filled me with envy since I have never seen one.  Pied wagtails are a common feature around the house and business park, and I think there is at least one nest by the farm workshop.

We shall be without Jack next week. It will feel odd not to have him here, but he certainly deserves the break.

Final decisions have not yet been made on the programme for next week but certainly will include moving cattle and some sheep, taking down fencing and maintaining the vegetable garden.

A musical moment

Some years ago, a number of recordings featuring lesser known British composers or conductors appeared under the label Lyrita. It subsequently became known that these originated from recordings made by a Richard Itter using equipment of the highest quality. Itter, a Birmingham man, died recently, but only after agreeing a deal which will see most of his vast collection of recordings – said to number 1,500 – issued on CD. Aside from feeling relief that such eccentricity is still a feature of our society, on the Lyrita label, I came across a two-disc set featuring works by William Hurlstone. Listening to these a number of times I could well understand why his teachers saw him as the greatest of the group of British composers now revered. His death at the age of 30 can be the only reason why he is not as well-known as his talent deserves.

Canadian poets

For a variety of reasons Canada has been much on my mind including perhaps the thought of escaping life in this country, whose politics have plumbed new depths of absurdity – do we have to copy America in all things? Moving on rapidly, these thoughts led me to the view that a poem by a Canadian should be used this week.

I rapidly realised that my knowledge of Canadian poets was sadly limited and that my only specific source was a collection edited by Ralph Gustafon and published by Penguin books as a Pelican in 1942! This naturally led me to wonder why Canadian writers are so little known and appreciated in this country. My generation probably is aware of Stephen Leacock once seen as the greatest humourist in our language, even though he wrote at the same time as Wodehouse. Kenneth Galbraith will be known as a proponent of economic liberalism, Robertson Davies a novelist of the highest quality, though rather Jungian in his approach. Max Braithwaite and William Mitchell are authors I first came across when we lived in Canada, and of course Margaret Atwood. But as to choosing a poem I found I had to fall back on that individual who was a contemporary of Rudyard Kipling – Robert Service.

There have been many prolific poets writing in English, but few wrote as much as Robert Service. Like many Canadian poets, Robert Service was in fact born in the UK. He wrote poetry about gold mining in the Yukon and life in the camps and bars. One of his most famous featured ‘Dangerous Dan McGrew’ – at one time often heard as a recital piece, but he had another, often overlooked side, which I have set out below. I hasten to add that these were not chosen to reflect my current feelings!

“Just think” by Robert Service

“Just think! some night the stars will gleam
Upon a cold, grey stone,
And trace a name with silver beam,
And lo! ’twill be your own.

That night is speeding on to greet
Your epitaphic rhyme.
Your life is but a little beat
Within the heart of Time.

A little gain, a little pain,
A laugh, lest you may moan;
A little blame, a little fame, and 
A star-gleam on a stone”

The same poet wrote the two poems that follow.

My Indian summer

“Here in the Autumn of my days
My life is mellowed in a haze.
Unpleasant sights are none too clear,
Discordant sounds I hardly hear.
Infirmities like buffers soft
Sustain me tranquilly aloft.
I’m deaf to duffers, blind to bores,
Peace seems to percolate my pores.
I fold my hands, keep quiet mind,
In dogs and children joy I find.
With temper tolerant and mild,
Myself you’d almost think a child.
Yea, I have come on pleasant ways
Here in the Autumn of my days”


‘I have no doubts that the Devil grins,
As seas of ink I spatter
Ye gods forgive my “literary” sins
The other kind don’t matter’

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