How to describe this week? Well it has passed without major disaster, though if we do not have rain soon, one could be looming. The warm April has meant most spring blossoms are over and the overwhelming picture is one of green – leaves and grass have taken centre stage.
May has brought us frost most nights – including one very hard frost for this time of year, certainly plenty of sunshine and a cold and drying wind.
From where we sit in our splendid(?) isolation others seem to have been enormously busy. Those here on the farm were able to meet in the garden to celebrate Anne’s birthday – but of course, sitting well apart – an enjoyable break in the pattern of life for all of us.
Sadly, we could not be part of our eldest grandson’s birthday on Saturday – other than through the exchange on What’sApp. From that I think we can affirm that he had a very good day. We all hope for a better year for him as his university course comes to a fumbling halt.
Importantly, the animals appear to thrive though one ewe chose to ‘leave us’.
The two herds have been moved around. The young stock have gone onto the odd shaped field at the back of the farm, from which the bridle path turns north away from the farm. This is the only stretch of the bridle path not to be fenced and as young cattle are very curious and easily spooked, warning signs have had to be erected since a large group of even ‘small cows’ taking a close interest in you can be disturbing – especially to untrained horses and inexperienced dogs.
We do need this field heavily grazed because it is the one field left to be seeded under the Higher Tier Agreement and since, for this field, the sowing is of wild flower seeds and such seeds are very light, there have to be patches of bare earth.
Aside from the loss of the ewe the flock seem to be doing well. There have been no more lambs and those we have will be vaccinated very soon. A further 10 fat lambs go this weekend, and, in the meantime, the main flock has been temporarily moved to a new field.
Over the years we have experimented with a number of software programmes without deriving a great deal from them. Our new one, which I have yet to master, appears, if you enter numbers such as height of grass, average weight. and number of livestock, to enable you to discover how many days grazing the field will take. Well we shall see, and I will try to use it. The trouble is I am expected to listen to an hour of heaven knows what, before I can get in!
Fencing continues, and Martin is still coming every now and then to do jobs that only his machinery can achieve. His latest effort has been to run an overflow pipe from the pond to the main ditch past unit 1. The need for this arises because when the pond rises too high the water seeps into the orchard causing unnecessary water logging which is not good for the trees. Talking of which a London plane tree has now been planted in the same field that the hornbeam went into – that by the way seems to be doing well. Martin has also cleared a blocked culvert.
Most of the recent fencing has been in the central part of the farm which means that with the addition of gates, stock movement and grazing can be more tightly controlled. Along the hedges that we planted, the fencing is only on the one side so laying might be done next year perhaps.
With some increase in mobility I have enjoyed seeing how well the hedges we had planted have taken. At the same time, I could not ignore seeing that the financial problems that had held back remedial action on many of the older hedges had left them with bare stems and growth only at the top. This autumn we shall try do something about this – hedge work at this time of year is of course banned.
I also took the opportunity to see how trees we planted along the farm track were doing. They were a mix of decorative cherries, crab apples and hazels. This was not one of our most successful ventures, but those that have survived seem to have taken on a new lease of life. Of the decorative cherries only half remain. The most disappointing as far as I was concerned were the hazel and cob plants. Never before have I failed with these, but here it has been another story and we only have two bushes showing real life though a third may yet survive.
In my perambulating I confess I have been disappointed in the growth on most pastures. To use a local expression there has not been the ‘bounce’ you normally expect at this time of year. And frankly it is no consolation to be told by others their fields are in a worst state than ours. Inevitably, after the autumn and winter we had, there is more poaching or damage to the ground than one would want, but at least the last rain helped green much of it over.
Returning to the grazing requirements for the next 9 years, we are going to have to use electric fencing more than in the past. Erecting electric fencing by hand is a slow and tedious business. At long last the farm has indulged in a device which can be attached to the ATV to string the wires out, so all that needs to be done by hand is push in the insulating poles and hook the wires onto them.
Visiting the vegetable garden after what was described as being, in some places the hardest frost ever recorded in May, I expected to find strawberry flowers with black centres. Happily, that was not the case, all looks good, as do a row of peas and broad beans, and indeed the rhubarb seems to have recovered from its early stressed state. In the greenhouse are plants such as tomatoes, peppers, courgettes and celeriac. They, I think, can go out now, but the orange trees will stay in the greenhouse. One has fruit on, and another has flowers. With the decision to reduce the number of tender plants sown, the space they occupy is not needed.
We have had no news of Tim. He may well be back on Monday as his mother is now in hospital, but that might not be possible. As and when he returns, an important task will be clearing out the litter in the barn and collecting in all feed trailers. Mind you, before clearing out the barn, it might make better sense to first spread the compost that is certainly ready to be spread. Also, before the end of the month more 500 needs to be sprayed, now made possible by a delivery from The Biodynamic Agricultural Association.
Saturday mornings I try to ensure I listen to Record Review on Radio 3. This morning concentrated on a composition by Mozart and was enjoyable if, as always, slightly gobbledygook to my untrained ear. Afterwards, having foolishly read an update on the doings of Trump and Johnson, I went outside, as the sun was shining and did no more than listen to the great variety of birdsong and constant movement of small birds around the house. I recommend to anybody, whatever the size of your outdoor space, just soaking up the sounds and activities of the natural world. It is a great restorative after the frightening absurdities of our fumbling but ambitious politicians. Of course, I may be being unfair – it may be all the fault of the media. Whatever, it is deeply unsavoury.
Nearly forty years ago, in a far off country, I watched Amadeus. Later reading suggested that the villain of the musical was pilloried unfairly. This last week I have got round the actually listening to some of his compositions. In truth they sounded very acceptable and of his time. A sleeve note suggested that both Beethoven and Schubert had benefited from his teaching – not quite the nondescript composer the musical suggested. I also discovered that the operas of this Italian composer had dominated that scene in Paris for many years.
Given the prominence in previous notes to HMS Beagle it was strange to read of the discovery of the long disused ‘dock’ where in 1850 the ship after thirty years’ service was broken up. Whether she was the last of the ‘coffin barks”, as the Cherokee class of ships was known, to survive I know not.
John Clare was the subject of last weeks “In our time.” As any good discussion should, it reminded one of truths easily forgotten, and others not properly understood, and gave me an excuse to spend an enjoyable time reading both original works and commentaries on them, and in passing underlined the many facets of poetry. Perhaps I should think more kindly of Mr Bennet, not of his escapism from his responsibilities, but rather of the vehicle he chose.
As others will know better than I do, Clare appears to have been looking back to a time before enclosure brought fences and hedges restricting access to walks, he remembered with affection from his youth. Enclosure, however you view it, ended communal working, and drove many off the land and into factories. But if factory life was tough, the life of an agricultural labourer was no sinecure. Of course there was a safety net of sorts through parish relief but …
As a positively inclined pragmatist, in the world as I see it, little is actually black or white though not grey! Balance is all. Go to Cerne Abbas and enjoy the chocolate box sight of the cottages lining the high street, or think of the fact that each of those houses held four families, lacked running water, and sewage arrangements were unsavoury; that the mortality rate among children was very high and a poor harvest could mean starvation.
Both these images are factually correct, but do we really imagine that for all the inhabitants life was totally miserable every day of their lives? Remember the writings of Laurie Lee or Gwen Raverat, or the poems of John Clare. Real community can help in almost all situations. I suspect, as today, some days were good, some awful. I also think it is often forgotten that expectations have a significant role in happiness not a reality ignored by advertisers or politicians.
The programme in passing was a useful reminder that poetry writing was not confined to the middle and upper classes. Yet many of these working-class poets are no more than, at most, names in a list. Obviously I needed again to read examples of the works of such forgotten poets, and should you be interested, names to follow up might be James Woodhouse, William Billington, John(?) Dalton and Robert Bloomfield – but that is not intended as a representative group.
George Sampson in 1941 authored a book called “The concise Cambridge history of English literature”, a reduction of the great full history, my copy is in fact the 3rd edition of 1970. It is a truly marvellous read – though to dip into not read in one sitting – to give you a flavour I share two quotations:
About Robert Southey and his works – “presenting outwardly an imposing frontage, they are within entirely null and void”
“Probably no man who wrote so much has contributed so little” (page 487)
John Clare to referred to in a single paragraph which links him to Robert Bloomfield – “Bloomfield was a versifier, Clare a poet”.
I share a fragment I came across from that great man – apt I hope because this week we have had some very hard frosts.
Frost powders the grass
And crumps beneath the foot
And where’re our footsteps pass
Leaves prints as black as soot
The last line is happily not true in this day and age!
What marvellous certainty – you may ask who was Mr Sampson – all I know is that he is described in the preface to the 3rd edition as displaying ‘great literary skill and immense scholarly patience which went into his book’. The only review which I found went as follows:
“Sampson is some sort of tweedy arch-curmudgeon. He has a great style: waspish and brisk in dismissal (‘It is their loss,’ said of the detractors of any of his favourite authors), ardent and sensitive in praise. He read EVERYTHING”
“but …so, so funny. Go to him for illumination on all but modernism”.
A statement from a position of ignorance I uphold totally.
To return to the programme, the view expressed was, as I have said, that Clare was looking back on a happier time before enclosure in his area. Enclosure, as I think most of us used to understood it, was a good thing as the authors of “1066 and all that” (a book I hope you all have come across with the most wonderful preface) may well have described it. We learnt it was part of the industrial revolution and that it was a necessary move to improve agricultural productivity.
One of my gripes about the leading historians of my generation was that it was not publicised that most if not all were Marxists. in hindsight, it was obvious given their emphasis on the effect of change on ordinary people, rather than painting the kind of picture that earlier historians such as Arthur Bryant were so good at. So, their interpretations were derived from a Marxist viewpoint. Now, of course, we are all Marxists in the sense that we understand history cannot ignore the consequences of change on ordinary people but non-Marxist in our recognition of the importance of outstanding men and women.
I had intended to end with a poem written by one of ‘The Lancashire weaver’, ‘The shoemaker poet’ or Robert Bloomfield, also a cobbler and Suffolk born whose most Famous poem is perhaps ‘The Farmers Boy’, but in the event never found one which spoke to me quite as strongly as I wanted. So, to use a famous catchword ‘Now for something different’ – I have turned to Ogden Nash who was a very prolific ‘poet’ and aside from some of his poems post the Great Depression, good to bring a smile to the face:
The germA mighty creature is the germ,
Though smaller than the pachyderm.
His customary dwelling place
Is deep within the human race.
His childish pride he often pleases,
By giving people strange diseases.
Do you, my poppet, feel infirm?
You probably contain a germ.
And finally, a couplet that has been often used and abused:
The cowThe cow is of the bovine ilk:
One end is moo, the other milk.
But if you are interested the poems, I rejected sit below:
Free spirit, unfettered by crime,
To the loftiest Thought-Summit clime!
There, wouldst thou be wise,
Then lift up thine eyes
And thou shalt see Spirit and Matter shake hands,
Where the sea of Eternity washes the sands
Of the cloud-mantled island of Time!
When Genius doth grapple with Time-
That mental delusion called Time!
Mind’s conquering grip
Doth God’s matter-robe strip;
‘Tis thus to immortals that moments and years
Are as one, for the goddess Eternity wears
For ever the bloom of her prime!
The Soul nestles not on the sod,
But builds on the bosom of God!
In Truth’s heart, have no place!
Like the lightning’s swift track through the gloomy cloud-rack,
Through such thought-mists the heaven-fledged spirit flies back
To its home on the bosom of God!
Rowley Woods by James Woodhouse – the shoemaker poet:
High, on those Hills, whose scarce-recorded Name,
Has weakly whisper’d from the trump of Fame;
Just to announce, distinct, the simple sound,
O’er other swarming heights, and hamlets, round—
Unless like Name of Bristol’s ancient Bard,
Among the tuneful tribes may meet regard,
Which hapless Chatterton’s prolific lays
Wreath’d round his brows with never-fading bays;
Or poor Crispinus’, oaten pipe, alone,
Might serve to raise the sound one semitone.
There ‘mid the Cots that look o’er southern lands,
Near the blest spot where Heav’n’s fair temple stands,
Once dwelt an humble, but an honest, Pair,
Of manners, rustic, but of morals rare!