All cattle in the barn for winter

Well this week has certainly had a real effect on our pastures. Though the Bow Brook remains well below its banks, the fields are now too wet to carry the cattle, and so all are now in the barn for the winter.  A sheep, of course is less than one tenth the weight of a cow, and with no more than two to three to the acre, the damage they will inflict is minor – except of course by the feeding trailers even though these are on hard pads.

For the moment all seems well. The seventeen sheep went off on Sunday morning without any problems, and on Monday another heifer calf was born. All is well there too, and the next step, once we have the calf’s passport, is to register the three new heifer calves.

Purity of our Hereford cattle confirmed

Some time ago, against a backcloth of complaints, largely from Australia, owners of pedigree Hereford cattle were required to send samples of hairs from the tails of a number of their cattle to check that their blood lines had not been contaminated by cross breeding with other breeds. It appears that particularly in North and South America, as well as Australia, many Hereford cattle are not actually pure bred. There has as yet been no data released as to the situation here. All this furore was some months ago. This week we received green slips confirming that ours are indeed pure bred traditional English Hereford’s – to be honest it took us some while to make sense of the slips since memories are not what they were!

200 bottles of apple juice

Otherwise the week was quite normal; contractors failed to come back, or answer phone calls, and though everybody – I exclude myself – worked very hard, many issues remain unsorted. There were some positives, we took a delivery of fourteen 8′ bales of organic straw and collected well over 200 bottles of Rush Farm apple juice, which had been nestling against apple juice belonging to the rich and famous in the pressing barn, and which may not last long given how delicious it is! Jack continues his losing battle against litter picking on the business park but did make progress on other fronts. The continued support from Nikki and Judy continues to be a real bonus and Ulula benefits from their contribution.

Fat wood pigeons!

With the trees now bare of leaves one becomes even more aware of the birdlife. The numbers and varieties of small birds is very obvious. On the ground fat wood pigeons now seem to find the grass on our lawns very tasty, and the apple tree at the end of the garden is surrounded by fallen fruit which are being much enjoyed by our moorhens, blackbirds and the occasional thrush. The tree seems every year to crop heavily but the apples are cookers and cannot be used for juice and we are only able to eat so many!

Mapping the farm

For some time, I have been looking for an excuse to talk about maps. Brendan, our eldest grandson recently visited the National Archives to look in particular at maps. They did of course see other things such as letters by Jack the Ripper, but essentially, their visit allowed them to see how maps have developed over time, and how maps have been used. Impressively the National Archive holds some 6,000,000 maps.

In part I studied geography at A level because I found maps so fascinating, whether they were weather charts or ordinance survey. When Rush Farm was purchased, among the earliest things we acquired were maps. To know more about the soil and sub-strata I turned to the geological survey map for the farm. I sought out maps that showed the farm as it was in late Victorian times at 6″ to the mile, and in passing found a military map from the early 19th century that described the farm house at that time as a ‘hovel’ even though its architecture suggests otherwise.

We had maps of the farm made which showed footpaths, the bridle way, ditches and all the hedges (marked with the trees growing in each). I attempted to find the tithe map for the area but have had no luck there so far, except that looking at the Elizabethan map in Feckenham we were able to establish the fields at the back of the farm were once part of the ‘open’ fields of the 16th century.

What we have also never found is a definitive map of the drainage which was carried out in the 1890’s, or of the route taken for the pipe that brought water to the farm from the nearby hill – there was of course a well but that was made safe many years ago. We have maps showing main pipes for water and sewage, for electrical and telephone lines and even a map which shows which part of the farm may be in Redditch; maps showing which parish we are in now and which we were in 50 years ago.

For personal use we have maps at 1″ and 2.5″ inches to the mile for much of the country, and of course keep as a normal fixture in the car, a road map for the whole country. All this said, you will understand how bizarre it seems that so many people can’t even read a map, let alone enjoy the exercise. To rely solely on GPS strikes me as far too many steps to far!

Hugh Edwards presentation

The third instalment of Hugh Edwards presentation I found more interesting than the first two. Firstly because of content – the fleshing out of the Chartist movement expanded my knowledge. As an example, I had not known the red flag was first hoisted in Wales, nor that the Newport ‘massacre’ actually resulted in two more deaths than the Peterloo massacre some 30 years before.

Secondly, because it splendidly illustrated the possibly dangerous limitations of tunnel vision. Except for one comment towards the end, you would not have realised that much of what happened in Wales was mirrored in the other nations of the United Kingdom, let alone on the continent. It is valuable to be reminded how many writers of English history show similar tunnel vision. Nationalism may be built into the human psyche, but it can be so dangerous in a variety of ways including causing other nations to see themselves as victims.

Finally, the series reminded me of the magnetic pull of England, and in particular of the big cities, especially in terms of impoverished people seeking work, and in attracting radicals and revolutionaries alike – a role which is still as strong today. Robert Price, a key figure in the Rebecca riots, rather like John Lilburne some 150 years before, played a significant part in the thinking of those who created the American Constitution aside from being very influential on the thinking of that famous feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Though a major thinker and radical, and indeed a Welshman, he spent much of his life in London, indeed being made a Freeman of that city and like Marx, being laid to rest in that city.

In passing and unconnected to anything, I was amazed to read that the best degree for men in terms of future earnings is still economics. Given the awful track record of economists, this is hard to explain.

Perhaps though, this explains some of our country’s financial woes. I appreciate that saying this as one whose undergraduate qualification was PPE, and who has not yet thrown away his copy of Samuelson, might be accused of double standards.

Christmas party game

As a party game or conversational gambit, I have always thought ‘what is your favourite piece of music’ to be rather ‘naff’. As an approach, Desert Island Discs is perhaps too revealing for a party game, especially if sprung on one. Nonetheless I think it is true that for each of us memory is often associated with certain musical works whether they be classical, light or popular.

I write this listening to Caesar Franks violin sonata of which I admit I have many copies. His symphony and piano quintet, together with Brahms cello sonatas take me straight back to Africa, as does a double LP of Benny Goodman in Moscow; Johnny Cash to Edmonton; the voice of Ella Fitzgerald to Manchester; the Mendelssohn violin concerto to Leamington Spa; the Beethoven Quartets to Bromsgrove and that’s enough self-indulgence!

Try it out this Christmas – it must be more entertaining than repeats on the television.

Novels and poems

As a child I suffered from severe asthma. Shortly after the end of the war, one of the periodic parcels of ‘goodies’ we had from Canadian relations included an American printing of A child’s garden of ‘verses’. The author Robert Louis Stephenson himself had a childhood dominated by ill health, and many of the poems in the collection reflect this experience. The author concerned wrote stories for young children, adults and accounts of his travels. Some like ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ are still in print today.

The Stephenson family are of course probably more famous for their engineering achievements – one being the famous Bell Lighthouse which was immortalised in the novel “The Lighthouse” written by the author of Coral Island’ R.M. Ballantine.

But I have allowed myself to be distracted! The poem much in my mind at present is below:

Winter time by R L Stephenson

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding cake. 


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