“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”
I must begin with an apology for getting my years muddled last week; It was so long ago that I badly fouled up on dates. The date below is accurate. Where 1963 came from I have no idea, but quite frankly, at my age precision about dates for events in our lives is getting rather hazy.
In August 1964, some ten days after our wedding, we were at the docks in Southampton, boarding the Union Castle flagship vessel the SS Windsor Castle. At that time the Union Castle line dominated passenger and light cargo trade between England and Southern Africa. The voyage to Cape Town took some fourteen days. We of course were not First-Class passengers, and in those days, there was a sharp division between the standard of accommodation and facilities between the mass and the important. I think I will restrict myself to only one memory. Bear in mind the passenger list included a fair number of teachers for Northern Rhodesia, as it was then. Sea sickness was no problem for either of us, but one poor individual eventually had to see the Doctor and was given a suppository. Never having understood this rather continental practice, he swallowed it – an experience he bitterly regretted.
Enough you say, where are you going with this. Well after leaving the boat, we all boarded the train that over the next five days would trundle us many miles north to Ndola. This was South Africa remember, so fairly soon a spotty customs’ official – I was after all only a few days short of my 23rd birthday – entered our cabin with forms to be completed.
What quickly became clear was that describing oneself as English was regarded as inadequate. Fortunately, I had my guide for the last 58 years beside me, and I stayed relatively calm, settling on describing myself as an Anglo-Saxon Celt since it appeared that the enquiry was about my ethnicity. I still remember my pleasure at his response.
In recent years we suddenly have found simply describing oneself as English is all but impossible. Born in England is not sufficient, speaking English and conforming to mainstream life is inadequate also. The recent weather has perhaps provided the only solid answer of what being English is.
Dissatisfaction is built into our psyche, especially where the weather is concerned. Come Wednesday morning, after several hours of steady, and much needed rain, what was the instinctive response but to complain about the cold, despite having moaned for days about the heat.
So constant dissatisfaction, and a willingness to express it, whether in a police state or our shambles of a democracy, defines us. Perhaps this attitude operates as a kind of safety valve since actually, at base, the majority of us know how lucky we are to be living in this country.
Well, two weeks have passed, and all in the farm and at Ulula is well. Reports last weekend, before this week’s rain, were all reassuring, and Tim was very positive again this weekend.
Our efforts to protect and support our cattle and sheep were all successful. The splendid rain we had midweek was just what the pastures desperately needed, and the overall atmosphere is so much brighter now that the weather seems to have returned to what before we would have called ‘normal’.
Tim still struggles with cases of New Forest Eye among the young cattle despite using Homeopathy. More new calves have arrived and are flourishing. Freedom from the barn must come soon!
Alice and Brendan have been a great help at weekends and the two of them and Tim work well together. We were delighted to hear from Yannick who, despite floods, heat and wildfires has safely bicycled as far as Croatia from Venice via the Alps. Not that we ever had any doubt as to his success! As you would expect he was very anxious we updated Tim on his progress.
At the beginning of this week the farming community in most parts of the country was feeling a degree of despair. Despite our best efforts, we also had some pretty parched fields here, and only a few looking respectably green. Where animals were located was decided by where best to keep them from overheating, and not only were the suckler herd in the barn being fed, but also stock in the fields – feed obviously meant for winter, but we had read the runes correctly earlier in the season, so our store of hay and straw is good. Come the spring, farmers will either be selling off stock or paying exorbitant prices for both hay and straw.
You may well have noted that the European Union have, in the face of drought, wildfires and floods decided, for one year only to relax various parts of the requirements on farmers, put in place to protect the environment. A generous response is to see this as sensible pragmatism. Sadly, I feel sure this was driven by a combination of politics and finance. We delude ourselves if we fail to understand that these two factors determine all policy across all areas.
The media airways have been much occupied this week with farming issues, other than gloom and doom about the weather. Methane is currently very much on the agenda for scientific research. Much I admit beyond me, but not to be ignored since the emissions given off by ruminants, though a small proportion of the total floating up into the atmosphere, is a frequent target for climate activists, given the heating effect of methane on our world’s climate is so great.
The research includes the relationship between the grasses that animals eat, to the role of trees in both the emission and the absorption of methane. Work on ways to absorb methane are wide ranging also. Perhaps the most surprising was research that the clay used in cat litter was particularly effective. Other research suggests that the soil itself may absorb methane.
Preparation 501 is the second field spray that the biodynamic grower makes / buys and uses directly on the fields.
Whereas 500 is all about mediating the plant’s relationship with the earth and water, 501 is about mediating the plant’s relationship with warmth and sunlight.
Whilst 500 is sprayed near sunset in a “rain drop”, 501 is sprayed near sunrise, as a very fine mist.
It is powerful, and with experience, 501 can be used to fight back against a wet summer, wet harvest, or an unusually cold growing season. It can also be used to bring a fruit to ripeness if it gets stuck because of a cold wind, or a late spring and short growing season. But care is needed as it can “burn” a crop or “send it over” too quickly.
To make the silica preparation, quartz crystal is ground – to a meal rather than flour. In late spring, mixed to a slurry, it is poured into a cow horn and buried in the earth for the summer. Yet another polarity in this fascinating and very different way to help farming!
On the personal front, Georges Monbiot’s book ‘Resurgence’ has provoked much comment amongst us recently, not least because of his claim that the most damaging farm products are organic, pasture-fed beef and lamb. He is of course a committed vegan, and a man of strange and wonderful ideas, cherry picking what supports him, and rejecting all else, and attacking him for changing his position of a few years back that organic was the only solution, is pointless.
The publishers of his book apparently wrote “…his writing is marred by idees fixes – bees in the bonnet that he mistakes for divine revelation and pursues with evangelical fervour (some say messianic). Regenesis is a good and seductive read but its overall thesis is a diversion, leading us on false trails, throwing out very promising babies with the bathwater, and failing to identify or get to grips with the world’s deep, underlying problems – those of governance, economics, and, above all, mindset. Like today’s politicians, Monbiot is all too keen on gimmicky techno-fixes”. i.e. – the usual pc knee-jerk stuff with trendy high tech tacked on. Oh dear, indeed.
I can’t leave this section without giving praise to the Rose. White, Red, pink, yellow or other colours, they have not allowed the drought to ruin their annual display. I admit I have not always been a fan of the rose, which, in my mind, is associated with walking along suburban streets in outer London where the gardens appeared over manicured and sterile, each with the obligatory rose. Unfair and out of date I am sure, but that memory has stayed in with me for the last fifty years.
I have in my listening, aside from the proms, been alternating between the symphonies of Emilie Mayer and Alice Mary Smith, both products of the 19th century. The latter, the first English woman to write not just chamber music but a symphony as well. The works of both went into the archives on their death, although both in their lifetime were admired and their works apparently often heard. Now ‘CPO’ are issuing many of Mayer’s works in imaginative covers at mid-price.
‘Chandos’ have, probably under pressure from Howard Shelley, at least produced a CD of Smith’s two symphonies, but that is that. The cover is drab, the price full range. Two immediate thoughts; both relate to prejudice, in one case on the part of the imagination of the marketing team, and of their CD producers, and I am not impressed by that. What I am struck by, is how far society has moved in its appreciation of women over and beyond the roles of sex symbol and mother. Chauvinism still exists of course, but hard though it may be to accept, it has never before been on the retreat so dramatically,
As always looking out for women composers rarely heard on disc, Dora Pejacevicu does not at first listening over excite, but I wrote this before receipt of an additional CD which features her piano concerto and fourth symphony. I now feel more positive, though perhaps for the wrong reasons. Croatia is a country we not only have visited, but about which I know a fair amount about having collaborated for several years with a Croatian philatelist in producing a definitive account of the postal system during the Austrian occupation of 1878 to 1918. The pianist, Peter Donahue, a Mancunian through and through, we met and heard play just as fame came to him at a friend’s house – which had a drawing room large enough for chamber music to be played in. As importantly, they had the clout to attract up and coming musicians to play for them. James Galway was another I recall. But rather more to the point, returning to Dora’s Compositions, though I find reconciling her music to her Croatian background difficult, her works are worth listening out for.
Obviously, it has been a very strange week, and I have had one of those ‘earworms’ at work all week. I am of course misusing the term, but what I mean is how scenes and events have brought paraphrases of first lines from famous poets.
The first and most obvious one came from seeing fire fighters both in France and America driving along roads with burning forest on both sides. I am amazed no one came up with the headline: Flames to the left and to the right of them, charged the brave fire fighters, into the heart of the fire.
With the arrival of rain, the Hippopotamus song came to mind similarly: Rain, rain, beautiful rain, I’m down to the stream, to swim in beautiful rain.
As you well know, I try to avoid political comment, but this week I find it unavoidable. First, I want to make clear that however uncomfortable it may feel, that the replacement for B. Johnson, will come from the votes of the 160,000 Conservative party members, it has to be done this way to maintain our current constitutional monarchy, and to avoid slipping into the Presidential model.
It would appear that the majority of the 160,000 Conservative party members would, if given the choice, have B. Johnson re-elected as Prime Minister – a piece of information that must have Margaret Thatcher turning in her grave. Putting to one side the inevitable horrors bound to follow whichever of the two candidates is to win, I really feel that the paid-up members of that party ought to think hard about themselves and their thinking. I have little doubt that most of this group are upright law-abiding citizens and see themselves as honourable members of our society. But pause for a while and consider what your views on this matter say about yourself; Where have the range of values which I would have imagined you would want of your leader to hold gone – integrity, a vision tied to beliefs, sincerity, hardworking, trustworthiness, a willingness to take responsibility and above all, a drive to do their best for their country rather than for themselves.
Historically, poetry has been as concerned with politics as with love and death. I offer you two quotes, one from Shakespeare and one from Alexander Pope before concluding with one of the greatest political poems in our language by Shelley.
From one of the most famous plays of Shakespeare: “A plague on both your houses”.
From Alexander Pope, a great talent if now rather ignored: “I find myself hoping a total end of all the unhappy divisions of mankind by party-spirit, which at best is but the madness of many for the gain of a few.”
And finally, one of the greatest political poems in our language. In reading this, make sure you note the date, and do not assume I am advocating republicanism. I chose this poem for its use of language and power.
Our best sketch reporters fall way short, but then they write to amuse rather than to express their emotions, whereas in the days prior to electric light, radio and television, poetry really meant something in a way now lost.
Side-tracking madly, what appals me is the way in which imagination is no longer encouraged, and knowledge so restricted that allusion goes unremarked.
England in 1819 By Percy Bysshe Shelley
An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn, —mud from a muddy spring;
Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,
But leechlike to their fainting country cling
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.
A people starved and stabbed in th’ untilled field;
An army, whom liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield;
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless—a book sealed;
A senate, Time’s worst statute, unrepealed—
Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.