Blackbird’s Singing!

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

Overall, not a bad week, although the air pressure changes never help my asthma, but I have stopped taking the dreaded drops for the eye which had a cataract removed, and now wait to be summoned for the other eye to be done.  

The weather eventually reverted to more normal May conditions, so no more rain, and by the weekend warmth. A bank holiday without bad weather is of course almost a contradiction, but very welcome.  

I had hoped to be positive about the pastures, but the big fields at the back of the farm are, as evidence of the long dry period, not looking as they should at this time of year. Moreover, two of the three are heavily infested by buttercups, showing a sea of yellow rather than the usual white of clover. In places there is some evidence of the seed mix which was sown but that is all. 


Sadly, our tour, on my account, of the whole farm, ended badly with a bolt breaking in the steering of our ATV and the resulting problem beyond even Christopher’s engineering skills. As they say every silver lining is sat in a miserable cloud. Before that, our outing in warm sunshine, despite disappointment at the lack of growth in some fields, had been very enjoyable. It was also lovely to see how the hedges we had reinstated now looked as if original. I suppose a further silver lining was that I did at least end up doing more walking than I had anticipated.  

The brook which a week ago was deep enough to reach Brendan’s armpits is once again no more than a few inches deep. The main ditches are carrying water but are far from full. The only evidence of the rain we have had this month comes from the odd pool standing water in a number of places – fields and tracks.  

We have also been able to have our sitting room windows open in the evening, in part so that we might better enjoy the blackbird’s singing. On Thursday evening we were very lucky to have a cuckoo calling from the hedge along our western garden boundary. How long we can continue with open windows very much depends on the pollen count. 

Brendan’s second week as temporary stockman and farm worker has gone without the excitement of last week. Mind you he did have trouble persuading the young stock to cross a pinned down and non-electrified fence. The problem arose because we are strip grazing’ that particular field. Amusingly on the same day a farmer shared on the Pasture Fed site experiencing exactly the same problem! While writing about the cattle it seems as if my recent words really have jinxed the situation as a third cow had a mild prolapse and needed stitches.  

Exactly as predicted by the vet, Friday saw the arrival of a female calf to one of our oldest cows. This is likely to be the last calf she has, as for the last eighteen months, she has been suffering badly from arthritis and there is no cure for that. We do have concerns triggered by a number of the young cattle not yet having lost their winter coat and the birth of a still born calf on Sunday, which suggests the time has come for their annual bolus.  

Obviously, the weather this year, as last year, has had some effect on the animals. Yet again we had a dry period just when new grass was needed and this month, we then had almost twice as much rain as normal associated with cool weather.  We still have firm memories of 2012 when inexperience, tied to abnormal weather, brought us close to disaster with our sheep and lambing. Predictability is not a word in the farmers vocabulary.  

I have read, with a modicum of sympathy, farmers new to the experience of owning cattle seeking advice on how to move and train cattle. Many seem to find a bucket containing nuts or grass useful. I admit I do vaguely recall us resorting to the use of a bucket to get a young bull to move, but that is probably because of shouts from behind me suggesting I move rapidly off the bridle path before the bull ran me over! 

There is a technique to moving cattle over and above drama, but of course familiarity on both sides greatly helps, as does the attraction of new grass. Indeed, moving cattle is normally very much easier than moving a flock of ewes and their lambs.  

Sadly, that leads me on to write that earlier this week two dead ewes were found. Fortunately, their lambs appear strong and are already eating grass. They are also likely to steal milk from another ewe if the need is felt. Surprisingly, after a certain stage the ewes are less particular over which lamb is suckling. Finding a dead lamb on Saturday underlined the dangers of clostridal disease. While too late for that fine looking animal, as per routine practice this weekend all the sheep were brought in for treatment, the lambs for vaccination against clostridials, and since these last few days have seen a great increase in flies’ treatment for the ewes against flystrike.  

For the business of vaccination and prevention, as you can no doubt imagine, with the concrete pad in front of the barn having around 260 sheep on it, the noise level was significant as was the smell. Given the management of the situation was complicated it was a great help to Chris to be able to call on Brendan and three younger members of the clan. All went really well as Brendan said, using a version of the well-known cliché, many hands make tasks not only easier but get the work done more quickly. For the youngsters, I am confident it was a life enhancing and confidence building exercise.  

Though there are now swallows over the farm, their numbers are few and, in any case, I am not sure whether they take blowflies.  

Walking up the drive on Sunday evening I was pleased that my urge to have all the horse chestnut trees cut down had not won general approval. This obviously was at the time when the trees up and down the country were afflicted by ‘bleeding canker’. The worst were removed and then a halt was called. This evening it is true there are two very dead trees, but all of the others are in full flower, though another three may not last any more years. Whatever, the drive looks good, the cow parsley needs beheading before it seeds, but the ladies’ smock is still going strong, and every walk I see more camassia – autumn planted bulbs with blue flowers. 

I have mixed feelings about Jeremy Clarkson. At times he seems no more than a loudmouth bore, but then he will write an article that the would be ‘wokes’ really ought to take on board. I mention him because he took up farming a year ago and is recognising and coming to terms with the realities of keeping stock. I certainly remember well the mixed feelings I had when we first took lambs to the abattoir, or when the vet carried out a post-mortem on a dead animal. In our current society we shun talk or thought about the realities of the life cycle for ourselves or our pets. This is not possible for any farmer but one who does not keep stock.  

I have had little to write about biodynamics recently, so it is a pleasure to report that having collected fresh cow poo, on Sunday, after twenty minutes stirring was ready to go into two purpose-built pits – made by Boots and enclosed in bricks. Once they had been filled the appropriate preparations were inserted and the final one, valerian, after dilution, was sprinkled on by Anne.   

We have now received the date of our next Soil Association inspection. Although much of the data is on the computer, I do have a certain amount of paperwork and that includes sorting files. Less easy than usual because of my eyesight – near vision is very poor – but since it is not until the end of the month, haste is not a driver.  

Anne and I are starting to feel a little nervous at having a small hayfield on what was the lawn as we, in a happy accident were playing our part in “no mow May”. The hay fever season must be edging ever closer, and since it usually hits us hard, a strategy needs to be determined. The gardens incidentally are, to adopt some purple prose, ‘bursting out all over’. 

This week I have listened several times to a CD of chamber music by Louise Farrenc, a composer of the 19th century who I certainly think should be far better known. From the piano parts there is confirmation that she was a virtuoso pianist. Certainly, she wrote in a style hard to forget once heard. I have not yet tried her symphonies but will certainly do so in due course.  

However, mostly this week I have been alternating my listening between Joseph Szigetti a Hungarian violinist whose career ended in 1960 and whose best years were before the 1950’s and before arthritis struck, and the pianist Moura Lympany. Obviously, the recordings of her playing are the better of the two, not being taken from 78’s, but the reason I draw your attention to the box sets of both, in that so much of what is played causes one, or perhaps just me, to listen to unfamiliar works. This is particularly true of Szigeti and his playing of Hungarian music which previously I had always shunned but also the range of music played by Lympany was far wider than I had expected. One really can have too much of the standard repertoire.  

While I admit I listened attentively to the grilling of Dominic Cummings, which confirmed many of my suspicions, it was a sad mistake on another day, to tune in to the House of Commons – a totally depressing experience not to be repeated. Sycophants on one side, total evasiveness from ministers in the centre and a weak opposition on the other side.  

I was thinking of writing a few paragraphs on pedagogy given that Brendan will be returning to university this autumn to acquire his licence to teach in all secondary schools but postponed what had been written, but I shall return to that topic after I myself have recovered from exploring the mass of new findings on how the brain may work.  

For years it was crucial that I stayed up to date in my knowledge, but I must admit my interest in that topic rather died with retirement. Twenty years is a long period of neglect, and I may not have the incentive to carry out the catch up that is necessary.  

Given that it was the bicentenary of Napoleons death on the 5th of May, I should apologise for not commenting on the occasion before. In truth, I have been ruminating on the matter for some time as I tried to resolve in my own mind how to cover the obvious complexities.  

One is how to situate Napoleon in the long history of troubled Anglo-French relations. Another is his role in dividing Britain from the other Western European countries through the introduction of the Code Napoleon. Yet another is the difficulty posed by the man himself – given the changes in his thinking and behaviour over time, and his sad final belief he actually was invincible.   

Another issue which I think is too rarely given sufficient thought, is his long-term effect on how the French as a nation view themselves. One thing is certain however, he was a man who divides thinking still. A man indeed about whom, even the French state struggles to form a view, if the little recognition of that date is anything to go by.  

If we start from the undeniable fact that Britain could never, except in extremist, be a significant military power, then it’s role in Europe, if it chose to have one, could only be a balancing or blocking one, to any group on the continent that attempted to dominate. Once problems over governance had been settled at home in the 17th century, Britain’s financial position based on trade and the ability to raise cheap money, enabled this role to become ever more powerful.  

In a series of continental power struggles, all this was demonstrated from the beginning of the 18th century – particularly, perhaps too often at the expense of the French. The nation which had for many years set the pattern for others to follow, had to cope with the growing reality that the influence it had, had faded.   

There have been enough biographies of Napoleon written for it to be absurd for me to express my thoughts on his life and achievement, but I think I am entitled to consider his contribution as to how the French may feel, at some unconscious level perhaps, about themselves and their neighbours across La manche.  

A mistake made in the 18th century, and this eventually backfired on the British, was the encouragement given to Prussia, which grew from its alliance on a number of occasions by the British government. Prussia being the country which Napoleon III, foolishly engaged in a conflict, which led both to his downfall and the humiliation of France in 1870, and subsequently the First World War.  

Perhaps there is too little attention given to the psychological effects of repeated military, political and cultural ‘defeats’.  

Finally, further issues which I think were completely overlooked in the context of Brexit.  

  • One being the divide in viewing the world best expressed through the very different philosophical systems that exist between this island and the continent. 
  • Another and related to this is, the gap between pragmatism and idealism.  
  • Another and perhaps the main stumbling block being the political and legal divide caused by the Code Napoleon.  
  • And on the British side, even if not recognised, the fear of a united Europe – an aim of first Napoleon and then Hitler.  

Love him or loathe him, Napoleons influence on our world cannot be underestimated. A quotation which I just felt I had to share is this:  

“Never doubt the courage of the French. They were the ones who discovered snails were edible.”  

As one to whom the snail is an out and out curse, the thought of eating them is revolting!  

A recent edition of ‘The Week’ had an article on free will. Not, if I am honest, an issue I have thought about for many years. Essentially, I think, because I class the question as being in the same category of questions such as, where did the universe come from, that is, as being unanswerable.  

Whatever scientists may learn, unless you believe something came from nothing and nothing came from…? answers such as the Big Bang, can entertain but no more.  

Understandably the question of the existence of free will has troubled thinkers in both the Eastern and Western world for millennia, for far longer probably, in the East rather than in the West. Eastern views are far less straight forward and for one raised in the Western philosophical tradition all but impenetrable.  

But it is not my intent to try and stumble, either through the history of, or details of, views either here or in the East, but merely to comment on how I expect most of us first were faced with the question and that was through church attendance. If there was a caring and all-knowing God as described in the New Testament, how come there was so much suffering in the world?  An answer widely rejected in the West was the notion that this life is but a learning experience necessary over perhaps many lives to prepare us for heaven. Unacceptable because reincarnation in the Christian tradition did not fit into the message brought by Jesus Christ.   

But we humans seem programmed to have a need for a sense of purpose. Hence in our world, the development of the argument that God, in creating the world gave us free will, in order that we might determine our own fate. Of course, that word ‘determine’ gives us the concept of ‘determinism’ which describes those who reject the idea that free will is anything but a psychological response, to imagine we are something more than programmed neurological systems.  

For me, this was an issue I struggled with as a teenager and then faced in an academic sense in my university studies since the issue was something no philosopher could dodge.  

Eventually I adopted a position which met my needs, and I suspect that is the normal response. The article in ‘The Week’ suggested some 12% of Western philosophers reject the notion that free will exists. Actually, recognising the range of problems this could cause any society, these philosophers came up with the notion expressed above, that we are actually unable to live with this ‘truth’ and so erect an internal barrier to accepting this. After all, can we imagine a society in which the individual was able to put up the defence that he or she had no choice in the matter. 

I believe that Routledge some years ago published a useful handbook on the matter but not having read it myself cannot do more than say it exists, should you wish to dig into the history of thought on this matter in both East and West.  

Thinking of ‘free will’, though I ducked the issue, I alluded to the fact that philosophers in much earlier civilisations had got there first. By all accounts, the Iran exhibition really should rub our noses in the reality that we Western European’s are very much parvenues on so many fronts.  

Any sense of superiority we may have is absurd, and if we are honest, we recognise any superiority we gained in recent centuries arose out of the development of weaponry and the fact that climatic conditions here were so conducive to looking outwards and exploration and, additionally changes post the Reformation in the belief system, which eventually, allowed challenge to the thinking of previous generations.  

On a lighter note, I gather the Eurovision Song Contest took place last Sunday and as I understand it the UK scored ‘nul points’ apparently a routine achievement. The fact that music made in this country dominates the world market is obviously quite irrelevant. I admit that in the days of Terry Wogan I often tuned in, not for the stage performers, but for his dry wit and recognition of the nonsense it all was. Incidentally I was never a TYG and always happy to consider myself as a TOG! 

To conclude I felt I had to choose a light piece of poetry.  

by Ralph Wotherspoon  

My home is a haven for one who enjoys  
The clamour of children and ear-splitting noise  
From a number of dogs who are always about,   
Who want to come in and, once in, to go out.  
Whenever I settle to read by the fire.   

Some dog will develop an urge to retire,   
And I’m constantly opening and shutting the door   
For a dog to depart or, as mentioned before,   
For a dog to arrive who, politely admitted,   
Will make a bee-line for the chair I’ve just quitted.  
Our friends may be dumb, but my house is a riot,   
Where I cannot sit still and can never be quiet.”  

Who Ralph was, I have no idea, but the lines come from ‘VERSE and WORSE’ published by Faber, first in 1952, then reprinted many times.  

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