BLOG: A time to regroup and make plans for the year to come

BLOG: A time to regroup and make plans for the year to come

What a difference the sun makes! For most of the past week we lived in a damp, grey and foggy world, and the idea of this being a ‘green and pleasant land’ seemed very ironic! Even when leaving the farm heading into Birmingham, the only green to be seen was that of the grass verges, but this was spoilt by the litter revealed by the hedges being barren of leaves!
But, when the sun suddenly broke through, and it was possible to see the catkins and the yellowing of the willow trees, the world instantly looked more appealing!
Winter on a stock farm is as you know largely about feeding stock and moving the sheep around before any pasture gets too damaged. It is an opportunity of course to regroup and make plans for the year to come. Now spring is within our sights it is the time to see how many lambs and calves we can hope for in the months to come.
The cattle will be PD’d (pregnancy diagnosing) first in order to give us not only a notion of how many calves to expect this autumn, but also, so that the youngest calves may have their clostridial vaccination, and the older calves weaned.
Scanning the ewes will take place towards the end of the month and we shall hope that the 150 animals will give us around 250 lambs. In the meantime, we have just over 50 of last year’s lambs still to sell. Prices this year have been slightly better than last year, and our lambs have been of good conformation. Obviously the lambs remaining are of a lower weight.
The weather, or more particularly the rain, has meant infra structure work such as improving the state of the bridle path, or repairing fencing, remains out of the question.
To add to the rain we have had, one of our main ditches is a roaring torrent as the 15″ main water pipe to Bromsgrove burst some weeks ago and Severn Trent obviously have other matters on their plate.
My visit to the chiropractor this week confirmed that increased mobility is no more than a few weeks away, in the meantime the time available for recalling memories and rumination continues.
The desire to ‘beat ourselves up” seems a strangely English urge. It appears that to many ‘academics’ and university ‘students’, the greatest evil ever perpetuated on mankind was the British Empire.  Listening to a discussion about the siege of Malta in 1565, I wondered why it was that the Ottoman Empire should escape this condemnation.  The Ottoman Empire, from a small settlement in present day Turkey, swept across Southern Europe, the eastern coast of the Mediterranean and along the north coast of Africa. An expansion only finally brought to an end by the failed siege of Vienna, but earlier was significantly blocked from expansion to the west by the failure to take Malta. A small island that again played a vital role in the 20th century.
Listening to part of a debate in the House of Commons this week, I was stuck anew by what is often referred to as ‘the postcode lottery’. Whether it is education, health or even refuse collection, what one experiences depends far too much on where you live, and it is surely not right that this is as true today as it was fifty years ago.  Looking at some SAT practice worksheets for Key Stage 1 (for 7-year-old children) I was reminded of the other lottery children face.  Those who receive poor experiences of education, however much they are loved at home, starts the educational process for the next and subsequent generations greatly disadvantaged.
The news this last few days has been very much about how stores and businesses did over the last year, or over the winter period. The news that really caught my attention was that sales of vinyl (long playing records) were up by nearly 30% and totalled some 4,000,000 albums.  When we went to Northern Rhodesia in 1964 we took a handful of LP’s with us. That first Christmas, friends drove the several hundred miles to visit us bearing a portable Philips record player!
Having a portable record player was quite amazing. We played our few records over and over again but fairly rapidly realised that ‘pop’ had its limitations.  The one record we had of classical music was of the Brahms cello sonatas played by Andre Navarre and Alfred Holecek on the Supraphon label. Towards the end of our stay I acquired the double album of ‘Benny Goodman in concert’. I have both still, along with several hundred other LP’s, so, on hearing of the rebirth of vinyl, dug both out and played them on my 1968 Goldring Lenco deck. They still sounded superb, but I had forgotten how spoilt we are now. Getting up to turn a record over after 25 minutes is not as convenient as my cd deck which allows for over 2 hours of music before I have to move!
Needless to say, when we went to rural Saskatchewan in 1968 we took as large a number of classical LP’s with us as we could manage. This was a golden era for bargain priced classical music. The Decca Eclipse label was one of the best – indeed I have out at the moment the LP on which Campoli played two concertos – always a favourite since we actually saw the violinist playing in a concert hall in Leamington Spa. While in Canada we found the only music to be heard on radio channels was ‘country and western’. With records costing only 99 cents each who could resist!
Though the urge to stay with vinyl is powerful, I need to publicly admit to a change of heart as regards the music of Bach. Listening to a radio discussion on the cantata ‘ich habe genug’ I was both moved by the music, impressed by the musical output of the man and struck by the way in the Lutheran movement ensured a degree of continuity in European church music while here in England the18th century saw a new direction development through the growth of communal church singing through the medium of hymns such as those written by Charles Wesley.
Finally, for whatever reason, I was reminded that it was some time since I had heard that most emotional piece of music by  Schubert “Death and the Maiden’, so a switch from Haydn to Schubert and his string quartets was clearly required. It was a good move. We are so accustomed to thinking of him as a Lieder composer, and the composer of the ‘Unfinished symphony’ it is too easy to overlook the joy he also got from writing chamber music and the joy it gives us the listener.
And finally finally, having listened to the poem ‘The Sick Rose’ by William Blake earlier this week, I felt bound to remind myself that the writer of ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘The Tyger’ had written other great poems, and so chose the one below to end. Enigmatic perhaps, but less so than ‘The Sick Rose’, and deserving to be recited aloud.

To Winter

O Winter! bar thine adamantine doors:
The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark
Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs
Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.

He hears me not, but o’er the yawning deep
Rides heavy; his storms are unchain’d, sheathed
In ribbed steel; I dare not lift mine eyes;
For he hath rear’d his scepter o’er the world.

Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings
To his strong bones, strides o’er the groaning rocks:
He withers all in silence, and in his hand
Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.

He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner
Cries in vain. Poor little wretch! that deal’st
With storms; till heaven smiles, and the monster
Is driven yelling to his caves beneath Mount Hecla.


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