Although last week might have started somewhat alarmingly, it ended peacefully, despite the earthquake’s best efforts to alarm some of us!
The week began with the ongoing tractor crisis. The pressure was increased in that Chris was off site from Wednesday evening and he is the only mechanic on the team! The leak of brake and clutch fluid stemmed, the vehicle then refused to start. The problem was eventually tracked down to the starter motor – lo and behold, we had a spare motor on a shelf, and then, a replacement for the faulty part to permanently seal the fluid leak arrived before Chris left. All was well!
As I mentioned already, the week itself actually ended, if not with a bang, certainly a rumble! Since two of us, further into the kitchen than the others, had not noticed anything occurring, there was some dispute about whether or not we had experienced an earthquake. In due course the news via our telephones confirmed that an area north of Swansea had experienced a shallow earthquake at a measurement on the Richter scale that made it the strongest since 2008. I must admit I had assumed the tremble which affected my left hand as I poured milk into the cups of tea at that precise moment was only part of ageing!
On Thursday the ewes were scanned, and the results were better overall than last year. I worded that carefully in that we were unable to entirely rejoice as the number of ewes carrying triplets or quadruples was much greater than we hoped it would be. The scanning process went smoothly as we had a full complement of helpers from the family and tenants to support Tim. The running of the ewes through the race enabled their condition to be checked and all was very well.
The cattle continue to appear to prosper though we must go through the twin process of again checking for fluke and trace element deficiencies and our yearly check for health status with the SAC when the herd is checked for BVD and Johannesburg disease. Last year you may recall we dropped from level 2 to level 4 because a cow showed evidence of the latter disease. I deliberately refrain from going into details – Google can tell you all you need if not more!
On the feed front we feel pretty confident, but an offer of more organic hay will probably be accepted despite the unbudgeted cost. The hay we bought in this year has been of high quality judging from the condition of the ewes.
Following the advice of our vet, we have obtained derogation to buy a mineral drench which contains selenium and cobalt in particular. While we are confident the condition of our soil is vastly better than when we started farming, it is doubtful whether we can ever change certain basic chemical realities – hence the request for derogation.
We now have a date for our Soil Association and Red Tractor Assurance inspection. Though it is only a few months since our Demeter inspection, quite a lot of new work is needed to be done for this, as the information sought, though basically the same, is not quite identical. Moreover, reports on stock issues have to be updated. It is over easy to complain about these inspections but actually they are valuable not only in that they give us the impetus to look again at all the many policies and practices the modern farmer must comply with, but also give us a picture of the farm through an outsider’s eyes.
Finally on the farm front, I am happy to say the ongoing bureaucratic issues have now all been resolved in a positive and harmonious way. It turns out much of the difficulties arose because Natural England headquarters have moved from Crewe to Leeds – or so I understand!
I try to avoid contentious issues, but the recent celebrations of the extension of the suffrage tend to ignore the concerns that perfectly intelligent men and women of the period had, and perhaps forget the background fear that influenced thinking for so long.
For example, one of the apparent absurdities of the post feudal system was that army commissions had to be bought and rank rarely had anything to do with competence. As the Duke of Cambridge is alleged to have said in 1856, before he was released from his post of Commander in Chief of the Army in 1895 to a subordinate officer, ‘Brains, I don’t believe in brains. You haven’t any I know sir’.
But behind this absurd belief lay the feeling that unless officers (and in a different context the, voters) actually had a stake in the country and in maintaining stability and of course status quo, there might be the bloodshed which the world had seen in France.
Moving onto the present times – recent political events in the United States show the value of having a non-elected second revising chamber subordinate to the elected chamber, and here, the safeguards that come from having a constitutional monarchy – my goodness how my younger self would have shuddered at that thought!
Having moved on from Schubert’s string quartets I went onto Rachmaninov’ preludes, the first of which on several occasions reminded me of film music – either from Lawrence of Arabia or Dr Zhivago -probably the latter. Overall despite the playing of Moura Lympany, I was not that moved.
Then I realised I had never really known what preludes became in the romantic period – preludes obviously must once have meant to be the introduction of an opera or some extended piece of music.
My trusty if rather dated, ‘New Musical Companion’, told me that it was Chopin that took the prelude into standalone territory. Obviously, the way forward was to listen once again to his preludes but with more informed ears and so I did.
Though I have Chopin’s preludes played by a number of fantastic pianists I decided on this occasion to stick with Lympany and was pleased when I found the first three tracks were Saint Saen’s second piano concerto – and that was a delight!
As a result of listening to these, if it were a question of choosing one disc of Preludes for “Desert Island Discs”, the choice for me is straightforward. If, however, it was a choice between piano concertos, Rachmaninov would be my clear preference.
I end with a nod to my own family’s history:
Sea Fever, by John Masefield
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.