Happily, this has been a very quiet week on the farm – much appreciated since Chris has been away! The quiet enabled Tim to build up some hours to carry forward to the lambing period since he was able to go home early every day. However, it has been a busier week in the farm office where much was sorted out.
At our Friday meeting we decided we needed more organic hay, and that the young cattle should exit the barn in three weeks’ time.
After a rather unseasonal warm period it seems we are in for an ‘arctic blast’ from Siberia. This change in the weather means that that the ground should be firm enough for compost spreading to go ahead without damage to the fields in the first part of the week.
As for this coming week, on Wednesday Anne, our vet, will be with us, involved in a variety of tasks with the cattle, all of which means that all the animals have to go through the crush. It is, when this is necessary, that we are particularly reminded of the downside of having horned stock, and, are forced to accept some are rather fat! We shall, probably have to rope in some volunteers and Beatriz our first WWOOFer of the year will, probably for the first time, see cows very close up!
She safely arrived on Thursday at just after 4pm having left London at 9am. Horrendous! Friday was given over to familiarisation, and on Saturday she had the excitement of a visit to Droitwich! The potting shed, after a winter clear up, is now ready for use on Monday.
Thursday is the day set for our Soil Association inspection which will take up much of the day as it comprises of both a review of our paperwork – policies, veterinary records, financial records and stock activity – and a physical examination of the state of our pastures and of the animals themselves. All three of us are involved though these days the farm walk is delegated to Chris!
While I do on the whole attempt to avoid contentious issues here, it would be remiss of me to totally avoid mentioning Brexit. While Mr Gove is making ‘soothing noises’ to the farming community, the stark reality is that farming, as we attempt to practice it, may have a very limited future since, as you may recall, agricultural subsidies make up 40% of farm income and exports to European countries, where people take their food seriously, provide the bulk of earned income.
The truth is that expenditure on food is this country is proportionately far less than in European countries – most citizens here look only at cost – cheap food has been as important to British governments as it ever was to Roman emperors. As a result, it is very difficult to cover the costs of production let alone make a profit, and despite the claims, mechanisation and the digital world afford few opportunities to any but the very large operations.
Ah well, coal, steel, ship building, small shops and so, have had their time in the sun and are now gone, so what right have farmers to complain…
In between the sorting of files, and the updating of policy statements, two issues have been much on my mind.
The first is whether ‘a novel’ is a portmanteau word covering a variety of genres or whether it is a genre in its own right, reserved for use by the literati. All this was triggered in part by realising how, in the ‘quality’ papers at least, the fiction sections give three times as much space to the ‘novel’ as they do to genres like ‘historical fiction’, or ‘crime fiction’. Having just finished ‘Slow Horses’ by Mick Heron and now being a third of the way through ‘Bryant and May – Wild Chamber’ by Christopher Fowler I am at a loss to see these as some kind of inferior product to the ‘proper novel’.
Is this perspective from the same stable which believes the waltz music of the Strauss family as being of greater significance than the music that used to be played by conductors such as Henry Hall, or sees European Salon music as having greater cultural value that British Light music?
So, holding these views it was somehow disturbing to realise that all my sympathies were with the critic who, writing about the new BBC series ‘Civilisation’ saw it as a poor update of the late Kenneth Clark’s version, for all Clark’s euro-centricity, essentially because the modern version seems unable to differentiate between the great and the average.
The second issue came from thinking about two current lines of thought: Pinker’s latest book claiming we have, to use that once notorious phrase, “never had it so good”, alongside the constantly expressed view from American, British and continental political commentators that democracy may be in its death throes. Incidentally, Taleb’s recently published book titled “Skin in the Game” is highly relevant to this discussion.
All this bizarrely came sharply into focus when watching Wednesday night’s weather forecast.
In front of a weather map of Europe we were told of very cold weather soon to arrive. The fact that the cold we might expect would be relatively trivial compared with that in Central Europe was ignored. Suddenly I was struck with the possible reality that British popular culture really is ignorant, insular, lacking in any sense of perspective, proportionality or notions of morality and values.
This depressing thought has hung over me all week not even lightened by being able to luxuriate in the sound of great music coming from my Hi-Fi system including, I mention for one who is surprised by my lack of pleasure in the music of Shostakovich, his Suite for Jazz Band nor from feeling the virtue of completing the task of being ready for our Soil Association inspection.
Finally, a further nod to my childhood, from a memory as children of collecting the dropped herrings on the quayside at Great Yarmouth from the baskets coming out of the holds of the drifters:
Chasing Silver Darlings – Poem by Patrick Ladbrooke
When autumn came, the sea would swell
With the harvest to deliver,
And the air was filled with herring smell,
From quays along the river.
Each morning tide was fruitful
As the fleet steamed into port,
All holds filled a’ brimful
With the red-gilled herring caught.
Garrulous Scottish fisher girls
A’splitting and a’gutting,
With headscarves binding Celtic curls,
Their hands quicksilver cutting.
Barrels filled and salted in,
Capped and rolled in stack,
The relentless chase resulted in
Those shoals not coming back.
And now the ghostly quay
Serves new masters, oil and gas,
Steam drifters in the memory,
Of the aging herring lass.