Call me Houdini

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

Farm News 

Relying on the old tactic of asking whether you want the bad news first or the good news. I have decided to plump for the former.   

The week started badly for the farm, through things improved as the week progressed. The week has also had its personally challenging moments which I have not appreciated. We lost two animals on Monday. Our eldest cow finally succumbed to the cancer that had troubled her recently; she had gifted us fifteen fine calves, and never caused any issues until about eighteen months ago. The last of our original bought in cows. We also found a dead ewe which was at least without lamb.  

Then on Tuesday the three of us listened to a webinar aimed at enlightening us on where Defra was taking us. We did not gain a lot from it, other than confirming farmers’ financial positions looked increasingly bleak, though thank goodness we are in the Stewardship High Tier. While it was a slight relief to hear that others feel as we do about DEFRA and the governments approach to farming in the future, there was no possibility of avoiding the realisation that the government position was totally self-contradictory.  

On the one hand we are pressed to take better care of our soils and environment, while on the other they demand high productivity.  

The final ‘good’ news on Tuesday was that this month we have to have our whole herd test for Johnes disease and sample test for BVD and so have 17 days’ notice. But some genuinely good news, an additional calf joined us on Thursday, her mother being experienced so, no help was needed. 

An amusement on Thursday morning was finding a calf that somehow had got out and then was rather unsure what to do next! See photograph! 

I’m out! Now what…

To side-track, this week I have returned to reading Paul Theroux time travelling through what was Tanganyika twenty years after he left Africa – it is just too hard to read more than so many pages at one sitting.  Deeply depressing though it was, there was one episode which brought up in my mind experiences in this country. He needed a visa to continue his journey, there was a long queue to join, while in the office, an assortment of visa officials, slept, read, ate or chatted amongst themselves. After many hours he got the five or six stamps required for his application to be ready to go to the top official. This required him pushing his paperwork through a slot in the wall. Exhausted, and all but defeated, he pushed his way into that official’s office and found him eating his supper – but he did eventually get the necessary papers. I am sure you will not be surprised that thoughts of the Home Office and later DEFRA rushed into my mind.  

A final splendid irony is that 70% of the worlds fertilisers and feeds are said to normally come from Russia. All are produced from fossil fuels, and as the cost of fuel rises, so do the costs of feed and fertilisers. I assume that somebody in government has noticed that dairy farmers are reducing the size of their herds, and pig farmers are having to destroy animals for the same reasons. 

On a lighter note, the farm has benefitted from the better weather we have been having and are expecting to have next week. We have already seen bumble bees, and more surprisingly the odd butterfly. Mid-week, things were not so good, but overall, we have seen more sunshine and higher temperatures. Indeed, on both our necessary outings it was a delight to exit and return down our daffodil lined drive, and elsewhere to see the smaller yellow flowers of celandine. And already the Redditch ring roads are lined with the blossom of wild cherry and blackthorn.     

The journey to Birmingham – best in a whole variety of ways via the A435 – takes us through three if not four mini climatic zones, from the frost pocket in which we live, to the slightly warmer area of Redditch, back into the colder weather of the open countryside, and then finally into the greater warmth of the city. All of which can be recognised by very simply watching trees and verges. There is no doubt how lucky I am to be driven, and so able to watch the world past us by.  

Leaving aside the wearing effect of the minor ailments of aging, I have had a very interesting and challenging week in my mind. I shall restrict myself severely to how much I write, because ranting only damages me, and contempt is an emotion which I feel demeans me, to a very limited final part to these notes.   

Russia and Putin

Having changed my mind over which poem to end on, I think I can afford to take up a little space on Russia and Putin. We now take the New York Times rather than Prospect, which I felt was stuck in a stale rut of 1950’s thinking. An observation from the NYT which struck me as worth sharing ran along these lines. Russia has for centuries believed it should be regarded as something greater than a second level power. On two occasions before Putin, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great, believed, if briefly, that this greatness had been achieved. Putin sees himself as following in their footsteps and forcing the world to acknowledge the importance of his country. Russia has never stood a chance of achieving this aim, whether in the past or now. A hopeless mission at the expense of his own people and Ukrainians.  

On our one and only visit to Helsinki, stories told us by au pairs many years ago, were proudly told again by a guide as he showed us the bullet holes in buildings. These dated from Stalin’s ill-fated attempt to capture Finland in 1939/40.  

Obviously, face had to saved, and Finland had to cede areas, but the country successfully held off the invaders and boosted national morale greatly. Strangely it was only John Simpson on Wednesday who picked up on this, and the likelihood of this might be how the present conflict ends.  

Incidentally if your IT skills allow, there was also a very interesting story on Germany’s relationship with Russia Post WWII published very recently.  

Hindu faith

After writing about the Hindu world, I thought I really needed to see if I could make sense of their faith. Western movement from paganism to monotheism is relatively straightforward to follow. I accept that it may be difficult to pin down exactly what lies within the word ‘pagan’, but what are common features are the ideas that many gods exist, that sacrifice to them is helpful, a close tie to nature, the idea of an afterlife and perhaps ancestor worship.  

The grouping includes a real variety of societies, from the Egyptians, the Greeks & the Romans, to various peoples of Northern Europe, though I feel sure the Greeks would feel their beliefs vastly superior to those of the Anglo-Saxons!  

Christianity, which was an offshoot of Judaism, took a new look at the Jewish ideas about God, and significantly saw God as being a loving rather than a judgemental entity. Ritual was no longer expected, and life after death meant entering the embrace of the Godhead. It was not in its purist sense, as expressed by St Paul, supporting warfare or proselytizing, more about ‘sharing the good news’ and was tied to no political group.   

However, in the later Roman period, for reasons not tied to any form of rationality, it became an offshoot of political power, and then going forward, largely lost touch with its original set of beliefs. In due course varieties of Christian belief came to dominate all Europe.  

Judaism came from the middle East, and the bedrock of early Christianity was the North coast of Africa. However, ideas were stirring in the desert lands to the south, and a new militant monotheistic set of beliefs were to eventually carry this new religion worldwide, failing only to break European Christianity.  

Its beliefs all rest on the shoulders of one man, who rather like Moses, believed God had spoken to him. Even more demanding in its demanded ritual observations, its single mindedness, at least in its early days, a driving impulse to conquer and convert were overwhelming. To what extent the afterlife promised assisted its spread is impossible to guess.  

While these developments were happening in the western world, there were other idea developing in the Eastern world. Perhaps the earliest written documents known were the ‘Vedas’ of which there were four. These four writings underpin Hinduism, which then dominated India from around the 10th century BC until their world was overturned by the Moguls in the early 16th century, who established a huge empire which held power until the early 18th, established Islam as the state religion. Despite this, Hinduism persisted, and under the Europeans co-existed alongside Islamic belief.  

What then is Hinduism; attempting to understand this has challenged the European world for centuries, and as part of that European belief system I struggle similarly. There are facts, and these I can list, but in some ways, exploring Eastern beliefs is like grappling like a jelly. We as a people cope with pragmatism far more easily than mysticism. Yet at some level, given the size of India, and the ​hard-line Hinduism that prevails, certainly our diplomats and politicians must do more than shrug their shoulders. 

I may not truly understand it, but certain basic facts appear to be known. The first is that around 1500 BC much of India was invaded by Aryan tribes who brought with them a series of four ‘Vedas’, written perhaps around 1200 BC, which in due course became the bedrock of Hinduism. Around 1000 BC, Brahmanism came to dominate with a belief in one God, whose status was supported by his priests or Brahmen. Over the next 1000 years many documents were written, perhaps the most noteworthy of which is dated to around 300 BC which codified and put into law the ‘caste’ system.  

This of course still exists and remains powerful. Apart from its stultifying stratification, the system is also racist in that southern Indians who have a different ethnic background belong to the lower castes. The ‘untouchables’ are set outside and below the caste system. At the top of the heap are of course the Brahmins.  

Depending on your definition of monotheism, Hinduism believes in only the one God. On the other hand, Hinduism is split into four major sects, each of which has its own word for this one God who appears to be visualised in quite different forms.  

To many European eyes this looks very like polytheism. Temple worship is common to all four groups and a variety of rituals are observed depending on the caste to which you belong.  

Beyond this, Hinduism has three basic beliefs, one of which, ‘karma’ has been misinterpreted too often to mean one’s predefined path through life, or fate. This is not its real meaning, which is about what you do or do not do in this life. 

Of the three beliefs, this is the one whose name we all recognise.  

The first is called ‘samsara’ and is the belief in reincarnation, your status in your next life is essentially determined by your ‘karma’ or how you led your life.  

Finally, the third element is ‘dharma’ and is perhaps the hardest to take on board. It refers to the need to, within your defined caste, follow all the rituals and demands placed on that caste. At the end of innumerable incarnations, success is achieved by reaching ‘moksha’ or oneness with God and the end of your cycle of births and deaths.  

So, like so many faiths, all hangs on an original idea which, over time has been thought about and written about until it becomes certainty. What is I am afraid certain, is that this belief is now so strong that other beliefs cannot be tolerated, and much blood has been shed because of this. That this kind of fossilised belief may be remote from the founders’ original ideas is neither here nor there. The all but inevitable link to politics and power, allied to racism, and often twisted thinking, seems an unbreakable part of being a human being.  

At which point I have decided to carry over to another week the many topics I had thought to write about.  


After referring to Roskilde and Denmark last week, I thought I would explore Danish poetry in translation, but quickly found this was not so easy. I began by looking to see what poetry the Vikings had left and quickly found there was no dearth of that, even in translation, though most seemed to be Norwegian in origin. However, I discovered that though Vikings loved poetry, most of it was associated with war and bloodshed, hardly stuff I liked or could use.  

I did in the process come across two interesting words and rather more information than I had been expecting. The ‘troubadours’ of that time in western Scandinavia were called ‘Skalds’, the word however can refer, it seems, to a poet; it seems ‘skald’ is cognate with our word ‘scold’. That famous piece of early English Beowulf, written in various dialects of Anglo-Saxon, and essentially requiring a translation to be understood, is of course set in Scandinavia, and is part of the early English epics recited by ‘scops’ or ‘skips which is cognate with our word ‘scoff’. How much of this is generally agreed I am not sure. 

The water was now becoming far too deep, so I eventually remembered that Carl Nielson had set a large number of poems and songs to music, and these might be found in translation. This was the breakthrough point it appeared, but having found all these, I had run out of time in which to read them all, and then make a choice. Next week perhaps. 

Hence, despite all that interesting exploration, I have decided to choose a quite different poem. I was asked whether I had heard of an author called Jane Gardam, and in particular my thoughts on a children’s book she wrote called ‘the Hollow Land’. Obviously, I had to obtain a copy. I read it straight through and found it thoroughly compelling, enjoyable and satisfying. There is now a queue of people lining up to read it next, though, when I bought it, I expected, having read it to give it straightway to my granddaughter, Rosie who, when not careering around as a horse, is an avid reader.  

The poem by William Morris is found at the front of the book. 

It took me a while to track the book down because many other authors have used this as a book title. The story is set in Cumbria, moreover my knowledge of the ‘marches’ is essentially limited to the Eastern part, and I have never ventured onto the Cumbrian fells, despite visiting the Lake District many times, and even more humiliating, was unaware of the variety of mining in that part of the world historically; limited indeed to the substance used by pencil makers in Keswick. As I understand it, the ‘hollow land’ refers to the landscape left by these old mines and quarries or the maze of underground workings.  

Christ keep the Hollow Land by William Morris, of the Arts and Crafts Guild, is the poet, though perhaps better known for his wallpaper designs: 

Christ keep the Hollow Land  Through the sweet springtide,
When the apple-blossoms bless
The lowly bent hill side.

Christ keep the Hollow Land
All the summer-tide;
Still we cannot understand
Where the waters glide:

Only dimly seeing them
Coldly slipping through
Many green-lipped cavern mouths
Where the hills are blue.

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