Chickory!

Though it appears that we have avoided the worst of the weather, we have at last had some much-needed rain. The standout colour in the fields in our neighbourhood is brown. Even if we would like to think our fields are doing slightly better, the combination of excessive heat and no rain has taken its toll. Most hedges and road verges still look green but look more closely and signs of distress are apparent in many trees. Mind you, things are made to look worse by the many dead elm trees, dead because of the disease that wiped-out full-grown trees and ensured regrowth dies when it reaches about 10 feet. 

I have referred in the past to the fact that in most of our fields, stock can find shelter, but this is not the case in every field. This is a reason of course for the additional barn, so that when weather conditions put stock at risk, they may be brought into shelter. An email from a French friend said that with daytime temperatures running for days at over 40C, a neighbouring farmer brings his animals in during the day. With this situation becoming necessary more and more, he has now installed great fans in his barn to help circulation.  

I think we are some way off needing to do that since our barns have excellent air circulation, having no sides and high roofs, and before using fans we could make it possible for hot air to exit through the roofs, and so far, in the main, our hot spells really are over almost before they begin. We are aware that fans may also be a common solution practiced by egg and chicken producers in their huge battery sheds, but their world is not ours.  

However, for now a guarantee that the weather will change is the fact that Anne has found my shorts. Last seen a year ago when I went swimming in them, you will be reassured to know that no colonial officer in the 1960’s would expect to wear anything different!  The slight downside is that my waist is now where it used to be in my twenties, not as it was in my sixties! 

The suckler herd

All the animals were moved early in the week. The sheep went onto the field at the back of the farm which required a great deal of digging up ragwort. The sheep have now grazed all the new shoots of the wretched plant down to the ground and have now been moved on to a different field. The topic of ragwort and sheep is a perennial issue on the Pasture-fed site. Ragwort is particularly toxic when dried and least toxic when young. It is damaging to animal’s livers, indeed can easily be fatal for horse and cattle. Cattle seem to avoid eating it, so for us, the danger lies in any significant amount getting into hay or haylage. There are a number of theories as to why it is less dangerous to sheep, from the ghoulish – they don’t live long enough for it to be fatal, to more acceptable views suggesting sheep have a greater tolerance. 

The new ram

The new ram is still in quarantine and giving evidence of being feisty. Not only has Boots complained of being head butted, but the ram also jumped out of his pen. Fortunately, it was in the barn which of course is designed to keep cattle in! The wool has now left us, and we learn somewhat more than 600kg has been received. The rams, by the way, having tidied up the nettles in the Rams Field are now in the Triangle hopefully doing the same job. 

Sadly, the problems with orf in the lambs, and New Forest Eye in the young cattle continue. Neither issue is fatal, but both are a cause of considerable discomfort to the afflicted animals, and though they get daily attention it is not good to see them suffer. 

Activity continues in and around the barn area. The concrete blocks onto which the new uprights will be bolted are now in place. Levelling continues, and there will be more excavation of the ground to allow a layer of hardcore to be put down as part of the new floor. It really is a big project, for us at least, and there is still a lot of planning to be completed. The additional barn will require the appropriate ‘furniture’ and perhaps one side fitted with concrete 6’ high slabs. The position of gates and their opening has to be particularly carefully thought through.

The new barn footplate

Just two fields were topped at the beginning of the week. The arrival of the new tractor did of course attract much excitement. Everybody had to have rides in it and Tim in particular is very pleased that it has air conditioning. The driver’s cabin is very intimidating with its range of buttons and levers. Getting into it is an effort in itself, and descending requires full attention. My interest in driving the Zetor lasted no more than a year, I have not the slightest interest in attempting to dive this monster. 

Our Demeter inspection is today week, and the forms to complete have now arrived, and the division of labour between Chis and myself agreed. He knows what I need for my part, and I have already completed several of the forms. After all these years a routine has been established, but this year has seen record keeping affected by the staffing consequences of coronavirus, and that is making our task slightly harder.  

These past weeks we have been making strenuous efforts to spruce up the Business Park and in particular to ensure the shrubs are pruned back in readiness for winter, as well as make plantings in the bed parallel to unit 1. There is a limit to what we can achieve, especially as regards litter and the area around the skips since so much depends on the behaviour of the tenants themselves. After weeks when the Park was relatively quiet it is good to once again see it as a hive of activity. 

Puppies!

The puppies continue to delight even if their mother is finding life hard. Though eyes are open or opening, their vision is far from perfect. Their legs are, by and large, not yet strong enough to lift their full stomachs off the ground, and they seem to have a total disregard for each other’s comfort – and they are very noisy when wanting to be fed! 

This weeks irritation

In a week which has seen tragedy and despair around the world, the most heart-rending headline came from the BBC “Where can I go on holiday without having to quarantine”. If I say it myself – rather a nice Terry Wogan link to what follows below – I would once have said a Radio Two link, but no longer sadly. 

I think I should start this paragraph by saying very clearly I am not ashamed to be English nor, having actually lived and worked elsewhere, can I think of another country I would prefer to live in, despite our climate or even our present government. That said, a recent article in the Atlantic magazine by Tom McTague brilliantly illustrated our major national failings. A sense of exceptionalism and superiority, an approach to government which is entirely short term and to individual politician’s advantage, a sense of ‘it will be all right on the day’ tied to a frightening complacency. I could go on, after all I worked in the system for many years. On the plus side there is very limited and small scale corruption, a genuine desire on the part of many politicians to help, and at the end of the day a strong sense of right and wrong and, despite the best efforts of the media to frighten us, a very safe world in which to live. Nor do we live in a world so obsessed with money that a channel like Bloomberg has a staggering significance. 

From all this some of you may infer that something has really got me into rant mode and it is this. 

Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme online survey Rural Payments Scheme 

Dear Sir or Madam  

We would like to hear your views 

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is constantly looking for ways to improve our customer service. We’d like you to help us by filling in an online survey with your feedback on the Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme. 

What extraordinary world do these people live in. For months and months, a host of people including the Select Committee and innumerable farmers have been telling them what an awful job they are doing, and now this insult! 

Ah…………. and surely this highlights a perennial problem in our society.  

On Tuesday our media and politicians were getting hysterical about the numbers crossing the channel from France. Would it not make sense to stop and think about the situation calmly? The UK population is around 66,000,000. A simple calculation tells you the scale of the problem – 00001% or 10 people per 100,000. 

‘Albion’s Seed’

I cannot recommend ‘Albion’s Seed’ more highly. My 2004 reprint cost just over £10 and for that you get nearly a thousand pages, which include illustrations and detailed footnotes, and it is readable, informative and engrossing. When I referred to the book last week, I had only read the fourth folkway, and was feeling a little smug because on my side of the family we are very much from the south west or Suffolk.  

This week I not only began reading it from the beginning but also was not just on the lookout for slivers of useable information – there is a difference. For much of my working life, being able to ‘gut’ written material all but instantly was vital. Indeed, it is only in recent years I have fully realised what this approach cost. Now with time not an issue, mostly, I can proceed at a more sedate and illuminating pace. 

The settlers in Massachusetts were Calvinists and their view of life reflected this very closely and persisted late into the 19th century. They in the main came from East Anglia counties like Suffolk and Essex. The shock for me was to see how closely my Suffolk grandfather fitted into that mould – nothing like as extreme, but in so many ways typical of those settlers.  How amazing that in the rural areas’ characteristics persisted for so long. In this country at least, two world wars shattered many of these links. 

What is peculiarity fascinating and discombobulating in reading the text is that all the place names are from England, and to read words that still exist in American English but have long been lost here. Or words that cannot be of English origin like calling your wife or girlfriend ‘honey’, or puppies cute but are in fact very much English in origin. Cute clearly is just a cut down version of acute and indeed can still be used in that meaning as well. 

I know little about the author, of this book first published in the late 1990’s and who must now be in his eighties, other than that he is/was a highly regarded professional historian. He makes the point in his introduction that he felt it was easier for those who were not of British ancestry to tackle the subject of the long-term impact of the earliest colonisers. Understand this book is not solely about the them, it delves in great detail into the communities from which they came – absolutely fascinating. And to think I only discovered it by reading another book. How can people imagine the printed word is dead!! 

Side-tracking a little, are you aware that churches are required to keep a record of who is buried where. That is how, directed by my sister, I found how our Suffolk relations had covered all bases by some family members being buried in the graveyard of the parish church, and others in the graveyard of the chapel. The gravestones in most cases are still legible, even dates from the start of the 1700’s were still very clear. On that trawl we also discovered that though close relations are gone, the wider family has stayed in that very small area for at least 400 years – now that I did find astonishing. 

John Masefield and Christina Fraser-Tytler

As a counterbalance perhaps to this revelation as to how long a life tradition and culture can prevail, I have been looking again at the poems of John Masefield. If it were not for his two children’s books and the poems ‘Sea Fever’ and Cargoes’ I suspect he would be completely forgotten, indeed if one takes his last poem, that might well have been his wish. 

But what a life he lived and what a prodigious output of poems, plays and stories. He was a great believer in the value of reading poetry aloud and founded groups for this purpose. Apart from Tennyson he held the post of Poet Laureate for longer than any other. He knew what fear was from his sea voyages, and from his service as an orderly in a French Field Hospital during WWI. 

Apart from the children’s books and poems I referenced, his reputation as a poet waned quickly after his death. And yet his sonnets have a marvellous bleakness and realism to them that is worth exploring. 

Discovered after his death:

‘Let no religious rite be done or read 
In any place for me when I am dead,
But burn my body into ash, and scatter
The ash in secret into running water,
Or on the windy down, and let none see; 
And then thank God that there’s an end of me’ 

He was of course buried with all due pomp and ceremony in Poets Corner. 

Despite the above words, this week I have stayed with a religious theme, but in a softer vein, and written by a poet with whom you may be unfamiliar.  

IN SUMMER FIELDS by: Christina Fraser-Tytler (1848-1927)

SOMETIMES, as in the summer fields 
I walk abroad, there comes to me 
So strange a sense of mystery, 
My heart stands still, my feet must stay, 
I am in such strange company. 

I look on high–the vasty deep 
Of blue outreaches all my mind; 
And yet I think beyond to find 
Something more vast–and at my feet 
The little bryony is twined. 

Clouds sailing as to God go by, 
Earth, sun, and stars are rushing on; 
And faster than swift time, more strong 
Than rushing of the worlds, I feel 
A something Is, of name unknown. 

And turning suddenly away, 
Grown sick and dizzy with the sense 
Of power, and mine own impotence, 
I see the gentle cattle feed 
In dumb unthinking innocence. 

The great Unknown above; below, 
The cawing rooks, the milking-shed; 
God’s awful silence overhead; 
Below, the muddy pool, the path 
The thirsty herds of cattle tread. 

Sometimes, as in the summer fields 
I walk abroad, there comes to me 
So wild a sense of mystery, 
My senses reel, my reason fails, 
I am in such strange company. 

Yet somewhere, dimly, I can feel 
The wild confusion dwells in me, 
And I, in no strange company, 
Am the lost link ’twixt Him and these, 
And touch Him through the mystery. 

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