Christmastime!

Aware as I am that not all of you read to the end, I start this week by offering the family’s sincere appreciate to all 2019’s new friends to Rush Farm via the WOOFERs scheme. We would be lost without their time and energy – their input – not only because of their support and efforts on the farm, but also because they bring us a taste of the world beyond our hedges and offer us and the children so much by their very presence. Thank you all!

And so, to this week – and this will be my final notes of 2019, so I fear I have rather spread myself both in terms of topics and poems, but first I offer Christmas greetings and best wishes to you all from Anne and myself. May 2020 be an improvement on recent past years in nearly every way.

I am sure no further comment is needed on the state of the pastures, or the amount of standing water. I can however say that when we took over the farm, a walk in conditions like these meant boots rapidly had inches of clay attached to the soles weighing them down. Now boots get wet, but no longer pick up the clay except in gateways. A small but significant improvement.

What is certain is that if the kind of autumn weather we have had over the last five years is a portent of what is to come, it is vital that we have sufficient barn area to provide protection for all the stock, and as important, provide protection for the pastures at all times of the year should the summers also become as unpredictable.

All this is in the context of knowing soil compaction, particularly when the ground is wet, is a major factor in limiting soil health and productivity.

Eighteen lambs went off the farm on Wednesday. Sadly, like all the sheep in the farm, they had muddy fleeces. More worryingly, all our lambs have stopped putting on weight; hardly surprising, but not what we want. All the ewes are now together in one field accompanied by their rams, and the lambs have been moved again. We do still have one pasture held back in order to have somewhere where feeding will not be needed over the holiday period.

The cattle seem well. They of course will need feeding over the holiday period, and of course, the need to check all stock every day takes no account of religious events. A further activity over the holiday period will be the exchange of bulls.

On Thursday, to our great relief, Baachus went clear on his necessary TB test – all cattle moved off the farm not for slaughter – must have a valid 60 day clearance.

What this new government may be planning for agriculture remains a mystery. One matter on which all parties competed was on the number of trees they would plant. None of the figures could be sourced solely from home grown saplings. In other words, yet more disease would be imported – such as ash die back. In any case, the normal loss rate, unless there are sufficient staff to nurture them, is bound to be around 50%. All mad.

Clement flies home on the 21st, good news for his family and partner, but leaving rather a void here. However, we have high hopes he will re-join us in mid-January for another two or three weeks – not least because he has not yet completed his work in the workshop! His farewell coincided with the farm and Ulula evening meal at The Bull’s Head in Inkberrow which we all enjoyed very much. At the meal he displayed a new talent which puzzled and enraptured Rosie and Boots – he is, on top of all his other skills, an amateur magician. He, like me, will never be totally at home in another language but his anglais now matches my franglais.

Thoughts on a journey

Mid-week Anne and I drove to Bromyard to buy our organic vegetables for the next couple of weeks. The last few miles of the route take one through very attractive scenery as the road moves up from the flood valley of the Severn into a hilly area forming part of the Malvern hills.  Actually, the six or so miles across the flood plain looked very different from anything we had seen before. Flooded fields to both sides of the road as far as the eye could see – poor farmers.

The winding hilly part of the journey provides splendid views as the route follows a ridge. Bare trees, but a very large number carrying big growths of mistletoe. Not particularly on apple trees but on a wide variety of others. Indeed, the first time I had seen the parasite growing on silver birch.

Broadwas marks the start of the last stretch to Bromyard. The names of both are Anglo-Saxon, and both describe accurately the area in which they sit. Bromyard surely deserves a proper visit, but its roads were inadequate in the 19th century let alone the 20th and that has always put us off.

The small industrial area to which we go, both to deliver wool and buy organic fruit and vegetables, is a sad reminder of both the pre-Beeching period, and the end of the light railway which brought to the main line railway, first sandstone blocks and then bricks and tiles. As you drive in, on the left-hand side are the decaying wagons of the light railway, and you drive under the bridge of the long-gone line to Leominster.

TV watching!

With the election over, we have started watching the odd television programme. And at once I hear words which remind of how much I hate what I feel is the ‘debasement’ of our language. Forensic, laser like and debate are either pretentious words or in the case of the word debate, represent a total redefinition. And, while having a minor rant, am I alone in finding it absurd that music companies and music magazines assume that the use of pictures of attractive women will sell their products. Just age talking you may say – not so, advertisements for years have determined I will not buy the products they push.

I know the election is over but stumbling across a book I may have referred to before, called ‘the Seven Curses of a London’ and first published in 1869, it was hard to believe how little has changed and how intractable most issues are. Incidentally ‘A child of the Jago’, though written some forty years later reflects that survey admirably. Not perhaps Christmas reading, but election promises are still fresh in the mind, and no solutions proposed feel any better than those suggested 150 years ago.

History

Nobody drew my attention to the fact that in my notes of the 1st of December I failed to refer to the peril facing Europe in the 950’s. This was when the Hungarian hordes that had been raiding Germany for a number of years, came not to conquer but to settle. If they had not been utterly defeated by the lifting of the siege of Augsburg all our histories might well have been very different. 

Some modern historians still would prefer we saw history all-but-entirely through the eyes of ordinary men or women. That is an important aspect of history, but uncomfortable for such historians as it might be, leaders and leadership cannot be ignored. Without the intervention of Otto, a Saxon, but now king of the eastern part of what had been the Frankish kingdom ( that is what eventually became the state of Germany in 1867) and, was established by Charlemagne but which infighting had shattered at the end of the 9th century, all might have been very different.

Christmas

Christmas for many a German arrives on the afternoon of our Christmas Eve, followed by two days of holiday. Presents come from the Christ child rather than St Nicklaus. This was a change in practice initiated by Martin Luther arising out of his dislike of the way in which the worship of Saints was celebrated. There, the day after Christmas is a holiday but is not called Boxing Day.

Most people here celebrate Christmas in some of the ways introduced by Prince Albert, of which the most famous is the Christmas Tree (the disposal of which is now a cause of concern to climate activists), and the now popular advent calendars also came from Germany, though after his death. The commercialisation of Christmas was not something he, however, should be blamed for. Christmas cards and crackers were invented in this country and first created, and then filled a need to enhance the celebration while filling the manufacturers pockets.

Here, Christmas trees, decorations and Yule logs originally went up on Christmas Eve. Commercialisation sadly has led to the current practice of carols being played in stores in November, with trees, lights and internal decorations on display from the 1st December, all ensuring the memory of what Christmas stood for is watered down. 

For our all but extinct generation, Christmas is now far more secular, far more commercialised and dominated by the television or its successors, which have eliminated the afternoon ritual at Christmas time of all generations in a family playing games. Some of them, it has to said were supremely absurd but enormously funny – such as ‘Stroke poor pussy’ and of course indoor fireworks (even if they rarely worked) were a common feature. At least Christmas still retains the notion of families gathering together. School nativity plays and carol services also still survive, and midnight services are still well attended, even though this maybe the only time in the year the churches are full!

The carol below comes from a collection if carols from the period of 1400 to 1700:

Sweet Music, sweeter far Than any song is sweet;
Sweet Music, heavenly rare,
Mine ears (O peers!) doth greet.
You gentle flocks, whose fleeces, pearl’d with dew,
Resemble heaven, whom golden drops make bright,

Listen, O listen! now, O not to you
Our pipes make sport to shorten weary night.
But voices most divine,
Make blissful harmony;
Voices that seem to shine,
For what else clears the sky?
Tunes can we hear, but not the singers see;
The tunes divine, and so the singers be.

Lo! how the firmament
Within an azure fold
The flock of stars hath pent,
That we might them behold.
Yet from their beams proceedeth not this light,
Nor can their crystals such reflection give.
What, then, doth make the element so bright?
The heavens are coming down upon earth to live.
But hearken to the song:
“Glory to Glory’s King!
And peace all men among!”
These choristers do sing.
Angels they are, as also, shepherds, he
Whom in our fear we do admire to see.

“Let not amazement blind
Your souls,” said he, “annoy;
To you and all mankind,
My message bringeth joy.
For, lo! the world’s great Shepherd now is born,
A blessed babe, and infant full of power;
After long night uprisen is the morn,
Renowning Bethlem in the Saviour.
Sprung is the perfect day,
By prophets seen afar;
Sprung is the mirthful May,
Which Winter cannot mar.”
In David’s city doth this sun appear,
Clouded in flesh, yet, shepherds, sit we here?

Another essence of Christianity also seems to have been lost – the one which reversed historic notions of the behaviour that men, to be ‘men’, had to adopt.

The idea that men don’t have to bully, dominate or image greater intelligence was sadly not picked up for centuries, since this was a message almost completely unacceptable in the western world.

The Victorian period in the UK saw both the best and worst of human behaviour and thinking. The notion of women deserving equal rights achieved in that century no more than an Act which ensured married women were no longer regarded as property and hence slaves. It was not until the last century, often as a result of their role in war, that men had to accept that their age-old beliefs were deeply flawed, and so accept that women should be accepted as equal partners and players in life.

But attitudes which have been held for millennia are hard to entirely eradicate and persist in even our so-called civilised world. Recent developments in other parts of the world show this message is still alien to millions and millions.

Leafing through the Soil Association’s latest publication of ‘Living Earth’, I hoped to end this note on a high. I should have known better, and since it is close to Christmas, I will not depress you, though I do think it a publication all caring people should read.

The Magi by William Butler Yeats

Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depths of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

(For those who are aware of the common interpretation of this poem ((that this is about successful men approaching the end of their lives realising that there was more to life than they ever saw and now sort to redress the situation)) let me say it does not reflect my personal position. It was chosen, aside from the beauty of the poem, as a reflection of the thoughts of both living friends, and so many long dead friends remembered particularly at this moment in the year).

There will be no notes on the 29th (family instructions) although I can of course be contacted directly if you have any thoughts or questions.

So, let me end by sending you all Christmas Greetings and hopes for you, as well as for us, that 2020 is a vast improvement on the three previous years!

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