Contented animals

Since the less said about the weather the better, I thought I might comment on changes in the birds we see and the song we hear. Absurdly perhaps, given our situation (in which nature provides well for wildlife) I have a large bird feeder set where I can watch the birds from my chair in the sitting room, so providing an unenclosed aviary. As you would expect, the range of birds we see now is nothing like as great as it was in the earlier months of the year. But the activity seems little reduced. The feeder hangs within feet of a holly tree, so birds of prey are not too great a danger. The constant visitors are varieties of tit and greater spotted woodpeckers.

Otherwise in the garden we see jackdaws, wrens, robins, blackbirds, sometime a mistletoe thrush, doves, magpies and wood pigeons (whose sex life seems unabated despite the season). What is different now is  the level of bird song. While the sparrows still chirp away in the pyracantha, it is much quieter than earlier in the year, and aside from the resident blackbirds, there is little birdsong to hear. I exclude the noise made by the guinea fowl as that is not a pleasure at any time of year. At night only the tawny owls are heard.

Out on the pastures there is a resident flock of starlings, and because of the mini lakes a variety of gulls. Still thinking of birds whatever one thinks of the parasitic life of the cuckoo, it is sad to hear of the great decline in their numbers. For the moment at least, they return here each spring – long may it continue.

We had a lovely visit with an investor in the society on Thursday, and enjoyed being given the chance to elaborate on life here. Sadly, the farm looks far from its best, but we think he was not put off by the mud and standing water everywhere! Certainly, despite the rain and mud, we very much enjoyed the visit and hope to see him again.

Despite the conditions it was possible to give the lambs their mineral drench and overall, they look good. Chris has had a tedious time this week transporting both sheep, and a cow to its new home at Fordhall Farm.

The lambs have been moved to our driest field and appear all the happier for it. Though the feed trailer has been put in the field there seems enough grass for them to largely ignore it.

There has been, for us, a largely irrelevant discussion on Pasture Fed on how best to feed stock outside in the winter. You will know we bring the animals in solely because of the very real dangers of poaching on our waterlogged clay soils. It would of course be both more economic in terms of time and energy to just unroll bales of hay in the fields, but for us, the damage that would result is unacceptable.

A further downside of this weather has been the need to change the bedding of the cattle more frequently, and consequently the need to clear the used bedding more frequently – all time consuming and of course costly.

Although our struggles with the Rural Payments Agency continue, we had good news about the cow who experienced an abortion. The blood tests threw up no matters of concern which means the movement restriction order has been lifted. Despite that, I am anxious that all the cattle have a mineral drench. A further piece of good news is that there have been no cases of infected eyes among the stock for some weeks.

The new fencing along the bridle path is in place and on Thursday Ryan and Clement put in place a new gate at the top end of the fence. Hopefully next week a start may be made on a minor extension to the barn to better manage the coming winter calving.

Ryan leaves us at the end of this week to try his fortune in London. Like the vast majority of our woofers he has made a significant contribution both to the working of the farm and to our family life. Having a woofer whose first language was English was rather a novelty, but all of us, including Ryan, have a better understanding of the commonalities and differences between our two nations. We regret his departure but wish him great success in his new adventure.

Ryan with his dog Tomato

Having Ryan with us inevitably meant that last weekend we talked about the meaning of ‘thanksgiving’ and its special status in the USA. The custom of celebrating the harvest for the year is both historic and liturgical. In some countries it has become something more. A time to come together as a family, a time to eat and perhaps, a time to celebrate. In Canada, what to celebrate, changes each year. In the northern hemisphere the date is usually a month earlier than the date of the American celebration. 

Thanksgiving in North America was brought by Europeans, be they French, English or Dutch and has somehow become entangled in the rights and wrongs of the colonisation of the continent by tying it to the arrival in 1620 of the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’.  In today’s world that has political implications that have little resonance here. An amusing item in the Atlantic magazine this month concentrated on the eating side of thanksgiving with no mention of why the celebration takes place.

You may have noticed that there is a test match series taking place in New Zealand at the moment (we actually thought of emigrating there after 18 months of office life in Warwick after returning from Canada). While the cricket played by the English team has been dismal, the large banner laid out in front of the ‘barmy army’ carrying proudly the word REDDITCH raised a smile. I assume it was from supporters from our Redditch, but I must confess I had no idea that there was even a cricket field there, let alone a serious team. Even more ‘home’ was to see a house sparrow perched on a railing by a stand – perhaps they were introduced by home-sick Britons w2ho had kept them as cage birds.

As a further indication of how cut-off we are from the outside world, the excitement of our week took place on Friday morning. That day, after a heavy frost we were enjoying for the first time for a while, bright sunshine

Then the weekly ‘bin’ lorry ended up, off the drive on the verge being prevented from falling on its side by a chestnut tree.

Apparently ‘the sun’ blinded the driver. Amusing except other vehicles could not enter or leave, and the verge was badly scarred. Our tractor proved to be not strong enough to help the lorry and so the drive was blocked for quite a time until a heavy tow truck came to the rescue. Our biggest excitement since a military Lynx helicopter made a precautionary landing in the field at the of the drive.

Talking of the drive, which now has a very badly damaged verge, on Saturday, Tieran and Brendan did some hedge cutting along the short section from the road. So, visitors onto the park are able to feel for the first 50 yards or so, tidiness reigns. Tieran’s tractor by the way is a lovingly restored, ancient and not over powerful, old model.

Reading and history

Incidentally if you have not got a copy of ‘The little world of Don Camilo’ on your bedside table, you should immediate look out for a second-hand copy. It is one of the great books/series of the 20th Century. Wisdom united with humour, it is a book to be read over and over again.

I am still reading “Dominion” and have just reached the time after the invasions from the Islamic war lords from North Africa were first halted by Charles Martel (Grandfather of Charlemagne) in 732, and then in a series of encounters up to 737 ‘Christendom’ made safe. That lead me on to think of other critical points at which our notion of Europe could have been utterly blown away. 

In the 13th century, while in our little world squabbling Norman families battled for control, Eastern Europe was all but completely taken by the Mongol hordes coming from the east.  Providentially, rather as at the time of the Armada, the weather came to the rescue and three awful years of crop failure together with internal disputes in the attacking forces meant retreat and relief from the threat of invasion from that direction for ever.

Later on, towards the end of the 17th century, a final decisive battle drove back the forces of the Ottoman Empire which had attacked from the south and so ensured Central Europe’s survival. And where were we in all this? Nowhere to be seen of course given this was the age of Charles II, whose priorities certainly did not include eastern Central Europe.

Teaching English and spelling

I did once, for about a year, earn my living teaching English as a foreign language though it must be admitted it was in the days before a formal qualification in EFL was mandatory. Looking back, I do regret never having properly got to grips with the phonetic alphabet. Given it was so long ago and given most afternoons are taken up with helping woofers who want to improve their English I do try to stay abreast of current thinking. This is, mostly, a pleasure.

Currently I have been reading books by David Crystal, indeed I have just finished his book on spelling. To my delight his conclusions on learning to read and spell mirror my own views. Learning to read requires both the phonic approach and the traditional. Learning spelling tests of words in everyday use has a place, and a thesaurus is perhaps even more valuable than a dictionary. 

Sadly, his views on spelling, which incidentally I myself rely on – that if it looks right and sounds right, all is well – is of little use to an individual whose English still has some way to go.

Reading the words below it seems fair to ask what changes if any have taken place in people’s thoughts over time about the temporary nature of life.

This is part of a poem written in the 12th or 13th centuries by Walther von der Vogelweide whose best-known poem to English readers is probably Unter der Linden. (Thinking of troubadours, as Herr Vogelweide was, I was surprised to see King Richard the First so listed):

Alas! Where have all the years gone? Did I dream my life, or is it real?
What I always thought – was that something?
Then I’ve slept and don’t know it…
Now I’m awake, and I no longer know
What used to be familiar as my own hands:
People and places, where I was raised from childhood,
They are strangers to me, as if it were all lies.
Those who were my playmates are old and indolent.
Meadows are farmed, forests are felled,
If it were not for the water, which flows as ever before,
ah, then I’d believe that my misfortune is truly great.

Many no longer even greet me, who once knew me well.
The world is full of ingratitude everywhere.
When I think of the many glorious days,
They disappear, like ripples in the water –
Forever more – alas!

Not I hasten to add a reflection of my own current mood!

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