Creating Prep 500!

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

This week saw several important events take place over and above some very spirited weather. In chronological order, the first was the completion of the ‘floor’ of the new barn which made it possible to move hay and straw into its new home thus freeing up the main barn for its primary purpose.  

The new barn is still without gutters and open on all sides, but these will follow.  

The next event was the sale of six young cattle which not only meant income, but also six fewer mouths to feed and more space when inevitably the cattle are soon brought in. For the time being they remain outdoors though with access to fresh grass.  

Mid-week saw the making of preparation 500 and the filling of cow horns which were then buried in a new patch. Anne led the team doing this and Boots, who had a very happy 10th birthday this week, was part of the group. For next year I have already ordered 200 new horns since we both need to replace those in current use, and also recognise the expansion of the area to be sprayed. 

So, a considerable amount done. Tasks remain of course, not least the weighing of the lambs and perhaps the need to either move them or put feed out. The ewes are not yet on the two tupping fields. The rams seem ready and have energy enough to engage in mild fights one with another.  

A new approach to agriculture

You may well, in between hours of time given over to the American election, have heard or read more about the new approach to agriculture to be adopted to last 25 years. I have to confess that my knowledge about what this will mean for us remains slight. I can confirm the new approach will be known as ELMS – which given Dutch elm disease is perhaps an unfortunate choice. It stands for, I write cautiously, environmental land management scheme. I do know that as part of the new approach, the current EU sanctioned basic payments to farmers will be phased out over seven years. For us in 2021, it will mean a reduction in support of five percent. It will be the large farmers who are going to feel the effect most sharply as this subsidy is based on the area of land being ‘farmed’.   

After the many disastrous mistakes of recent times, the government is clearly anxious that the detail of the new scheme is such as will ensure a smooth transition, and ELMS will not come into effect until 2024. A key concern I have had was over the future of our existing higher-level stewardship contract. It looks as though that will not be affected; what we may have to do to retrieve the loss of the basic payment scheme is far less clear.  

It is also unclear what, if any, role our Natural England Advisers may have. Their support over the last fifteen years has been one of the most important factors in our success and the fact that they have been confined to their offices for what seems a very long time, has been and remains a source of concern.  

But to end on a more positive note, if the intentions of the government are genuine we must be well placed in the regard we already have for our soil, our water course, our organic approach and our concern for flora and fauna. Quite how the balance will be struck between productivity and soil enhancement is still to be imagined!  

The starlings are back! 

And on a real high, the starlings are back, not just on our farm but very much in our neighbourhood. For several years we were lucky enough to have a resident flock on the business park. 

Despite the date, early in the week, most trees around us still carried their multi colour leaves while some remained a bright green. Violent winds on Wednesday and Thursday nights however caused a heavy leaf fall. 

The locality

This part of Worcestershire contains the most splendid oak trees, and their presence is emphasised by their current leaf colour. This is true of the original parish of Stock and Bradley but far less for the ribbon development, which is now named Stock Green, and appears only on maps towards the end of the 19th century.  

Stock Wood has a longer history, but its actual boundaries are difficult to define. The only name sign appears on the road leaving Little Inkberrow! Whatever, there is no ribbon development (yet) in Stock Wood, so the trees remain. In truth driving through along the other road you would have no idea that Stockwood even existed.  

Rabbit proofing

The garden has not been completely forgotten. Attempts to rabbit proof the vegetable area have involved replacing the fence along the ditch which forms one boundary, and using chicken netting. The greenhouse has been cleared of the tomato plants, which though carrying some fruit were essentially over. Leeks, Swiss chard and beetroot remain – we grow a cylindrical variety of the latter and they are becoming quite monstrous – in the ground. In the ‘lean to’ there are peppers still to pick and a handful of citrus fruit which probably will be inedible. There are still flowers to be found and perhaps most surprisingly, the rudbeckia are putting out new shoots and flower buds.  

MJ Trow

A writer many of you may know is MJ Trow. Perhaps his most famous series of books stars Mad Max, a history teacher much loved by his pupils, and a curse to his superiors. However, the series that brought Trow to prominence was written around a character who appears in many Sherlock Holmes stories – the incompetent Inspector Lestrade. The first book in the series appeared in 1985, and even used hardback copies are far from cheap. Re reading it many years later, what struck me was not that the book was dated but it assumed a serious level of education to enable the full entertainment to be enjoyed. So, in truth, it is dated because it assumes a level of knowledge that was there in 1985 but in only 35 years has gone. Idly picking up a novel for young readers by R M Ballantyne I could not but notice that the vocabulary level required would probably defeat ‘A’ level students today, but more than that, how writing styles have moved on. Indeed, I know I write in dated English, and I suppose we should rejoice in having such an alive and vibrant language, though sometimes it feels as if the baby has been thrown out with the bath water.  

Historical writing

I have commented before on historical novels drawing a distinction between historians who write badly, and those who write well, and non-historians who write well but have not done their homework. There are of course other problems especially for those on their fifth or sixth book in a series.  

It is understandable that such a writer may choose to start a book with a scene of horror, but less so when historical accuracy is sacrificed without any acknowledgement in the end notes.  

Stories involving witches and their execution are a sure-fire winner for writers of fiction but need to be brought into play with care. For example, burning at the stake, except during the reign of Queen Mary, was an uncommon practice in England though not on the continent. It did happen for heresy and also, but rarely, for women found guilty of petty treason. Witchcraft, being considered a felony might lead to execution, but in such cases by hanging or drowning. Moreover, accusations of witchcraft seem normally to have been thrown out – probably in four out of five cases.  Execution by burning was far more common in Europe, and particularly in German speaking countries than in England aside during the period of Mary’s reign. Moreover, though there was a bad period lasting some two years in the mid 1640’s, actual executions for witchcraft were rare in this country.  

If an author is anxious to exploit this topic the story needs to be set in Switzerland, Germany or at the correct date in North America.   

In fairness to writers, it is really difficult to remember how many things we take for granted today only came into our lives during the last hundred years. For example, military medals were not awarded in wars till late in the 19th century. The first medal issued was I believe the Waterloo Medal but that was what today I think we would call a campaign medal.  

Perhaps oddly, these errors are as likely to be made by British as American authors. The latter by the way, seem often to respect their readers more, both in their research and also because the words in current English are very often inappropriate in historical fiction, as English authors forget changes such as ‘got’ for ‘gotten’. North American English is largely based on the English spoken in the 17th and early 18th period, since that was the English early settlers took with them, and despite Webster’s best efforts that was the language which stuck.   

See..Mencken, H.L. (Henry Louis), 1880–1956. The American language: An inquiry into the development of English in the United States, by H.L. Mencken. 2nd ed., rev. and enl. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1921.  

(Mind you the biggest howler I ever noticed was a claim that Bournemouth was a major naval port during the Napoleonic wars and that was made by an American). 

Satire and political thoughts

I thought of the satirical show ‘That was the week that was’ at the weekend. My thoughts were entirely positive – it set a bar for satire that has been rarely cleared in recent years.  

The drama of the electoral count and possible legal challenges, ongoing of course, left us both quite exhausted. But the fact that Trump pulled in over 70 million votes should give us all pause for thought.  

Reading ‘Middle England’ by Jonathan Coe, not a book I have in any way enjoyed, reminded me of Alf Garnet and Steptoe’s father whose views are I suspect not far below the surface even today. Hardly surprising since whether, we like it or not, what we call ‘civilised thinking and behaviour’ goes up against some very fundamental basic programming in our brains.  

For those who are too young to remember those names, the characters were racist, sexist, anti-immigrant and betrayed ‘working class’ members of the British society. I doubt characters like that would be allowed on our screens today but whether that is really wise has to be open to question – where are today’s safety valves?  

I have been thinking about the ageing process as I discover my reading speed has dropped considerably and I have been looking for answers over and above slower mental operations. I think it is partly because with some books, statements read either lead to a review of previous thinking or open up new avenues of thought; partly because, especially with novels, interest is hard to maintain. But I suspect above all else because of the lifting of the time constraint. Reading no longer has to be fitted into is a non-stop world whether about professional need or escapist relief. 

It is tempting to start with the well-known statement ‘travel broadens the mind’. As absurd a claim indeed as that which says that ‘age brings wisdom’. The error in both statements is that both can as likely deepen and widen prejudice. I am certainly finding the ageing process interesting as I observe some of my former strengths and skills diminish while at the same time, so far at least, essentially being still myself. Some fears and concerns fade as others pick up the load, self-inflicted or not, which I felt I carried for so many years. Other fears of course remain, death is not an issue but how it comes is no less a fear. But overall life remains something to cherish, make the most of and enjoy.  

Two poems. One time of year appropriate, and from another member of the Coleridge family, the other because it speaks to me still as it did when I was much younger.  

In any case I feel the work of the poet regarded as the Canadian Kipling – who I also admire – should not be forgotten.  

Dull November brings the blast, 
Then the leaves are whirling fast.

Sara Coleridge 
The forgotten land.  

The lonely sunsets flare forlorn  
Down valleys dreadly desolate;  
The lordly mountains soar in scorn  
As still as death, as stern as fate.  
The lonely sunsets flame and die;  
The giant valleys gulp the night;  
The monster mountains scrape the sky,  
Where eager stars are diamond-bright.  
So gaunt against the gibbous moon,  
Piercing the silence velvet-piled,  
A lone wolf howls his ancient rune --  
The fell arch-spirit of the Wild.  
O outcast land! O leper land!  
Let the lone wolf-cry all express  
The hate insensate of thy hand,  
Thy heart's abysmal loneliness.  

Robert Service

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