Daffodils everywhere!

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

It has been a relatively quiet week on the farm. The threatened storm failed to match the predictions of the weather reporters, and the blustery wind was not as dramatic as expected.  

If there was a highlight to the week it was getting Daniel Robert’s report following his visit to the farm on Wednesday. He works with the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, who currently are expending much time exploring ways to improve the water quality of the Bow and Piddle Brooks.  

A particular concern relates to phosphate getting in the water. He actually visited to take soil samples from a number of our fields. Since it is a while since we have had the soil tested we were very happy to allow him to come, and indeed, I enjoyed very much the hour or so we spent talking before he set off. 

Though we will not get the records on the soil for ten days or so, we were delighted to get an email from him summing up his impressions of the farm from the viewpoint of a conservation expert.  

He really could not have been more positive and included mention of the scrape in field 3 which I think I forgot about last week. However, the words that stood out related to the farm’s earthworm population, and most exciting of all, watching a pair of hares boxing in field 4. What a lucky man, I have only seen that once before, many years ago and enroute to Perth in Scotland.  

Returning to the animals, just in case you wondered, the calf in last week’s photos was in the ring feeder by choice and of its own volition – giving itself a moment’s peace perhaps! 

We have had another calf, and now have a breeding herd larger than planned! Incidentally, there has been much talk recently by advocates of natural weaning. Without going into the pros and cons, the truth is that if the bull stays with the herd all year it is vital not to leave heifer calves in too long. For safe breeding, a female has to be fully grown, and that is not normally the case before they reach the age of two.  

Next week it is time for blood tests and to remove the stitches from the two cows that needed treatment.  

The ewes are about to start to receive supplementary feeding before lambing, and on Daniel’s appearance in their field with a bucket, the ewes demonstrated they have working memories! 

There is quite a lot of news to share about the business park, some more attractive than the main news, which is, that after three days ‘jetting’, all sewage pipes are clear, though even a ‘fatball’ was found.  

Much more attractively I can now share that the daffodils along the drive are in bloom, as well as the transplanted primroses. The horse chestnut sticky buds are growing apace, though the blackthorn has still some time ago and, most excitingly a barn owl was observed flying across the drive.

Our gardens are now looking much more spring like. While the snowdrops may be over, there are primroses everywhere you look, and the flowering apricot has had its best season ever. In the vegetable garden the number of raised beds has increased dramatically. All the cold frames are now in use as well as the greenhouse. Excitingly, the cover to go on the poly tunnel frame has at last arrived. 

Musical listening

Last Saturday’s record review concentrated on Debussy’s Etudes. The only pleasure I got was confirmation that Debussy and I are not going to be great friends, and the realisation that the language used by the ‘expert’ was very, very similar to that of a wine buff. Given that for years I took a lot of sugar in my tea or coffee, and preferred Ribena to wine, I know my taste buds were limited in their sophistication, and hence always laughed at the descriptions of the taste of various wines. 

I now learn that there are three styles of piano playing –antique, modern, and post-modern – sadly, I have not the ear to distinguish between these.  

On the other hand, I have been relishing the violin playing of Gioconda de Vito who retired at the age of 54 in 1961 and then lived with her English husband for 39 years before dying after him at the age of 87 in 1994. To give you a sense of her playing, she was regarded as being in the same league as Menuhin and was certainly regarded as the best female violinist in Europe.  

The reason I share this was that I was dismissive of Bach’s Cello partitas. Her playing of the violin partitas was a totally different experience. I have heard these played live in the days when we went regularly to Malvern to attend concerts put on by the English Chamber Orchestra, and was impressed, but de Vito was probably in a higher league than the excellent first violinist of that orchestra.  

I enjoyed hearing her version of the Mendelssohn concerto which I was privileged to hear played live by the great Campoli. Also, a favourited of mine, Franck’s violin sonata in A. Unfashionable though it maybe, I also much enjoy other works by Franck, such as his Symphony in D and his highly compressed and emotional piano quintet. He was of course a very notable organist but as I have said before I steer clear of organ music.  

As a variation in my listening, I am doing my best to find something inspirational in Bruckner’s 1st Symphony.  

The bramble

This week’s edition in Radio 4 of ‘The life scientific’ was with a forensic botanist and I was driven for the first time to see the bramble in a new and useful light.  

In truth, apart from blackberry picking time, here on the farm, especially when growing too close to fences, they are simply a nuisance and sometimes the cause of a sheep dying.   

I now know they fruit on the shoots of the previous year, and these should be cut out after fruiting – hardly surprising given the behaviour of their relatives, especially having experience of the garden blackberry plants.  

On the farm they are tolerated because of their contribution to insects – white clover and bramble are very important to pollinators and other wildlife, and the thought of going round pruning 8 miles of hedges is certainly out of the question! 

Why are they of interest to the forensic botanist? Simply because they thrive on dead body parts, and examination of their root system provides accurate dating of the age of the victim! So there, be especially suspicious of bramble bushes because they thrive from such a situation!  

Awareness of one’s mortality comes much earlier than thoughts about the experience of ageing. Very recently I have been thinking about coping with the loss of a favourite author, either through death, or because the wellspring has dried up. In an absurd way, one feels quite cross with them. A trivial microcosm which perhaps reflects the more easily understood macrocosm of the anger I witnessed once from a woman whose husband had died a few hours before – intense anger at him for leaving her.  

The thought came to mind because among the current reading in the house is the trilogy written by Luke McCallin. Phillip Kerr, one of our foremost novelists, died a year or so ago. He wrote several books but is best remembered for his series centred on the experiences of a Berlin police officer who gets trapped into working not just for the German military but the SS. Bernie, the central character is not a particularly moral man, but even he struggles to cope with the wartime world he is thrust into. Neither a hero nor an antihero but just a man out of his depth.  

The central figure in McCallin’s books is also an ex-Berlin police officer, trapped in the same way, but though at the start and end of the story the scene is Berlin, the second book is set in and around Sarajevo and the German occupation of what became Yugoslavia.  

I cannot claim to be totally ignorant of the history of the Balkans, particularly from the period 1878 when the Austro- Hungarian empire swallowed up Bosnia. While I would not fancy sitting in the mastermind chair and being quizzed on detail, I cannot deny reading among other authors Rebecca West and Fitzroy Maclean. The latter in particular writing about the period of German occupation, and his role as a British soldier in the struggle to expel the occupying force, and at the same time ensure the leadership of the countries after that. I knew it was bad but not how bad.  

Dredging my memory, I remembered that I had known two ex-British officers who had been parachuted in and worked with the Partisans – and the, to be, leader of the new communist state of Yugoslavia.  

One was the headmaster of the grammar school I attended; one was the Deputy County Education Officer for Warwickshire where my career in education administration started. The first, together with his wife, who he met in his time in the Balkans, were friends of my parents, and indeed my parents and they shared the rental of a Bournemouth beach hut. Indeed, on one memorable day, a friend and I, now in the VIth form, and school prefects, skipped school one sunny afternoon to go for a swim and found Ria already in occupation of the beach hut. We feared the worst, but she made clear we were not to be betrayed.  

The second, Frank Browning, had been at school with my father. Remember at that time local government was a world based on the military, the hierarchy being called officers. First names were only rarely heard, and position could be judged on whether surname alone was used, or the honorific Mr was added.  

Looking back, what opportunities I could have had to hear about that period of their lives! Men who had lived in a world of atrocities, and death, and of course fear. In truth, if I had asked, I am certain that questions would have been brushed aside. This was very much a time of not baring your soul. You had done and survived, and now you had a life to live. How different from today.  

Anne and I were both born in 1941, and that is an inescapable fact, and it has implications for the persons we are today. However, ‘woke’ we may make ourselves, however liberal in our thinking, the 1940’s and 1950’s gave us a set of experiences, that to a degree, we hope younger generations will never experience. I said to a degree because I think there has been and continues to be a ‘throwing out of the baby with the bath water’ not least the loss of perspective.  

As regards the public drama that has taken up so much angst, given my actions and statements against racism are on public record I feel entitled to say I no longer know where the line lies between what is racist and what is not.   

Aside from Outside Source, BBC news has lost that completely. Last night, one sentence on Myanmar, twenty minutes on ‘that interview’, and local news seems always to start with deaths and murders; are we as a people really that narrow in our thinking?!  

My choice of poem may bewilder you but there is a rationale perhaps difficult to follow. If there is one famous English poet I have never been able to explore, it is Byron – not simply because of my low church up bringing, though I certainly knew of his reputation, but rather, because his most famous poem had the length of a novel, and of his other poems, I only actually knew one.  

So, I felt the time had come to read Don Juan, and his other principal poems as well. The problem then was to find however tenuous a link to the conflict in the Balkans to justify my choice of poem!  

That turned out to be straightforward. Byron died in 1824, fighting for Greek independence and Greece is very close to the Balkans – easy peasy, but I could not find a directly relevant and appropriate poem so, in the end just chose one which by a stretch of imagination seemed to fit well.  

The Destruction of Sennacherib by Lord Byron (George Gordon)

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,  
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;  
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,  
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.  

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,  
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:  
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,  
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown. 

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,  
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;  
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,  
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!  

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,  
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;  
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,  
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.  

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,  
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:  
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,  
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.  

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,  
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;  
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,  
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord! 

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