Wearing my shorts was far too effective. The refrain going through my head for much of this week was one that we often used as children ‘Rain, rain go away. Come again another day”. As far as the weather is concerned, we seem to live in an age of extremes. And yes, I know farmers are never openly content but still…
The highlight of the week was undoubtedly hearing from our Demeter inspector that he was happy with us, and that all was in ‘excellent order’, that there were no issues and that our photographs showed stock and land in good condition. Mind you, all of you should also know that, from the photographs I share with you every week.
Matters might have been different. On Tuesday at around 7pm Chris reminded me that our Demeter ‘virtual’ inspection was on Wednesday, rather than Thursday as I had in mind. Fortunately, we work well together, and the bulk of the work needed was done if not checked and computerised. So, it was an unexpected and busy evening to be enjoyed. Then on Wednesday morning I fouled up on my pills – again – and felt I needed to check things out with the medics. As you might imagine, I was instantly twitchy and had to leave Chris on his tod to handle the discussion. Of course, he did a good job and by lunch time after further questions had been answered we heard that all was well – very good news indeed.
The paramedics were professional, courteous and friendly, suggesting methods I could take to avoid a further repeat of the problem. The downside was that it reminded me of my father showing off his failsafe system of ensuring he and my stepmother – and he took many many pills – took the right pills and at the right time. I guess I just have to accept I am not as young as I imagine.
Leaving the inspection to one side, the cattle have received a lot of attention this week. A number of heifers had reached the age at which they were ready to join the suckler herd. At the same time, a number of calves were ready to be weaned. Consequently, a large number of animals found themselves changing the company they were in. Given the young stock including the four just separated from their mothers are now in the field close to the house, we expected a noisy night, but in fact we heard nothing. The breeding herd is now up to 37 which is actually probably more than we had in mind. Still, with the extra pasture all should be well given the annual cycle of gain and loss.
Baachus continues to provide us with calves! At the weekend a female calf was safely delivered. It is now time to see how effective our new bull is being, so nine months after he came on the farm, pregnancy testing will be inflicted on the cows. At the same time, they will be given their annual clostridial vaccination.
A regular problem with our breed of cattle is their habit of getting fat and this does cause problems in terms of conception. This winter therefore the over fat will be kept separate and fed on less nutritious, but still organic, straw which we will buy in.
A key concern at inspection was our inability this year to maintain our normal high level of recording at lambing. This basically meant a lack of hard numbers to allow us to speak with authority about the success of the process. Our subjective opinion is that overall, the process went well both in terms of live births and survival of ewes. Certainly, the animals currently look good. In the barn is the cow with a sore on her leg above the hoof. Given she had the same problem last year there have to be question marks about her future.
We have as yet not separated the lambs from the ewes nor yet weighed any. In many ways our approach is less than scientific, but given we rely on nature and hence the quality of our grass, rather than on high protein nuts to hasten weight gain, and that having enough hands to help is limited, it seems best to rely on regular inspection to spot problems caused by parasites, rather than on regular weighing to provide data on daily weight gains. At least the Orf seems to have peaked.
The vast amount of paperwork required to ensure that the rented fields were locked into our system and registered as being in conversion is at last completed. As you might well expect the holdup occurred with the RPA, which struggled to understand three was a different number from two. We were also not helped by the fact that they no longer provide maps. Perhaps maps dropped out of the geography curriculum some years ago…
If it is a while since I have commented on wildlife on the farm it is largely because when seen, by the time I am in a position to take a photo, they are long gone. You may remember a ‘scare’ doing the rounds that rabbits were affected by a new disease that might also decimate the hare population. Well our rabbit population is reaching such numbers, and disregard for our gardens, we feel overrun. As for the hares, their numbers seem also to be growing, and are very often seen, if rarely photographed, but a friend sent me two beautiful drawings she had made and gave me permission to share them.
As regards our long drawn out issue with the Rural Payments Agency, we have hopes that our MP will go direct to the responsible minister and urge him to actively intervene. The National Farmers Union are now also in play. After all this time it is not so much the £15,000 but the dreadful and inhuman way in which matters have been handled. There seems no sense of urgency, let alone grasp of what their job entails.
On Monday Anne and I got very lost after falling for a traffic diversion which left us in the middle of nowhere. All credit to Anne who was driving for some 75 minutes before we finally found Stockwood again for not losing her cool. The point of this ramble though is not actually to heap praise on my beloved wife, but to say going through Evesham (at which point we finally knew how to get home) we really were made aware of the effect of recession on what was once a bustling town. A proliferation of charity shops and many many empty shop windows and only a trickle of humanity. Life is certainly grim for an increasing number of our population.
In my previous life I became aware of the supply of books of quotations that were often used by head teachers at assemblies. I subsequently understood that most public speakers used such source material as a matter of routine. I confess it was not a practice I followed. Not I fear for any better reason than that I had no ability to memorise material so always had to rely on what my mind decided to share at that moment. I read each week the column in The Week of so-called memorable quotes – in fairness often very readable. What on reflection I have never noticed have been any quotes from Marcus Aurelius. An emperor of Rome in the second century usually remembered for the persecution of Jews and for splitting the empire into two parts. His ‘Meditations’ have always struck me as being far more useful for a successful life as a leader than those set out in ‘The Prince’, Aurelius was a follower of Zeno of Citium and hence a stoic in his approach to life.
In search of reasons why he was ignored I looked to see what Edward Gibbons had to say, and found, sadly it seems, inevitably nothing, for nothing is where the book used to be. I think this is one of the worst aspects of aging, just not being able to find things and not knowing whether they were given away, borrowed and not returned, or sent to a charity shop. While it was possible, I had given my Penguin edited one volume copy away or lent, I was certain that my rather nice 12 volume original edition just had to be somewhere, could I find it – of course not! It does such bad things to the blood pressure as well. In the end I had to rely on other sources from which it appeared that, despite the actions I have already mentioned, he was one of the better emperors! What I do know is that his ‘Meditations’ are cheaply available. In paperback and very valuable reading even if you are no longer a young person seeking to climb the ladder of promotion.
A reminder of, hopefully, past absurdities. Remember Angela Buxton, the tennis player? Her recent obituary reminded us that she was never allowed to join the All England Club because she was Jewish. I have to admit it was only a few years ago that I learnt her background, but then I was, thank goodness, not a part of the “genteel middle-class tennis establishment, or golf, for that matter. Middle class my background might have been, but not of the Hyacinth Bucket variety!
You may have remarked on the fact that I have referred to the radio less frequently in recent weeks. Partly that is because programmes I have enjoyed are not currently running, but in large part because too much of the music being played I find unappealing, and allied to that is the praise given so wholeheartedly to works that strike me as either trivial or meaningless or both. I realise that comments such as this can be shrugged off easily merely by pointing at my age. So be it, to me far too much of what we ready hear and see exemplifies the story of the emperor and his new clothes. This Saturday morning, I was reminded of what really wound me up. It was a piece called Raindrops, and this morning we actually heard a recording of raindrops – no comparison…
The commemoration of VJ Day reminded me of Freddie Ryall, a family friend who had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese for year over three years and suffered terribly but became a leading voice in later years for reconciliation.
After that I thought about loyalty. The bulk of General Slim’s 14th army was made up of volunteers. Indeed, it was essentially the Indian Army, which was made up of volunteers from Africa, together with volunteers from the Dominions and Ireland. The British contingent, all conscripts, was never more than 20% of the total. Yet at this time in India, opposition leaders were in close contact with the Germans, the Irish came from a country led by a man, de Valera, who was fiercely pro German, and yet they volunteered to fight for King and country. Although at a higher-level Indians knew Independence would follow a successful end to the war, I doubt whether the ordinary foot soldier had that in his mind.
Loyalty in those days meant something. Out of the nearly 9,000,000 who saw military service on the British side, nearly 4,000,000 were volunteers from the dominions, the colonies, the occupied countries, the Irish and the Americans. I find that quite a thought.
The 14th Army was known as the ‘forgotten army’ and VJ day was celebrated in a relatively minor way. Partly because it was essentially an American war, except in Burma and Malaya, and because it was seen as a side shoot to the main event, the war in Europe. Grounds perhaps for a relative lack of interest, but then a less comfortable thought came to mind. Perhaps it had something to do with the reality that the majority of soldiers were not white.
And then even more disturbingly, it turned out that the officer class was restricted to Europeans – that non-white soldiers got paid at a rate of one-third that of the Europeans.
And still they were loyal and tightly bonded together by the leadership of their commanding general Bill Slim.
Discovering all that brought back to me the fact that when I arrived in Northern Rhodesia, I was for a period paid at the ‘native rate’ – one-third of the rate at which I was later paid. Why? It turned out that it was officially a combination of two factors, one of which had some logic to it. That was about supply and demand, they needed qualified teachers quickly and to get people to go to what was seen ‘as the back of beyond’. The other, less comfortable proposition was that pay rates for the ‘locals’ could not disturb the pattern of wages more widely. And yet again, in our staff rooms whatever our origins, pay was not an object. Why? Perhaps we all were united in our belief that education was very important. Those days are sadly now lost.
I rarely am affected by something I have read, but on finishing the first section of Albion’s Seed, I needed to take a ‘time out’. The only glimmer of humour came from discovering that, several aspects of Iife that Americans believe are of their own invention, were directly inherited from the world they left behind. The gloom descended after realising just how awful Calvinism was, as practised in the colony of Massachusetts Bay following the ‘great migration’ of 1630, for so many years. The colonists’ notions of liberty would fit in well with those of Putin; their notion of religious liberty would be applauded by the inquisition. But what is really frightening is the realisation that today’s Southern Baptists are essentially Calvinist in their belief, and their numbers are growing steadily. Thank goodness for this country, that so many emigrated and that those left behind got sorted out in the time of Cromwell who dealt with the extremes of fanaticism ruthlessly as would any follower of Hobbes.
[The two paragraphs that follow are very much open to dispute, but what is certain is the fact that in Cromwell’s time, a regular way of getting rid of the ‘unwanted’ was transportation to the colonies on the coast of America and in the Caribbean, a practice which continued in one form or another into the 20th century.]
On reflection this may be too generous on Cromwell. I did not intend to mention slavery again, especially about matters that historians argue over, but felt I had not emphasised enough the extent to which enemies of Cromwell, and especially captured soldiers, were sent to places like Barbados or Virginia as ‘slaves’ to work in the tobacco or sugar cane plantations. The historical basis rests on decrees of 1603 and 1652. The numbers are uncertain, and there is argument whether these people went as slaves or indentured labour.
Most were Irish or Scottish, but many were English, and in total the numbers were significant. Inevitably their lives were short – the weather and the work conditions meant they died off like flies. Slavery sadly was then the norm for those who lived in all parts of these islands, but it was the English who had the colonies to which they could be sent. There is a disputed argument as to whether Africans only came into the equation because they could better cope with the life forced on them. If this was the case, Africans were not then at least enslaved by Europeans because they were black, but because those that survived ‘better’ the journey across the Atlantic to the plantations. This is the suggestion which is hotly disputed. It a fact that the Spanish and Portuguese were importing Africans as slaves well over a hundred years earlier.
Given that in August two of us celebrate birthdays in this month, how could I not choose a poem entitled “August” by Erich Kastner. Sadly, little of his work has been translated into English. We only know his famous children’s book “Emil and the detectives” and his autobiography covering his childhood. In Germany he is highly regarded for his many writings including his poetry. This from his long poem ‘Thirteen months’ was translated for me by a much-valued German friend as a birthday present and Is very much appreciated.
AugustusThe year lifts up its scythe for now
cuts summer‘s days as if it were a peasant
who sows, must cut
who cuts, must sow
And nothing stays, dear heart. And everything is present.
The hollyhocks behind the fence
in their old fragile-silken dress.
Sunflowers, opulent and blond,
with faces veiled, they look like women fond
of travelling Berlin‘s noblesse.
When did they travel? During day?
Not then, that’s when in gold along the fence they shone
Perhaps they travelled during dreams?
Or during bights, when scents of trees
blew past, sweet like goodbyes their tone?
In books we’re told long rigmaroles
how even infinity must end somewhere
One twists and turns first space then time.
One’s understanding seems sublime,
But: mystery is solved by none, nowhere.
Field wagons sway from heavy harvest.
The garden smells of mint and chamomile.
One sees the heat. And hears how everything is still.
How small the world is in its farthest!
How big and infinite th’idyll.
Nothing will stay, dear heart. Soon day will close and say Good Night.
Then you’ll see stars and stars, all gentle, falling, sil’vry-white into their nowhere’s, as would tears cried for no grief or gain.
Then send your wish but get it right!
For nothing stay, dear heart and all things will remain.