Fencing under way again!

Fencing under way again!

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

I think that we have come to terms with being a dog free household, though for how long is uncertain. Milly clearly feels she should be allowed to take up residence here again, but rather spoilt her case by stealing half a loaf of homemade bread!  

The hay fever this year has been brutal, and it remains a mystery to me why the scientific community seem so uninterested in finding a solution. It may not kill people but for sufferers it can and in a year like this, be totally disabling.  

Last week we had first time visitors to the farm. Sebastian and Nicki did the honours with Mr and Mrs Cook since I was basically hors de combat, but I did manage a few minutes with them, and I was of course delighted in their response to what they had seen. I hope they find time for a second visit when I can meet them properly. A visitor who did not come, for entirely understandable reasons, was Gert, who had intended to spend a further morning surveying the range of birds on the farm but found himself tied up in family duties. 

A relic from the glory days of Rush Hall!

For me this has been a much better week physically and so I have been able to really appreciate our peonies, clematis, roses and other flowers too numerous to list. For others it has been a much less comfortable week when, if you walk across a field a yellow cloud of pollen arises affecting eyes, nose and breathing.  

For Chris, a veritable nightmare, as he goes out wearing mask and wraparound sunglasses. For Anne, seclusion indoors and intolerable heat.  

Typically, the weather forecasts failed to deliver the rain we needed on the day it was predicted, but unexpectedly it rained gently for most of Friday and if as indicated there is more on Sunday, we will have no complaints.  

Life on the farm has continued of course. The barns are now bedding free, and in fields 5 and 8 are large compost heaps into which BD preparations will go now we have had rain, and as soon as there is a reduction in the pollen count.  

Both the cattle herds and the sheep flock have been moved at least once over these two weeks and are causing no concerns. Typically, we lost a fine-looking lamb to a clostridial infection, but more positively this year, though Orf returned briefly, it was in a very mild version.  

The calves born last week including one from a cow that had had to be stitched up after a prolapse, and our second pair of twins are doing well though the mother of the twins is struggling to produce the amount of milk her hungry calves want. This Saturday the herd was increased by a bull calf but unusually there was a need for considerable human assistance. In fairness the mother was a heifer. There should be plenty more calves this month.  

Bull calf

Two more cows went off the farm last week, and very soon five steers will be going to Ford Hall farm. Hard though it might seem, we cannot keep infertile or animals no longer physically able to bear calves.   

Despite having been found to be TB free in successive tests, we now learn we are to enter a regime of six-monthly tests. Typically, the letter telling us this did not enable us to work out when the first of these tests will be.  

Amazingly, the supply of fencing material has eased, and the fencers have been on the farm this week. Two large fields at the back of the farm are now fully re-fenced.  

Sunday saw the cow pat pit filled. Yet again Anne and Chris did all the work. I could not even keep them company because as a result of our outing yesterday, my left eye is very unhappy. But in truth it is Anne and Chris who ensure the BD activities are carried out.  

Though we undoubtedly did need rain, the farm generally is now looking properly green. Our hedges remain our pride and joy – or mine at least; the multitude of trees are also a pleasure to gaze upon. The pastures admittedly are very stalky, but there is now sufficient grazing to see us though the six-week non-grazing period for the fields in Higher Tier Stewardship, and there is some potential for haylage making in due course. Where there should be meadow flowers they are easily seen.  

We certainly have one fox that regularly crosses the farm, and we may have lost a lamb to it. What there are in plenty are rabbits. Interestingly foxes, rabbits and deer seem to comfortable coming close to the business park. That is certainly not the case with the brown hares.  

What I have sadly not seen for a couple of weeks is the scrape at the back of the farm. The scrape has been home to goslings and moorhen chicks this year and now, I learn is is home to a number of large dragonflies. Of course, where these would be most useful is in the fields where the cattle are suffering from flies. The big dragonflies are ferocious predators, and large flies are no problem for them.  

A conversation with Paul and Tim about the alkalinity of the green council compost put down in the vegetable garden led to the conclusion that since the compost lies on blue clay, the acidity of that should, in due course, bring down the ph of the compost to a more normal level. Inevitably I shared our experience of ‘ripping’ in one of our bigger fields. This is a technique used by farmers to try to reduce the compacted pan that develops so easily in fields at a depth anywhere between four and ten inches.  We tried this in one field but with mixed success. As one farmer on the Pasture-Fed site wrote ruefully, “on a heavy clay soil, all you seem to achieve are narrow trenches which may fill with stagnant water eventually!” 

As we expected this summer to have French undergraduates, I let Wwoof UK know we would have no places for volunteers. On Friday I told that organization that we are now in a position to accept volunteers and we had an immediate response to consider. I think I have always made clear how valuable such contributions to life here are and, fingers crossed, we shall again be welcoming new faces in the not-too-distant future.  

Last week I felt my main responsibility was to recognise the contribution Flash made to so many lives, and we are very touched by the many who have written to express their sympathy, including a card of an aged Landrover for Brendan to drool over! 

My notes last week would in any case have been limited because of a combination of issues including hay fever, head aches resulting from the difference in acuity between my eyes and, of all things, a prescribed drug giving me my first hallucinatory experiences since acute malaria and, of course, knowing one’s dog was slowly fading away, meant that all that I would have managed was a few paragraphs about the farm. I think matters are now back to normal.  

I have updated you on farm matters so, now feel able to share some, at least, of my wider or wilder thinking. 

Following up on a comment last week I discover the rest of the world is anxious to praise the wasp. One titbit of information new to me was that wasps apparently derive their sugar needs from insect pupae. But when these pupae move onto their next phase, wasps need to turn to the sweetness associated with humans.  

TV farming

While I remember, I did watch part of a programme involving Jeremy Clarkson and farming. I did laugh at parts of the program but was very uncomfortable at him using a young assistant, apparently just so that we could laugh at him – that I found distasteful. Also, since I do not find swearing intrinsically humorous, Clarkson’s foul mouth is, I think a sad reflection on him.   

However, there is a more positive view that needs to be taken seriously. Programs like Countryfile do not present any sense of what farming is really like and seem to pander to an audience which wishes to see farming through rose tinted spectacles. Clarkson, I gather, has actually provided a more realistic view of farming, and in particular shown how difficult aspects of farming actually are, and in so doing, hopefully knocked on the head, the world that chocolate box lids portray of farming. 

For some reason this, I feel, gives me a Terry Wogan link to the pigeons who have been wandering around disconsolately outside our kitchen window, ever since the frost left their nest in the wisteria exposed to the world. They are, now the wisteria is leafy again, happily ensconced on their nest, making that regular sound of happy pigeons. 

A power outage on Wednesday underlined just how dependent we have allowed our society to become on electricity. Do we imagine that government has carried out a proper risk analysis and has a survival plan ready?  

Prospects..

I think I have indicated before, our hesitation about renewing our contribution to the magazine Prospect. Indeed, last month Anne put the copy straight into the waste bin. This month it is a very different proposition – some very interesting book reviews and several thought provoking articles.  

Democracy

One that I immediately leapt on was the suggestion that Hungary and Poland seemed to be en route to the kind of authoritarian society they had left so recently. My initial response was dismissive, suggesting indeed they had never actually been democracies. Appropriately rebuked by Anne, I thought I needed to remind myself of how suffrage and the franchise came to us in Europe and its tenuous link to democracy.   

Universal male suffrage in most countries came before universal suffrage, except perhaps in Finland. Napoleon blew hot and cold on the issue, just as he did with slavery. The next obvious fact is that many countries, either did not exist, or did not regain independence, before the mid 1860’s and for many, not until 1918.  

Putting all that to one side, having the right to vote is meaningless unless you are actually on an informed basis freely electing politicians who have actual power.   

Parliaments or their equivalent may exist, but if power actually lies elsewhere voting is meaningless.  

So, to return to my original response. Poland was only restored as a nation in 1918 after some hundred and fifty years during which its territory had been split and held by three nations. As a society, it was significantly skewed towards those who had historically no power at all and were deeply religious in a way which was both authoritarian and tied closely to anti-Semitic feelings. 

Hungary after 1918 was reduced to a quarter of its original size. Before that it had been joined to the Austrian empire following partial occupation by the Ottoman empire in the 16th century. Unlike Poland it freely joined the Axis powers as anti-Semitic feelings were similar. The subsequent defeat meant enormous consequent suffering and the country, like Poland fell under Russian control.   

I stand by my first thoughts; underlying my response is my fear that democracy in this, our own country, is, in the way this government routinely shows its lack of respect for parliament – you may have noticed the Speaker is so concerned about this he has summoned the PM to explain minister’s behaviour; our higher education system seems intent on stifling free expression and debate. We may not yet have achieved the Chinese model, but political correctness is leading us in that direction.  

Some recent examples include the absurdity of staff at an Oxford college refusing to teach because of the existence of a statue of Cecil Rhodes: the Vice Principal of Edinburgh University saying students are demanding to determine what they are taught; the National Trust feeling it must ensure visitors to its properties understand how dreadful was the way in which the previous owners wealth was acquired; the English Heritage blue plaque drawing attention to Enid Blyton’s racism and xenophobia, (I cite this even though I confess I discouraged our children from reading her books); tweets made by cricketers many years ago, now properly recognised as unacceptable but leading to the individuals concerned being punished today. Shades of 1984! We now appear to live in a world in which certain beliefs must not be questioned, lest a small minority might be upset. The tail is firmly wagging the dog in too many sectors and this in due course may have unfortunate consequences.  

Most of you will know this verse, what a pity it seems forgotten in practice: 

Gospel of St John chapter 8 verses 5 to 7

“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”   
  

I wonder to what extent the binary world of the computer age has made us binary in our everyday thinking – is nuance now redundant?  

This is not just a British problem. A recent article in the Atlantic made clear that employers are increasing wary of appointing ‘Ivy League’ graduates because they are so indoctrinated into this new ‘wet’ world as to be useless.  

Of course, a degree of sensitivity ought to be part of any discourse, but to ban statements simply because some think them hurtful is both absurd and a rejection of liberal democracy. Surely, we have more than adequate laws in place to deal with real transgressions. 

But, to return to another article in the magazine Prospect, which in passing drew attention to the undeniable fact that most countries in western Europe do not see the world as the United States and the UK see it – at least at a governmental level. An obvious example of this was the apparent difficulty in reaching a common view on China. Just why this should be the case, may possibly be explained by what I write later. In the case of the States, it is probably inevitable given its world status that a broad view is taken, in the case of the UK it is perhaps a hangover from the days of actual power.  

As to Johnson and Northern Ireland, what a grasp on reality the man has!  

I admit to having had two contradictory feelings stemming from this, the first was, why fall out with Europe, which can meet nearly all our needs – certainly as far as fruit and vegetables are concerned, and the second was, why did we abandon the Commonwealth for Europe, and now, probably too late, decide to try and re-establish those links.  

I wrote some time ago about free will and referred to the Routledge Companion to Free Will. Inevitably I went on to buy it. It is a thick paperback of 61 essays spread over 600 pages with such small print that, with my current eyesight I find a page all but too much to tackle at a time. Given my second eye will have its lens replaced on the 4th of July, I may by mid-August have reading glasses which will allow me to at least read the essays that interest me. Thank goodness this book was not available when I took my philosophy degree – I should immediately have tried to switch courses!  

A musical interlude

I also indicated that I had enjoyed Louise Farranc’s chamber music and intended to listen to her three symphonies. This I did, several times, but sadly found little to urge me to listen to them again in the future. Her piano pieces I did enjoy and am left wondering why composers feel a need to step outside their comfort zone and move into the different world of symphonic music.  

I have however, made a significant personal decision, I shall no longer listen to Record Review on Radio Three on a Saturday morning. That section of the programme in which a conclusion is reached as to the most recommendable version of a particular piece has irritated me once too often and the taste of the individual who chooses which discs to play also irritates too often. I feel no need on a Saturday morning to be ‘educated’ by unattractive noises.   

Please don’t misunderstand, listening to music remains a key pleasure in my life and this week I have continued to enjoy the music making of the violinist Gabrielle Lengyel. 

Experience

It has been in my mind for some weeks that, before it is too late, I ought to write about the widening gap between the experiences of we, war time babies, and the generations that have followed.  

Not in any nonsensical way suggesting that the past somehow was better than the present, but simply because hopefully, our experiences, though never to be repeated, show younger generations how, in some areas at least, life today is so different and perhaps make the recent past more explicable.  

Two issues have held me back, one that I might seem to be lamenting the past, which would be rubbish, and the second that our experiences must seem totally trivial to any of our generation born on the continent.   

A vast number of books have been written about the two world wars and I have neither the interest nor time to attempt a précis of these. What I would like to do, is to attempt to set out simply some of the results of both wars, and in particular what it might have been like to be a war time or, immediately post-war time baby, in other countries involved in these conflicts.  

In our typically Anglo-centric way, after the two world wars we licked our own wounds, grieved over our own, and eventually also colonial soldiers, died or were grievously wounded, but gave little thought or attention to the other players in this stupid farce of a war triggered by one individual and his gung ho military.   

The eventual involvement in the war of American troops, following the Americans happy sale of armaments to both sides (though in fairness I should record some British companies behaved in a similar way), placed in a position of power, an individual totally unfitted for the role.  

It is thanks to that man, Woodrow Wilson, that the German army retired to its bases confident that it had been unbeaten and indeed cheated of victory. Thanks to Wilson, the ground was created which allowed Hitler to rise to power. It was thanks to him that lines were drawn on maps creating spheres of influence or new nations. Thanks to the Prussian military also that the Russians, after the overthrow of their monarchy, found all power fell into the hands of a regime, led by a man whose record of genocide and numbers slaughtered makes Hitler almost seem an amateur. 

Of course, the post war mayhem that followed, cannot be blamed solely on the Americans; avarice on the part of the French, in terms of reparations, though these were nothing like as severe as many, and not just Germans were led to believe (in which the vary anti-Semitic British economist, Keynes played an ignoble part); weakness on the part of the British in the negotiations, and also crude self-interest when it came  to ‘determining spheres of interest’. 

So, post war Europe had a German society filled with hate, false ideas and no experience of self-government and voila!  

But that is by the way, I am writing this because I want to draw attention to the huge losses of life experienced by other nations. I suspect even the scale of French and German losses is unknown here, but there were many nations involved: the Alpine war between the Austrians and Italians was horrendous, and the human and resource losses on both sides were huge. If the Italians were not over keen to fight in the second world war who can blame them. Are we aware that nearly one million Romanians lost their lives – were we even aware of their involvement.  The Russian losses exceeded seven million no wonder, as I wrote earlier, their monarchy fell. 

The effects on society and individuals, which even in this country, cannot be understated, and all this played into the mix of politics from the growth of totalitarianism to the growth of communism, to the growth of pacifism, to the growth in belief of spiritualism. The twenties and thirties were not happy times in any country and how could they be. Life in this country wobbled and theoretically, we were the victor’s, had not suffered any incursion on our land and, without suggesting the loss of life and number of wounded was not awful, it was significantly less dreadful than elsewhere.  

Additionally, the war led to the end of two ancient empires – the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman. It led to the creation of inherently unstable nations, to the genocide of the Armenians and the beginning of the Palestine/Israeli situation.  

If the situation between the wars was difficult it was nothing in comparison to the decades immediately following the Second World War, and I will try to pick up on that next time, though in thinking about that, I find very disturbing and emotional.  

The poem below was written by Sir Thomas Heywood at the turn of the 17th century. As s playwright he was more prolific than Shakespeare and, in his time, perhaps as highly regarded.  

The title of this poem is Love’s Good-Morrow and I chose it for Anne.

Pack, clouds away! and welcome day!   
With night we banish sorrow  
Sweet air, blow soft, mount larks aloft   
To give my love good-morrow!   
Wings from the wind to please her mind,   
Notes from the lark I’ll borrow;   
Bird, prune thy wing, nightingale, sing,   
To give my love good-morrow;   
To give my love good-morrow;   
Notes from them both I’ll borrow.   

Wake from thy nest, Robin Redbreast,   
Sing birds in every furrow;   
And from each hill, let music shrill   
Give my fair love good-morrow!   
Blackbird and thrush in every bush,   
Stare, linnet, and cock-sparrow!   
You pretty elves, amongst yourselves,   
Sing my fair love good-morrow;   
To give my love good-morrow,   
Sing birds in every furrow

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