This has been one of those weeks which come but infrequently when all feel ’tickety boo’, the sun shone most days though the nights were crisp and a fullish moon allowed late evening walks without a torch. One of those weeks in which, if you are as fortunate as us, you can lean on a gatepost, enjoy the bird song and activity, and the hedges all of which have at least one flowering tree in them.
It was also the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday. On that day the predominant feeling was one of delivery and that is why Churchill in his speech on that occasion referred only to the British People. The war had a host of consequences as we were reminded in passing on Thursday morning, including a national debt 250 times greater than the annual gross national product. Even for us, born early in the war, memories of that period are at best hazy and even may have actually come from stories heard. For today’s generation what can it mean. But it has to mean something, for without that sacrifice our world today, hard though it is for many and most at times, would have thrown away the heritage the world had from John Locke that eventually led to the basic beliefs entrenched in the constitution of the United Nations and its associated bodies. But in some ways the standout memory of Friday is that there was no sense of glorification or triumph but instead memory of all those who lost their lives and relief.
Perspective is very difficult to hold onto when the going is rough, but it is inexcusable that the present pandemic is described as the worst ever to hit humanity. Not only no perspective but, as is the modern way, absurd hyperbole. The Black Death killed at least 30% of the population, the Great Plague 15% and they were just the two biggest of a string of epidemics from time immemorial.
In some ways it has been a quiet week with Tim away from the farm on care duties, and most stock movements completed over the weekend. That is not to say the farm in the daytime is that quiet as contractors have been in several times. The business park is certainly quiet as people from most units work from home – so quiet indeed that the guinea fowl have been emboldened to stray as far as the drive. How many will survive when normal activity returns is very questionable as they have no traffic sense at all. Chris somehow manages to keep an alarming number of balls in the air from ensuring we have organic land to rent to take hay from, and seeking to benefit the farm as much as possible from the support currently being offered by government. We may get that additional barn yet.
Rosie and Boots continue to go out animal checking with Chris on a slightly irregular basis. For now, Chris is the stockman in addition to everything else. In a way the fact that all the cattle are out of the barn makes the task slightly easier unless the need for two adults becomes imperative. Family is not always sufficient, but fortunately we have positive relationships with most of our neighbouring farmers and co-operation can normally be found.
Once out, the cattle expect to be visited during the day to have their water and health checked, but otherwise usually make no other demands though we do need to bear in mind, from the last pregnancy testing, that three are certainly due to calve in the next three months. The herds are reduced in numbers by the four that left us this week. How time does pass; we have now had 162 live calves born – and starting from a handful of animals have now one of the larger herds in the country.
The lambing seemed to have stalled, so all the ewes were put together, and this week had their ‘turnout’ drench as appropriate. Given we are now into fly strike season preventive measures have been applied, but during the season a close eye has to be kept on them, as it does on the lambs, especially since they are not yet old enough to have their clostridial vaccination. On Friday Rosie and Boots delivered two fine lambs so there are 6 ewes still to lamb.
This week has seen further work both erecting new fences and stripping out rotten ones. In the process we are sorting out the location of gates, all of which adds to the cost but is not part of the grant from government – though the work is inseparable.
On another front the battle against poisonous plants has had to start. Hemlock is as dangerous to animals as it is to humans especially if it gets into the haylage. It has to be dug out, gloves have to be worn and then it must be burnt. The plant tends to be found in wet area and close to ditches.
Later on in the year it is ragwort that has to eliminated. Though particularly poisonous to horses, it can also kill cattle. In a way ragwort is the greater problem because it is spread by the wind and will grow anywhere from roadside verges to pastures. By law local authorities have the responsibility of killing it, but as is every governments way, pass the buck but not the bucks to enable the work to be carried. Pulling will never eradicate it totally because the plant, being a great survivor, has a root system of five ‘claws’ and rarely can one get it all out. When young it seems that sheep can eat it without putting themselves at risk, but it must not get into hay or haylage.
I was particularly happy this week to see that swallows have returned to their nest on the house though slightly less pleased that the wood pigeons are once again nesting in the wisteria. Watching solitary rooks or crows making their different ways at several hundred feet across a field the thought came to me that in contrast to the time when aircraft passed overhead, I had no idea whether their path was purposeful or not and if purposeful, why did they seem to have no common destination.
I have managed thus week to read a historical novel. This was written by Minette Walters whose first novel published in 1992, ‘The Ice House’ made such a major impression. After her first three or four I rather switched off, so I was delighted to find this had the same impact for me as her first all those years ago. Set In the period of the Black Death, it was perhaps more a novel than anything else but still… I have also finished Andrew Taylor most recent book which I had set aside as it related to Richard Cromwell and I had yet to finish ‘Providence Lost’, let alone reached any conclusions. In the end the need to reduce the pile of books I have on the go forced my hand. Taylor is another first-rate historical novelist blending fact and fiction smoothly while developing and involving one in his characters.
A major other distraction for me this week has been the need to accept that America has all but lost its right to claim to be a democracy. Leaving aside the behaviour of Trump, it seems to me that most Republican politicians have lost any sense of honour let alone responsibility and in fairness noting the way Democrats are responding to the claims against Joe Biden they also are very much of the same ilk. As for Trump, can one imagine him providing the kind of leadership required of Shackleton and Fitzroy, of course not. In fact, he models the very worst kind of leadership – surround yourself with yes men and women, apologise for nothing and see greatness in bullying and inspiring fear.
Synchronicity or if you prefer co-incidence, is inescapable. I wrote about the New Zealand Trading Company two weeks ago. This week reading about the ship made famous by its role in Darwin’s life, HMS Beagle which was launched in 1820, I stumbled across the link to those comments. The Captain, Fitzroy, became in due course Governor of New Zealand in 1842 with the specific brief to bring peace and look after the interests of the Maori people. As is perhaps any governments initial response, they provided him with nothing like the resources needed and lobbying by the Trading Company led to his removal. The government had learnt from his experiences and his successor who took over in 1848 was given the wherewithal to do a better job and in passing ensue the collapse of the Trading Company.
This has been a challenging week intellectually, if not that physically demanding. Some years ago now, Michelangelo was with us for a month and endeared himself to the whole family. As you might remember he came from Puglia in southern Italy, where his family had been growers of cereals, vegetables and olives for generations. Since he was last here, he has continued his higher education and focuses on research connected to agriculture which is so well beyond me. Apart from widening my knowledge of Ferdinand II, the two Kingdoms, and the unification of Italy in the 19th century we then, and continue to have, discussions about the European project as well as a wide range of other issues.
Last week he sent me an article about sovereign bonds, how they had reacted after the bringing together of the seven existing states, and the implication this might have with the possible issue of euro bonds. Fascinating stuff and not one of the issues that I had in my mind as to why the EU might fold in due course.
Have you ever noticed how statements alleged to come from great philosophers don’t stand up to examination? The Danish Philosopher Kieran Kierkegaard is quoted as saying “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. On the face of it a valuable comment but unfortunately, ‘understanding’ is rather more complex than implied.
The second area I have been puzzlingly over is not in fact a point anyone of us would dispute – that conscience and consciousness are different concepts – but who first recognised these were different issues. Was it John Locke or Rene Descartes (upon whom all continental philosophy rests)? And where did Leibnitz fit into all this, given he rejected another crucial idea of Locke was that a child’s mind at birth was a ‘blank slate’.
As to the later question, I am really unsure, but I am now convinced that Descartes never came to terms with the concept of conscience and consciousness, and that Spinoza and Locke understood memory in two very different ways. For Locke memory could be divided into memory and recollection, and it is the later aspect which relates to our self-consciousness or self- awareness. And hoping to show a degree of self-awareness let me say there is no way I could have become a professional philosopher. It requires a cast of mind that I just do not have.
The poet whose work I quote this week was an extraordinary man. Of his 61 years of life, 13 were spent in prison and 13 in exile. A Turk who went to Moscow, driven by his Marxist beliefs, his relationship with his country of birth was fraught in the extreme.
He died in Moscow in 1963. The first translation of his works into English was in 1994 but was of only some of his many poems. Before that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize largely, I guess, because of his expose of political life in Turkey and his determination to stand firm in his beliefs. In 2002 a second edition appeared containing both more poems and a number of revised translations and it is this edition I rely upon here.
I truth I had forgotten all about him until a friend in Germany shared with me a poem of his read on Hope@Home on Monday. Reading the hundred odd poems, crosses so many lines that summarising his work is beyond me. Much was written in prison, quite a number in his last days when he knew death was imminent. His imagination is what seems to have sustained him. I know he wrote novels also, but I confess I have never come across any English translations. Nor have I read any biography, but I assume if one exists it will say somewhere that he was a man of firm beliefs that he put before any other aspect of his life.
The poem ‘On Living’ written in 1948 is rather long but I think worth the effort of reading.
On Living by Nazim Hikmet – 1902-1963Living is no laughing matter:
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example—
I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
you must take it seriously,
so much so and to such a degree
that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
in your white coat and safety glasses,
you can die for people—
even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
even though you know living
is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—
and not for your children, either,
but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.
Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—
which is to say we might not get up
from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
for the latest newscast. . .
Let’s say we’re at the front—
for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind—
I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
we must live as if we will never die.
This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space . . .
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
if you’re going to say “I lived”. . .