Inland seas and daffodils

The loss of the American colonies was taken by many as a sign that England had lost its favoured position in the eyes of God. In this more secular age, just who should we feel we have offended that we should suffer this succession of damaging storms. There surely must be someone we can sue or blame – preferably the first. Answers on a postcard please to the Prime Minister.

As you may recall we have a soil association inspection coming up in less than three weeks’ time. I felt I had to advise the inspector that she should bring her waders – it is almost as bad as that, though our sufferings are trivial compared to many settlements along the Severn. According to the met office we have had rain, usually heavy, on practically 50% of the days since September.

Aside from the Bow Brook and its tributaries being so short, the fact that the brook drains away from the Severn into the Stratford Avon normally helps greatly, and so it would now, if the fields were not waterlogged – the ‘water table’ is full. (Incidentally I am aware that the Avon drains into the Severn but some way south of us – one of the reasons Tewksbury is an island currently). The water logging shows in areas like the car park, near our back door, and along the driveway as water seeps out and flows away.

The Gallop looks like an inland sea, the ram’s field has lying water that we none of us can remember occurring before, and the local ford was well under water yet again this weekend – but for once, there was no stranded car in the water!

We do have a little hope the forecast for the coming week suggest no rain and strong drying winds.

Leaving aside the oddity of having, in between these storms, typical April weather six weeks early, we are doing our best at enjoying the fact that the gardens are already full of colour, the roses are showing new shoots as are the peonies. Ideas on how to control the grape hyacinths would be welcome. Despite yearly assaults they always return in vast numbers the following year with their leaves covering up the cyclamen and primrose flowers.

This week saw more lambs leave us. Moving them to the barn, a distance of perhaps half a mile, left three men and two dogs muddy and exhausted, and took an hour. The positive aspect of this was that despite the conditions, the lambs were very bouncy. Before they could be sent off, the hand shears had to come into use to reduce the belly fleeces and the tails be ‘dagged’.

The ewes are now being fed nuts as well as hay, and the sight of a human approaching the feed trays brings every animal hurtling forwards. Hopefully we have not left feeding too late since if you are to have good milk the condition of the ewes is so important.

The cattle placidly live their lives oblivious to the events taking place in next week – two runs through the crush as part of our six-monthly TB test. One of our newer calves is certainly going to be put out when Furkan leaves us as she has taken a real fancy to him. Fortunately, his skin is tough because a calf’s tongue is rough. Furkan however, unlike Clement, who wanted to take both Milly and a lamb home with him, has expressed no desire to take the calf with him!

At Friday’s farm meeting we obviously recognised Furkan’s contribution both physically and socially. As, happily, is the norm with our woofers, we have enjoyed one another’s company very well, and sadly, his time with us has rushed past and we felt bereft at the realisation he will not be with us next week. I expressed our sadness that he had seen our climate at its worst but did not of course apologise. The weathermen may believe they control the weather but that is a total delusion!

No doubt it upsets you as much as it does me when the word ‘apology’ is misused. I can be very sorry for aspects of British colonialism but not apologetic, because that is a misuse of the word (Ed. e.g. )

 I deliberately used the word British and not English because while the English may have provided the money, the key players overseas were predominately Irish or Scottish – from the military and engineers to the administrators. A pity that fact is so often overlooked.

Furkan incidentally is spending a week in London after he leaves us; not to shop or visit night clubs, but to visit the ‘sights’ and enjoy the museums. Though he has in his time with us visited England’s second city, he was not over impressed – hopefully he will find London more to his taste.

Work on the business park’s civil engineering project is at a halt as suppliers have to replace key element for the pumps which were supplied. Sadly, there is probably still two weeks work needed.

There has been no news from the RPA, but disturbing news from the government. This news suggests that the PM is happy to break his promise not to allow in hormone fed beef of chlorine or lactic acidosis washed chicken. Just how can we be expected to compete with suppliers who have no interest in animal welfare and health standards. And how is it consumers can, for example, shut their minds to battery chicken production here in the UK, let alone places like Thailand.

We enjoyed a visit from Nina de Winter the new marketing manager for Demeter products from the UK. She has a Herculean task in front of her but hopefully she left us knowing we will give all the support we can. Inevitably our conversation moved onto matters not agricultural and I was left with the need to dig out and reread books not opened for at least 50 years. We look forward to her visiting again.

Maintaining social cohesion

A programme at the beginning of the week attempted to explore how necessary hypocrisy was to maintain social cohesion. Inevitably there was acrimony but oddly no reference to the inevitable clash of moral imperatives for individuals and society as a whole.

The 16th century demonstrated this conflict of imperatives so clearly. Power, religion and actions taken in the name of Christ that went against everything he died for. Fascinating reading but not that easy to cope with.

This weeks music

As a response I turned to the cello sonatas of John Garth. Written at a time when the Palatinate of Durham was overseen by its Bishop prince on behalf of the King in London. So easily forgotten if you are from the south west and east Anglia as I am, how important the north east and north west were until relatively recently. I thought it was good to be reminded why it might be that people from those areas resented the south east so strongly.

Canada, stamps and train journeys

Even more at the centre of life is memory, and as one gets older, sliding down memory lane is ever more tempting. Finally, my collection of Canadian stamps is ready to be sent off. The section which was perhaps to hardest to let go was my collection of First Day covers. There is nothing special there but much with memories of the past. From the first day covers of the lower values sent to me by the Ackerts, friends of my great aunt. Later came covers I had sent to myself both while we lived in Saskatchewan and later visited friends. The covers from Canada Post rang no such bells. That it all coincided with watching a programme featuring a Michael Portillo all conspired me to look backwards rather than in my preferred direction and it all was a bit soul destroying.

Whatever I may have thought of Michael Portillo the politician, I normally very much enjoy his series of train journeys. I must admit his recent programme covering a journey from Kamloops across the Rockies to Calgary was rather a disappointment. This I think was mainly to do with the photography. Having driven from Calgary to Banff and then Jaspar, before crossing the Yellow Head pass down to Kamloops, returning via the Kicking Horse pass, the real thing is vastly more exciting and interesting than the shots from a moving train!

Banff I certainly remembered from when visiting Canada some eleven years later, because I lost our two eldest children on the Main Street. Fortunately, the panic was confined to me! The hot springs are very much more touristy, and Calgary is now a major city rather than a rather hick town famous only for its view of the Rockies and the annual rodeo. The town of Banff rather like Stockwood is located in The Valley of the Bow (river).

Songs, stories, but only to a lesser extent, poems abound in North American cultural life about the development of the railroads, but there was no Kipling, Masefield or Service to look to for something truly memorable. The Canadian poet Pratt wrote a poem about the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway across the Rockies through the Kicking Horse pass, but it is too long to use here.

This is the best I could find – by a Canadian poet, Bliss Carman who died in 1929

By Kicking Horse River, through Kicking Horse Pass,
Where the Rockies guard their own,
There’s a trail that goes by a way it knows
Through valleys wild and lone,—
The trail of the guides and the pioneers
Who passed—a nameless host—
To open the gates for men to come
Down to the Fairy Coast.

By Kicking Horse River, through Kicking Horse Pass,
Their wonder trail still leads,
Though little we praise their heroic days
And men have forgotten their deeds.
Are you old or sad or worn or mad,
And sick of life’s too great cost?
If you know that way, you will go that way,
To find what you have lost.

By Kicking Horse River, through Kicking Horse Pass,
The Road to Tomorrow lies;
And the guides who wait at the sundown gate
Are Fearlessness, Faith, Surmise.
They answer each hail and show the trail
To all men value most.
There is freedom and space and Heaven’s grace
In the gift of the Magical Coast.

Incidentally, if looking for a new anthology of English and American poetry, look no further than that by Harold Bloom, and the name that escaped me two weeks ago was John Gardner!

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