“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”
This has been a busy week on the world stage. Far more so in fact than on the farm I am pleased to write. Skating over the really big issues like Ukraine and the shenanigans of the Conservative party, I select two which for different reasons caught my eye.
As one who thought Brexit emotional madness, but have refrained from pointing out on a weekly basis the damage it has been doing, I feel entitled to draw attention to a very recent cross party public accounts committee report that concluded that: ‘despite claims that Brexit would boost productivity, the “only detectable impact” so far “has been more burdens on business” or to put it simply, the only actual impact so far is higher costs, paperwork and border delays. It has always been a source of amusement to me that every American President feels the need to leave a library when he leaves office. I found it is a requirement under the Presidential Records Law. It has now been discovered that ex-President Trump failed to keep every scrap of paper received as required, indeed has torn up masses of papers, flushed others down lavatories, and had, against all the rules, taken fifteen boxes of papers to Florida with him. Hence the existence of presidential libraries which contain the most trivial to the most important records. Trump’s response was of the kind which these days we hear from our great leader almost every other day.
Historically the phrase ‘February fill dyke’, so far still seems wishful thinking, but if the weather forecast for next week is accurate, we may be lucky enough to have substantial rain after the hard frost on Friday morning. We now seem to be in a cycle of weekly new calves. Though this was a first birth, human company and assistance to the calf needed only to find the source of milk, all was, and is, well. Otherwise, there is nothing to share other than a hard to follow discussion on the Pasture Fed site about measuring carbon content in the soil, alongside questions as to the actual importance of carbon.
Apparently, the instrument used for this purpose is called a ‘reflectometer’. Or, more technically, an USD 350 open source, field portable reflectometer. To date, used in countries like Malawi, the relative prediction error is within the range 19-23%. Try as I can, this failed to excite me, but no doubt DEFRA will soon be offering 40% grants to farmers to add this to their toolbox.
The word dyke, also spelt dike, can mean both ditch and wall – how so? Even the OED provides no answer. A volcanic dike is a ridge of hard igneous rock, but in a phrase, means ditch of course. Two actions that need to be progressed before the month is out. The island in the big scrape we have been advised needs strimming now to make it more attractive to breeding birds. Additionally, the various ‘natural’ Bird boxes the family gave us as wedding anniversary present last July need to be put up for bird use this spring. Hopefully determining locations will not be too contentious an issue!
I have now read all five books in the Wyndham and Mukherjee series, and it is really a tour de force, though despite what he says I cannot imagine a sixth book. The final book is perhaps the most bitter of the series, about the colonial administration in India. Divide and rule is seen to be the key method of control – keeping Hindus and Muslims at each other’s throats. Mukherjee obviously knows that the hatred between the two religious groups long predated the arrival of Europeans, since it was documented in the 14th century. Recent analysis by an Indian historian suggests religious rioting was actually greater in Royal principalities than in British controlled areas, but ‘divide and rule’ is typically an approach favoured by all kinds of authority, so the basis of the stories is believable.
What I think I found most disturbing, aside of course from the racism both within Indian society and of the British, was the description of the continuing clash between army and civilian rule. I find it entirely believable but have seen no written evidence to support it.
Odd to remember that until the movement in of unmarried English women, the expectation was that employees of the East India Company should marry Indian women, and any racism there then must have been negligible until that invasion of ‘women seeking husbands’ and bringing with them all the absurd prejudices of the ‘ton’.
However uncomfortable you may find reading these books do try to read them for yourselves.
I assume like me you were unable to escape the drama when an apparently highly regarded American presenter referred to the Holocaust as merely being about whites killing each other, and then followed it up with a dubious remark about race and ethnicity. Overall, a striking Illustration as to how a Black American understandably sees the world.
Even in this country, racism is such an emotive issue that approaching it requires care. From the perspective of most people these days, slavery is and was abhorrent in every way and I firmly place myself in that category, but that should surely not mean that discussion is forbidden.
Slavery has existed since the year dot and continues to this day. Except perhaps for the Ottomans, and pirates of the Barbary coast, colour was not the driver. Slaves were property, and the more you had, the wealthier and the more productive your land holding might become. Slavery usually resulted from war and may well have been preferable to the modes of execution used until relatively recently.
At the risk of being accused of Marxism, the driving force for slavery was very simply capitalism. In other words, creating wealth; by using slaves, profitable crops could be grown in parts of the world where weather and disease were killers for Europeans. I well remember visiting a military graveyard in Antigua where the bodies of an English regiment of foot – the 54th I think it was, were buried, dead not from battle but heat and yellow fever.
Africans, predominately from areas now known as Guinea, Nigeria and Angola were enslaved, not because of their colour, but because, though their lives on plantations might be short, their use made financial sense. Jefferson, that world renowned individual and promoter of freedom calculated that his ownership of some 600 slaves provided him with a return of 4%.
Seeing it in this way obviously reads negatively but, if we start from this point, may make the understanding of this very complex issue easier, given that our present position does not allow facts and nuance to be acceptable in discussion. Like it or not, those sold into slavery were sold by other Africans. That ‘white’ people in the same period were routinely taken as slaves by the Ottoman Empire, or captured by pirates from the Barbary coast, or sold by other Africans to Arabs on the east coast of Africa are facts, as is the notion that three quarters of the slaves in the Americas were traded by other European nations than Britain.
It is alleged, and widely accepted, that some 130,000 people are held in slavery are held in England today. Worldwide, the numbers are despairingly huge.
None of these excuses the movement of over 12,000,000 Africans as slaves to the Americas nor, if race was not at first the issue, does it explain why racism against Black people became so entrenched.
In Europe itself it was, and to a degree still is, commonplace to attribute negative qualities to people from ‘foreign’ countries, but this is and was very different from attitudes to Jews and ‘gypsies’ but the reasons for this are relatively straightforward and did not include the same kind of fear which I suspect lies behind racism particularly in the America’s.
It surely would be better if all the angst felt were directed towards the problems of today. Slavery is unacceptable whatever the race or colour of those held, and the past is the past, to be learnt from perhaps, but not to dominate our thinking, which can be such a human thing to do and has caused so much grief over the centuries and continues to do today.
The need to write this, actually sprang not out of the words of that American presenter, who seems to have personal issues over her own ancestry, but because Anne asked me my thoughts on a paragraph in Gustavus Vasso’s book, and seemed to me, to ask about slavery in Barbados. My initial response was simplistic in the extreme. Riots and rebellion was my answer, thinking of at least two recorded events in the 17th century, and the Basso Rebellion of 1832. Her response was to hand me our slightly tired copy of ‘The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings of Olaudah Equiano’ or as he was known for most of his life Gustavus Vasso, which I confess I had not read again for years.
While this describes in vivid detail the worst elements of slavery, it is infinitely more nuanced than the protestors of today might imagine – I was as guilty as anyone of seeing only part of the picture – since the paragraphs she wanted me to read drew attention to what Gustavus saw as the reality, that the quality of life for slaves was in some respects perhaps as mixed as those who worked in our ‘dark satanic mills’
Gustavus, after buying his freedom, worked for the English, settled here, married a white woman, raised a family and was accepted as a leading and respected figure in the anti-slavery movement. His writings included a ‘sophisticated treatise on religion, politics and economics’. His surviving daughter married a parson in the west country, and her grave is in Abney Court Cemetery, after restoration it is impossible to miss. The subject of the seven great cemeteries of London, by the way is fascinating in its own right and well worth exploring.
The notion of people being commodities was not restricted to those traditionally understood to be slaves. Women in this country, whether single or married were seen as the property of their fathers or husbands till late in the 19th century, and you may remember could not take out a mortgage in their own name until the 1960’s.
I wrote last week that I thought I might next comment on the ideas of republicanism and nationalism. The former rather being in my mind as a result of media comments, particularly concerning its future in this country after the present Queen dies. But, perhaps not unusually, I got distracted by the thought of how few words in our language have a clear meaning. Even the simple word ‘table’, without the appropriate adjective in front of it, can be interpreted in a variety of ways.
Given the length of this note already I shall have to leave those for another day. Briefly let me say how my listening this week has been greatly enhanced by the symphonies of Franz Krommer and the Prussian Quartets of Ignaz Pleyel.
Pausing for a moment in my observation of our resident spotted woodpecker, I realised that on the three items to my right – two small tables and a desk, apart from the usual odds and ends that surround my working area, are half a dozen CDs, stamp stock books, and two French stamp catalogues, are eight books all of which are in the process of being read; three books of poetry, two of history, one each of philosophy, travel, one of economic theory and of course a novel. On the face of it quite absurd but for me reading has always been one of the necessities of life.
Reading habits of course change over time. My serious reading in the past was concentrated on staying up to date on everything relating to my work, this and light reading had to be slotted into those moments when I was on my own. Inevitably my reading speed had to reach stupid numbers and associated with that was the need to be able to skim read, but not miss salient points.
In that period poetry was a luxury but what all this gave me was an almost encyclopaedic knowledge.
Now I read almost solely for satisfying my curiosity, for the pleasure of our language, and for entertainment, and only for a small part, and that relates to the farm, to keep up to date. My reading speed is far slower, in part because new ideas have to be considered within the framework of what I know or think I know, in part because, say with poetry, I want to think about how it works and finally with novels, because, if the book is a good one, the need not to get overexcited and also to reflect on, if it were my writing where I would go next.
Oh for a book and a shady nook,
Either indoor or out;
With the green leaves whispering overhead,
Or the street cry all about.
Where I may read all at my ease,
Both of the new and old;
For a jolly good book whereon to look,
Is better to me than gold”.
Hence this anonymous poem!
Fascinating how the wheel turns; as an asthmatic child I spent hours watching the clouds go by and musing, at primary school, the gazing out of the classroom windows freed up the mind, and was far more interesting than most teachers, not at work perhaps, but now the wheel has returned to its position of 75 years ago except now it is the behaviour of little birds at the feeder, that best allows my sub-conscious to do its job.