Lambing is underway

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

Farm news 

The week has been rather overshadowed by the death of our first calf triplets. We have had the odd set of twins before, but never triplets. The mother, not a first timer, survives and hopefully will be fine, but this was not a good way to start the week, especially as a ewe on the same day gave birth to still born lambs. Nor was it the kind of welcome we had planned for Alice!  

On the much more positive side, much needed rain freshened up the pastures, and hopefully has at last produced some real growth in two of our biggest fields. Even better, by Thursday evening it really looks as though lambing has started, with the birth of live twins, and overnight Friday another lamb arrived, so that by Saturday afternoon we had 5 live lambs, with another pair of twins being born that morning. 

Happily, Alice has already become an important member of the team, and feels she is getting really useful experience. She certainly is going to experience very soon the excitements of cattle testing and lambing. So far, she has escaped that most tedious of tasks – pulling up hemlock – and will have left us before it is ragwort season.  

After the rather unhappy start to the week, peace has returned to our animals. Recent discussions centred on the amount of feed and straw consumed this year, and the viability in the future of maintaining a herd of more than ninety cattle, given the reduced yield of our Stewardship fields.  

As to our garden, aside from our small, sheltered driveway, home of vast numbers of sparrows, elsewhere we are seeing too many jackdaws and rooks, though the male moorhen is still chasing the female and, driving off the rooks and jackdaws when it appears.  

The grape hyacinths are still looking magnificent, it is such a shame that they are so invasive and, after flowering look so tatty. Elsewhere, the frost caught the wisteria, which had been fooled into flowering too early. The apple trees escaped damaged as they are only now showing leaf buds. The countless primroses were of course unaffected.  

Our efforts to make the drive more attractive are now showing the attractive flowers of the fritillaria, planted as bulbs in the autumn. The seeds given us by a friend will not show life for a year or so yet. Those of our horse chestnut trees that have escaped the worst effects of the ‘lurgy’ to date are now showing the familiar sticky buds.  

Ukraine, history and Europe

I had intended this week to spend time considering three distinct but clearly related issues; freewill, freedom and liberty, but events in Ukraine press on me heavily so they are for another time.  

Perhaps I should make clear that there were some aspects of my education that really caught my attention. Moral, ethical philosophy and economic history. I accept that their relationship is tenuous but, in my mind, should exist. In terms of my reading, I admit that history and philosophy, aside from all topics associated with pedagogy and education, have dominated my attention most of my working life. As more and more academic works have appeared in translation, I do try to read and think outside the Anglo-American view of life in its widest sense, and also to attempt to gain at least some understanding of non-European affairs. And since I have to rely on secondary sources in the main, I must ensure reading more than one view on anything – a useful but truthful defence when I face family complaints about the size of my book collection. Actually, I struggle to think of things that do not engage my interest other than those I imagine you can guess.  

That said, I am well aware that looking at my bookshelves, it is impossible not to see that I have many books on the 19th century and the 20th century, as well as books including events up to and through both World Wars, and efforts thereafter to restore sanity to the world order. That being so, I am unable any longer, to longer resist sharing thoughts on some of the personalities involved in, and in creating, the present situation in Ukraine. There is no purpose in writing about Putin and the behaviour of his soldiers, other than to say that Russian military behaviour and leadership is as vile today as it was seventy years or so, and indeed in recorded history.  

In what I write next you may think I am either plain wrong or unfair, or both, but in my damming of these two individuals, at least Zelensky would agree with me. You may have registered that he has invited both individuals – Ms Merkel and Monsieur Sarkozy to come to Ukraine in order to see the results of their past decisions. 

History I have no doubt, will judge Merkel very harshly, even if she essentially followed in the footsteps of her post war predecessors, and Sarkozy little better, (without taking account of his other misdeeds), over their approach to Russia.  

An even worse charge against his successor Macron, would be if in his desire to be regarded as a major statesman, rather than concentrate on the imminent election, he allowed that noted lover of Putin and all things Russian to be elected – Marine le Pen.  

Though in no way a believer in historicism, I have no doubt that understanding their actions has to be viewed in the light of past history. It is, I think, too facile to look back to events of the 20th century solely to understand the positions taken by both leaders.   

Actually, of the two, it is easier to understand Sarkozy’s, and later Macron’s, difficulties as Frenchmen.  

France, defeated in 1759, 1815 and 1870, rebuffed by both the Americans and the British in 1919, humiliated in the 2nd world war, treated as a an equal by American and British, while knowing full well their contribution to victory was puffed up merely to preserve the pride of De Gaulle – who repaid us later by blocking our entry to the Common Market – the earlier financial difficulties which saw France seeking first to be part of the UK, and then when that was rejected, to become a member of the Commonwealth (also rejected), and then the horrors of Algeria and South East Asia, and of course centuries of antagonism with the British.  

All these must obviously at some level played its part in first Sarkozy’s, and then Macron’s, bid to dominate European thinking and freeze out the British. All this made easier by Merkel’s decision to give Cameron nothing prior to the Brexit vote, knowing full well Brexit was probably inevitable thereafter.  

As far as Merkel is concerned, I think the fact that her background is East German is far less of a factor than is routinely thought.  

I hardly need to refer to the history of the 20th century, but a reading of Paul Kennedy’s work ‘The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism – 1860 to 1914’, on top of George Mosse’s work, ‘The Crisis of German Ideology’, tells us all we really need to know about her and her predecessor’s determination to cosy up to Russia, and later resent British sniping at the failures within the EU organisation.  

Germany, it seems, since the 1880’s, saw Britain as the country blocking its justifiable aspirations – not just to be a world power, but especially to dominate Europe. With that history behind her, her comfort with the type of government she was brought up under, and 20th century history to avoid reflecting on, this daughter of an East German Lutheran preacher’s political views, was all but predetermined. 

The key problem for Germany now is to accept that it has allowed, over many years, an increase in dependence on Russian energy to grow, and judging by the failure of the EU this week to even agree a ban on coal imports from Russia, little has really changed in their thinking.  

Every time I edge towards thinking I am a European, I have to back away as I am reminded that the gap between their approach to the world and ours is so wide.  

To recognise common morality demands that they face up to the costs of breaking free from this dependence, even if it might mean a drop in GNP of perhaps three to seven percent, and the wealthy having to suffer for their past unjustified wealth.  

You hardly need reminding that the giants of German industry today are those that supported the Nazi’s before, and during, the war, and in 1944 planned how to turn military defeat into economic triumph so perhaps it is too much to hope that is not ‘pie in the sky’.   

The UK, after resolutely turning a blind eye to Russian actions for many years, is at last doing no less than further ruining its own finances to a significant extent by starting to demolish ‘Londongrad’ and committing money (to add to its own already huge national debt) to support Ukraine. 

It had looked as though the EU had somehow managed to get its act together after Russia’s invasion, but it becomes clearer every day how the compromise of 27 countries, and the blocking power of the three largest economies in the zone dominates. Oban may stand alone, but what weight does Hungary actually have.  

Here, and thanks essentially to public opinion, and to having one competent minister, fortunately in the post of Secretary of State for Defence, it looks likely that our unattractive Prime Minister may survive politically for slightly longer, even if he loses his Chancellor, and hopefully Ms Patel falls on her sword – mind you even better if the Home Office was permanently closed. Judged unfit for purpose twenty years ago it is even more so now.  

As for Putin and his self-boasted knowledge of history – he has made all the mistakes and more than Hitler did in WWII, but then he has even less concern for the lives of his soldiers than first Napoleon, and then Hitler. Mind you, both Hitler and Putin, like Stalin, kept themselves far from the battle front. I am not good at remembering jokes, but one I have never forgotten concerns Napoleon fleeing the Russian battlefield, crossing a river by ferry, and asking the ferryman, ‘have there been many deserters?’ to which the answer was ‘no, you are the first’.  

I was entertained to hear the view that Putin might seriously be compared with Napoleon III, who launched an absurd war against Germany in 1870, lost humiliatingly, and had to go into exile. An amusing idea but sadly it does not stand up to examination!  

Paul Theroux’s Malawi and our travels 

Now, hopefully feeling more relaxed, I decided to grit my teeth and read of Paul Theroux’s journey through Malawi in his travel book ‘Dark Star Safari’. Sad though much of what I had read to date had been, Malawi is the first country he travelled through of which we had direct personal experience. Our final posting in Zambia had been to the Eastern Province at a hastily built secondary school in a small settlement called Lundazi, situated some 9 miles from the Malawian border, and reached from the capital Lusaka after a drive of some 450 miles along a poorly maintained and heavily corrugated dirt road.  

There were ‘way stations’, including one at the top of the escarpment overlooking the Luangwa River called Katchalola, where an overnight stopover was possible. Beyond that was Petauke, where there was a PWD or Public Works Department, and then the provincial capital known then as For Jameson – now Chipata.  

A further two hours’ drive, and after eleven hours on the road, with shaken bones and red from the red laterite of the roads, we were ‘home’.  

But all that is irrelevant to the story, except for the proximity of Malawi, to which we would escape when the supply of drinking water broke down – a not uncommon happening given that there was no electricity, and the generator was, to put it politely, elderly. More or less directly east of us was Lake Nyassa, and the little port of Nkata Bay which had a ‘rest house’ for, originally, government officials and European travellers. North of Nkata Bay was Livingstonia, while the bulk of the country was many miles south. Lilongwe was a popular destination for some and a real town. Much further south was the capital Blantyre which now, with regret, I have to admit we never bothered to visit.  

We did however once go north and visit the Nyika plateau, sitting in the back of a land rover with two 40-gallon drums of fuel as companions, and what an experience that was. We were at 6,000 feet, and the nights were very cold. No humans, but deer aplenty and no trees but all in all a wonderful experience.  

In our experience, Malawians were lovely friendly people, who though poor, had plenty of self-respect. Of course, I had a remote link with the country as one of my father’s first cousins, the Black sheep of the family, had given his life to working in the country as missionary and teacher. A lift given to a Malawian revealed he owed his position and education to this cousin.  

It was a country in which we felt safe, and where begging was not encountered, despite it being one of the poorest countries in Central Africa.  

Theroux had taught in Malawi until kicked out by Banda’s ‘Young Pioneers’, but he was based in Lilongwe. Up north there were few for the ‘Young Pioneers’ to terrorise, and we escaped experience of them.  

In his and our time, just as in Zambia, most shops were Indian owned and run. On his return, he found the Indians had been driven out, the shops were derelict and empty.  

In his and our time there was a sense of optimism and purposefulness. The school in which he previously taught was barely recognisable, but then teachers were paid a pittance, education was not free and there was no funding to keep buildings in good condition. I shall not depress myself further.  

So, what common threads did he draw from his negative experiences there and further north. One stands out, and that is aid.  

In Theroux’s view, which I have long shared, is that aid is the biggest explanation of the desolation of large parts of Africa.  

Aid encouraged corruption, reduced the will to work or think for oneself, and led to widespread corruption. Second only to that had been the absurd notion that freedom from colonial masters would in itself bring milk and honey to all, only too soon recognised as a nonsensical lie.  

A well operating society requires good governance, and acceptance of responsibility by the population. And before you suggest that the colonial society failed to share responsibility, that was rubbish. Their role was to provide a framework, and through the local legal systems ensure nepotism and tribal hostilities had no place.  

Eastern Province was the size of Wales, the number of colonial officers was perhaps ten – in Lundazi, excluding teachers, the only Europeans were the doctor, his wife and the manager of the ‘hotel’; the total population perhaps one million, of which Europeans (apart from those at the school) included missionaries from different Christian groups. Racism was not an issue, though language was of course a barrier. As in other colonial British territories, settlement by Europeans was not allowed. 

The ‘sacque coat’  

Moving on and not boring you with further memories, and hopefully on a lighter note, I have discovered that the original word for a jacket was a ‘sack coat’, and that it only came into general use in the 1860’s in both the UK and America and seems to have a French origin – being known as the ‘sacque coat’ in the 1840. Though I find it hard to believe such coats were not worn here by non-aspirant workers for years before.  

God and the Old Testament

An amendment to a position I took a few weeks ago about the use of the Old Testament in churches needs making. I argued then that the God of the OT was not the God of the NT, and so readings from it should be redundant. Listening to the texts used at the memorial service for the Duke of Edinburgh I was reminded of the beauty of much of the language used. I know the translation used in the King James’s bible is seen to be full of errors, but the language it contains stands alongside that of Shakespeare. Obviously, I went too far in my previous statement – I apologise.  

Alliterative verse

In my attempts to read Piers Plowman, even in translation, I came across again the notion of alliterative verse – something I have always been aware of, but now feel in a position to explain and illustrate – but not this week!  

I have instead chosen a poem by the great German poet Rilke.  

Early Spring  

Harshness vanished. A sudden softness  
has replaced the meadow’s wintry grey  
little rivulets of water changed  
their singing accents. Tendernesses,  
hesitantly, reach towards the earth  
from space, and country lanes are showing  
from unexpected subtle ridings  
that find expression in the empty trees 

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