Lambing is underway!

Foolishly or, as some might put it, attention seeking, I took an accidental overdose of one of the five pills I take each day on Easter Sunday. I share this only with you to enable me to praise the response from 111, and then the support of the paramedics who were here within the hour and could not have been more professional and understanding given the relatively ‘minor‘ problem. Discussion with a Consultant at the National Poison Center meant it was decided that hospital could be ruled out, for which I could not have been more grateful. I am happy to add that the children were more than happy to find my egg for me in the Easter hunt, and I was able to enjoy my Easter egg the next day!

As we face another week in the midst of this ‘time’, I am in general very ill at ease at the use of militaristic language. However, I think at the moment parallels can be drawn between the current situation and aspects of war – but only in one sense: The family who cowered from bombing, shelling or missile attack, or the infantry man accepting that a bullet may well have his name on it are both essentially in a similar position to us as citizens facing coronavirus. In a war precautions can be taken – pathetic as they may be – cower in the Anderson shelter or cellar, use well designed trenches. Today staying indoors and avoiding others as much as possible gives one, perhaps, a better chance of survival.

Lambing has started rather earlier than anticipated which together with a shortage of human bodies, and cattle still in the barn, has meant lambing outside in the field. A practice we dropped some eight years ago. Less risky this year because the weather, about which I complain bitterly elsewhere, has been supportive. It is too early to judge how well things are going but I will update you on that in due course. For now, I can say about 10% of our ewes have now lambed.

The cattle are really anxious to be let out and this must happen soon. Three steers were taken to Ford Hall farm this week and another three will go south to Model Farm shortly. In the meantime, there have been no new calves but those we have, appear to be thriving.

Sat outside on the bench in the sunshine earlier in the week with Flash sat next to me pressed against my leg and gazing at me in the way a favourite dog does, I was hit by the realisation that she must be nearing the end of her life. That of course is the downside of both getting over attached to pets and, if we are honest, people also. But what kind of life would it be if we didn’t care for either pets and each other. Isn’t there a saying ‘no gain without pain’…

Given the ‘Lock Down,’ we are so very fortunate to live in the country. To be surrounded by nature especially at a time when the bird life is so active, and the trees are in bud or in some cases in blossom. The masonry or mortar bees are having their annual month of activity, while the bumble bees seem everywhere. We are now also beginning to see a limited variety of butterflies. Unusually one of the family managed to get a rather nice picture of a deer. Sadly, Canada geese seem to have driven off the pair of Greylags we saw last week. The limited amount of rain that came yesterday saw much activity by blackbirds suddenly able to hunt worms relatively easily.

What recent events have confirmed is that people need people, and this need is now staring us in the face. Letters, emails, telephone calls mitigate the situation to a degree they are no real substitute for person to person encounters. Compared to many we have each other, family who can be waved at or spoken to briefly through closed windows and additionally live in the countryside. We are very fortunate indeed but even so…

The ‘drought’ has at least enabled Jonathan to cultivate and re-seed two of the four fields we could not work on last autumn. This means we still have two fields awaiting the sowing of wildflower mixes. This has to wait until the soil is more damp – next week perhaps? The good Easter weekend weather also allowed Tiernan to spray preparation 500 across the whole farm in only two days – a herculean effort.

I dislike talking about the weather, but it is of course central to our farming lives. After five months of constant rain, and now six weeks of dry weather, we now are desperate to have the tap turned on again. Clay has only two states for most of the time – sticky mud or concrete; we now have concrete and cracked surfaces. Two fields were spread with compost earlier and this week have now been chain harrowed so all that is now needed is rain! However, many of you will know the saying ‘oak before ash means a splash’ while ‘ash before oak means a soak’ (oak in dialect meant dry in this context) – in this context the attached photograph is a little depressing. Added to which on Friday afternoon we did have a very limited ’splash’. Indeed, when I walked the dogs late in the evening it seemed that that was it. Fortunately, overnight the tap had been turned on more fully and by Saturday morning there were actually puddles to be seen.

Martin has continued to work here. The dumps of soil have all been smoothed out, large lengths of brambles removed and then burnt, while fencing has started and appears to be progressing well. Field 6, or the gallop, will look very unfamiliar to those who remember it from past visits as now little evidence remains of its previous use for horse training. The mobile home once again looks out over nature rather than a squalid mess. All very good news with the hope now we can pay for all this work.

It feels some time since I have shared ideas being aired on the Pasture Fed Site. In truth it rather reflects a possible loss of direction on that organisation’s part. A recent discussion might better have been reflected in a Greens Keepers’ magazine. The issue was moles and how to get rid of them. For myself the sight of mole hills in a field is good news but then we play neither croquet or lawn tennis on our pastures! Moles are a sign of a healthy worm population and mole activities both aerate the soil and devour grubs feeding off grass roots.

At last some positive news on the RPA front. I use the word ‘some’ carefully. On Thursday we learnt that one part of that organisation had recorded payment on two of our three claims had been made authorised in early February, but the decision had not been actually acted on! So, no money has actually reached us – encroyable. As to the claim for repayment for the seeds, all has gone quiet. And writing as an ex-bureaucrat, we have nothing in writing which is a concern. I did of course share this news with our local MP.

While we may not yet have sent our papers in re the Soil Association inspection – I admitted what the problem was – we have submitted our Basic Payments Claim in very good time but wait confirmation of receipt.

News and briefings

In slight contradiction to what I write below, we are easily drawn to the daily Coronavirus briefing and, even the Trump entertainment, if he turns up on time. The Queens Christmas Address is not something I feel a need to listen to, but I did listen to her words last week, and on Sunday, and was left feeling grateful we have a constitutional monarch who does not feel the need to use her rare addresses to promote her personal political interests. That viewing figures were apparently well over 20 million rather says it all.

Trump’s press briefings are quite extraordinary; that so many of ‘his’ party at Governor and Senator level keep mum is degrading to the American vision – mind you that was all it ever was of course. Fortunately the performance of the Governor of New York is perhaps an indication that all is not lost though what does it say, about the Democrats and American politics in general, that the best they can offer to run against Trump is Joe Biden. I assume the fact that Trump’s hair appears to have turned grey is a political gesture.

Reading and entertainment

Having finished the ‘Saracens Mark’ I had the choice of a newly published history of the Cromwell interregnum or a novel set early in the reign of Charles II. In the event I decided to read them concurrently. I am still undecided as to how to respond to my reading of ‘Providence Lost’ which is written by a professional historian. Was the period a tragical farce or a turning point in our history or both. I am halfway through my reading of the two books so will come back to the topic next week perhaps. The novel is by an author familiar to many through his Roth Trilogy which transferred to television as the series ‘Fallen Angel’ being written by Andrew Morton and called the ‘Last Protector”. Obviously well written with a good mix of fact and a rather implausible central plot.

I thought it might be worth exploring, since most of us are confined to our homes, the very obvious shift in what is now regarded as humour on radio and television – and what a star Tim Brooke-Taylor was, and the way in which series like Poirot and Midsummer Murders, Morse, Lewis and Endeavour continue to be so much a part of our viewing. As far as humour is concerned perhaps it is just age, but if that is the case how is that Morecombe and Wise, the Goodies, Dad’s Army, Open all Hours, Just a minute and I am sorry I haven’t a clue survive? Part of the shift has to do with the view that shows the whole family could watch together is redundant. Another part must be that cleverness and comedy no longer go together and a feeling that shock value is by definition funny. Yet again showing my age I have the feeling it is all part of the general regression to the mean or more bluntly ‘dumbing down’.

More up to date episodes and series such as Vera have a harder edge but at least do not glory in the carrying out of violence and bloodshed. It is also interesting how Nordic ‘noir’ which I for one lost interest in fairly early on, now no longer appeals more generally.

Of course, the productions of these cosy detective stories are first rate, the scenery is often compelling, and in part it feels as if they are a replacement for the ‘Rep’ of one’s youth with the same familiar faces appearing frequently. Moreover, however unrealistic it is, murders and mysteries are actually solved and evil rarely wins. I confess they are a saving grace for us. Television played a limited role in life (except perhaps for cricket) but now is usually on for an hour or two most evenings.

History, the New Zealand trading company

I threatened some words on the incorporated New Zealand trading company. It was an example of the worst kind of such ventures. Without attempting a potted history of that country suffice it to say the inhabitants, the Maoris, had occupied the islands from sometime in the mid-14th century. Like all Polynesians and Melanesians, they saw warfare as a basic way of life and had certain habits not to be talked about. Europeans had first come across them when Abel Tasman made contact. Later James Cook visited and established better relations with the local inhabitants.

Come 1830 an adventurer/ politician called Wakefield saw potential and set up a company to expand trade and provide a new home for impoverished English colonists – ‘a model colony’. Both the British Colonial office and four leading missionary groups were fiercely against these ideas. But inevitably the possibility of making money lured investors in. A key basis of the scheme was to buy land from the Maoris for peanuts and then sell it on to would be colonists. American Independence was very much promoted by the settlers’ anger at the British government’s refusal to allow slavery or the expansion into the lands of the indigenous inhabitants – plus ca change.

The scheme was a disgrace and a failure and in 1850 the company was wound up. The British government had had to get involved long before then and a series of Maori wars began in the 1840’s that rolled on for over twenty years. Eventually troops from the UK arrived in sufficient numbers to force peace. All this no doubt reads as musty stuff, but it was not that long ago. Anne’s great grandfather, as a local militia officer, saw service in that final war. Typically, we have remote family there, but when they first arrived in that country, I have no idea. Indeed, as I understand it there was only the one meeting of family representatives during WWII.

Music and poetry

I realise that my next comment will probably be seen as sacrilege but I am not a great devotee of much of Mendelssohn’s work, but I think his ‘Songs without Words’ as played by Ilse von Alpenheim is endlessly listenable to. Her playing is exquisite and though I have many pianists’ versions of Haydn’s piano sonatas I shall track down her recordings of them. Haydn’s piano sonatas were just about within my grasp though the triplets tended to do just that to my playing. At my best I think a professional might just have guessed what I was playing. So what, I played entirely for myself and the piano for me at different times was my lifesaver. Our Broadwood Grand may be more valuable than my inherited 1916 upright German piano, but I have no doubt which I prefer.

The effects of climate change are obvious in many ways but particularly in poetry. Seeking a poem celebrating the transition from winter to spring the key difficulty was the absence of a winter these past months. In the end I chose a poem reflecting the ambivalent feelings that many have about ‘experts’. William Blake – a man of genius or a man half crazed – but what does it matter given the poems he left us such as ‘Jerusalem’ and the ‘clod and the pebble’, but perhaps in today’s context, most memorably the following poem:

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;
Mock on, mock on; ’tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.
And every sand becomes a gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking eye,
But still in Israel’s paths they shine.

The Atoms of Democritus
And Newton’s Particles of Light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright

I have turned to Emily Dickinson before. A poet that I admit I had not in past times paid sufficient attention to. In some ways looking to her for poems of hope is slightly perverse but that below seems appropriate:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

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