Lambs, lambs everywhere!

Lambs, lambs everywhere!

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

Listening to the weather forecast for the coming week suggested little change, though slightly warmer but without serious rain. I admit I was tempted, as consolation was offered to gardeners, to shout ‘and what about the farmers’!  

Drought was a curse last year and it could again be this year. All the fault of high pressure sitting on top of us. A killer for those who sowed cereals some weeks ago and potentially very serious for us. Pastures without adequate rain will not provide the nourishment our animals need.  

Still, as always trying to keep things in perspective, Californians are said to be facing the worst drought in 1200 years!  

There is not much to say about this week, and not all of that is positive. There has been more composting, but without rain its value is reduced. It also highlighted the limitations of our spreader. It was bought, taking into account the pulling power of our Zetor tractor, and as a consequence is too small and spreads the compost too thinly.  

At least all seems well with our animals. Obviously, the cattle will stay in the barn until the TB results are known – I attach another very attractive drawing by Danny of a recent calf – what a talent.  

On Saturday lambing started with two sets of healthy twins and by Sunday we had eight healthy lambs. It is clearly going to be very busy next week.   

More positively, old fencing has been ripped out of yet another field with the hope of the fencers returning next week.  

An unexpected, probably Brexit related problem, is that currently there is a shortage of fence posts, and we have another two thousand metres to fence. All the mess resulting from the removal of the old fences has now been removed.  

The ragwort season may not yet have started, but the hemlock season certainly has. Despite our efforts every year to clear it from the farm, we seem to make little progress, though so far at least most of the farm is free of it. Perhaps the only positive thing one can say is that it is easily identified by the purple blotches on the stems. All of the plant is poisonous, so those clearing it must wear gloves and ensure their ‘pullings’ are incinerated.  

Uses for seaweed

A lifetime ago, every time we went to Whistling Sands near Aberdaron on the Lleyn Peninsular, I would collect plastic feed bags full of seaweed to spread in our garden in Manchester. The steep road down to the beach was not for public use.  This meant every sack full of wet seaweed weighing around 40lbs had to be carried up to the car park at the top of the hill – an act out of the question now for two reasons. At 40 I was still very fit, but as importantly such collecting would now be seen as illegal.   

The downside of doing this over a number of years was that rot/rust eventually did so much damage to the floor of out estate car that the car’s fuel tank came free at one end on our way to a short Christmas holiday in North Wales and dragged along the road leaking petrol until the noise made me stop – it remains a mystery why the vehicle did not go up in flames but it didn’t, and after temporary repairs by the AA we limped back to Bromsgrove, rather shaken and with a much reduced festive feeling.  

However, seaweed concentrate liquid is now available from legal sources, and we are going to try it out on one of our less well performing fields. This was one of the first fields to be reseeded in 2019 and all went well last year. This year, despite having a long rest from grazing, all seems less than well. The concentrate is not cheap and even if its use is effective, it is unlikely we could afford to do the whole farm.  

Stewardship

Finally, our claim forms for stewardship and basic payment have been sent off. The organic payment was only a five-year option, so our next step will involve entering the governments new scheme. No point panicking yet, we have until 2023 and the details of the scheme remain sketchy in the extreme.  

This week in my thoughts..

I promised last week to shorten my notes. The great difficulty is that so many issues warrant more than a sentence but what I can do is concentrate on only a few issues, but first, some light relief:  

Social matters

A rather weighty one first. In 2010 an American Russian called Peter Turchin prophesised that by 2020 the United States would be facing huge upheavals, and published a book justifying his assertion. Given his academic background was in something like the lives of pine beetles, the book was not well received. Part of his argument was that the pay gap between the elite and their minions was widening at an ever-increasing rate, while the number of people thinking they had a right to be in the elite was fast overhauling the number of elite posts available. The inevitable outcome would be increasing resentment from both ends of the income scale and erupting tension.  

His thinking is no longer regarded as laughable.  

Still on social matters, in recent years there has been a growing feeling that minority groups are attempting to redefine democracy. For better or worse, democracy rests on the notion of majority control. Certainly, I saw in a previous job what disasters happened when minority groups reached a position where they effectively controlled the workings of a local authority. It increasingly looks as if we are moving that way nationally when policies are seen to be determined by groups made up of very small, proportionally, interest groups.  

In a proper democracy as I understand it, the concerns of minority groups should not be ignored but neither should they determine policy.  

There is a place for the ‘woke’ but not a determining role.  

Genius, gifted or competent

At the start of the week, I was reminded of the cruel and crude saying ‘you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’. This was triggered by listening to a music programme in which a piece by a well-regarded modern English composer was inserted between pieces by Mozart and Schubert.   

A key argument over centuries has been that of ‘nature verses nurture’. Inevitably perhaps, rather than regarded as a matter for calm exploration and consideration, politicians have seized on it and though, at a ‘rational’ level it seems likely to be a mixture of both, with the balance depending on individual cases, huge political policy decisions have been created on the sand of one or other of these binary views.  

For myself I have no doubt as to the difference between genius, gifted or competent. All types of talent are needed, and each contributes in its own way to society.  

For years a rather ancient German upright piano from the 1920’s gave me pleasure and solace. Though my sight reading was excellent, I had no natural talent and the music as I played it would almost certainly not be recognised as theirs by composers such as Mozart. Beethoven and Haydn.  

No matter, I was the happier for my efforts.  

To be helpful to others, I later acquired a piano by the famous English piano maker Broadwood. It may look impressive, but is no pleasure to attempt to play, not least because it is designed to be used in large spaces, and perhaps because of that has a relatively heavy action.  

Over the years I have attended numerous lessons designed to improve my French – essentially a waste of time since, while I may have ‘survival’ French, my accent is dire, and though I can actually generally read the language, making sense of spoken French defeats me. Same reality as with my piano playing – desire and practice can only take you so far.  

Switching from my failings to the wider scene, teacher training was a matter of great interest and involvement for me in younger days. What I learned from that was that most would-be teachers could be helped to attain competence, but if you were not a ‘natural’ that was it.  

The same as I found teaching maths. I used, accurately, to claim to be able to help any pupil get a reasonable GCE grade in the subject, but beyond that point few could progress.  

I read a lot as you know. It is very rarely you cannot tell when the writer has been on a creative writing course. For the gifted, such a course can make more of you, for the less gifted, it is competence only which results. There are stacks more examples of course, but one last personal admission. Some years ago, I tried my hand at writing poetry and found that as a technical exercise it was not over demanding, but what it proved beyond doubt, was that for me, it was not the natural way to express myself, as a true poet would.  

Searching for a better understanding of our language

I continue to battle my way through Etienne Balibar’s philosophical writings; indeed, I have reached page 41, but then become side-tracked into exploring Ralph Cudworths magnum opus of 1678. I suppose his name did not come up in my Oxford philosophical studies because Cudworth was a key member of the so-called Cambridge Platonists, who rejected the basic idea of Calvinists, and adopted a position known as Latitudinarianism. But I mention all that, only to explain why, triggered by at least two other matters, I continue in my search for a better understanding of our language. (Philosophy is of course very much about the use of language.)  

My position is I think best summarised by saying, it seems to me that while English may be the easiest language in which to learn enough to get by – after all most authorities say that a vocabulary of a mere 750 words will suffice for that, it is a difficult language in which to become genuinely bilingual.  

Difficult for a variety of obvious and less obvious reasons. There are sounds like ‘th’ which do not exist in many, many, languages; there are any number of words which, while spelt differently like poor and pour, sound the same when spoken; there are a number of letters which exist in the spelling of a word but are silent such as the ‘b’ in doubt, but these issues in themselves are hardly unique. The way in which words like ‘really’ can vary in meaning simply by intonation or facial expression is not unique either.  

A key problem is of course that historians of an earlier generation attempted to impose on a language which is neither based on either Latin or German, rules and laws which do not hold water. English is also a constantly changing language, and spoken by a people unconcerned by past practice. There are rules, but these come from examining practice, and are unknown to most natural English speakers. And to make matters worse, ‘does it sound right’ as advice is hardly helpful to the non-native speakers.  

What I think is even more difficult is grasping the nuances that our vast vocabulary makes possible, and the importance of ‘weasel words’ or caveats, that we use as a matter of course and disturb us when not used. There was a headline in the Sunday Times declaring that Prince Phillip was the luckiest man to have lived. ‘Lucky’, like so many of our words should not be used without caveats or explanatory clauses. Why, because it covers such a wide range of meanings; it is another word like ‘truth’, rationality or ‘reality’ that we use casually, since we are assuming that the reader or listener will determine the meaning by context, user or intonation.  

This is very much a problem associated with headline writers. A classic example came up on Saturday. Piers Morgan referred to a photograph of the queen at the funeral as ‘heart-breakingly sad’ in an article. The headline said he had said ‘Is there a worse picture of the Queen?’  

For speakers of some other languages’, difficulties arise because, apparently like the Japanese, English users rarely say exactly what they might be thinking. The statement ‘that is very interesting’ is so simple but may mean a variety of things.  

Enough, all this is very much in my mind as we certainly expect to have French undergraduates with us this summer.  

They are here for different reasons but always in the hopes of improving their understanding and use of our language, and while that comes in part from working with a variety of individuals, the more formal sessions are my responsibility and invariably are a learning experience for me as well.  

An unanswered question for me is the possible link between a language and thinking. Can it be that language affects how the brain works, for some of my bilingual friends are certain that their thinking in one language changes when they switch to their other language. Others deny this hotly! Sadly, I will never be in a position to have a personal view. 

Given that on Monday I am having a cataract operation, which frankly I am dreading, I chose to  end on a positive note by sharing a poem from the pen of one of our greatest poets – John Clare

Where slanting banks are always with the sun  
The daisy is in blossom even now;  
And where warm patches by the hedges run  
The cottager when coming home from plough  
Brings home a cowslip root in flower to set.  
Thus ere the Christmas goes the spring is met  
Setting up little tents about the fields  
In sheltered spots.–Primroses when they get  
Behind the wood’s old roots, where ivy shields  
Their crimpled, curdled leaves, will shine and hide.  
Cart ruts and horses’ footings scarcely yield  
A slur for boys, just crizzled and that’s all.  
Frost shoots his needles by the small dyke side,  
And snow in scarce a feather’s seen to fall  

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