Little boxes on the hillside

Little boxes on the hillside

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

There were advantages and disadvantages of being born on the 31st of August during one’s period of schooling, of which the most noteworthy was always being the youngest in class. Otherwise, I guess being born at Christmas is far worse. At eighty, it makes little odds. I never expected to be around at this age, medical predictions were that my life would be much shorter. I am grateful in all kinds of ways for the bonus years, and though there are many things and people to thank, the two I would pick out as being at the top of the list are Anne and Ventolin.  

Happy Birthday!

All this has meant not just a new career and change of lifestyle, but the opportunity to make the most of my innate curiosity and to ‘come out of the closet’ in terms of my real thinking. I have also had that most precious of gifts time to think and to write.  

This is certainly not meant as a valedictory – there is far too much left to do and write. Birthdays rise and fall in their personal significance, moreover they are usually marked by the unexpected. This year it was a visit by the District Nurse in vampire mode, but since she is a lovely lady, I surrendered my blood without complaint.  

Inevitably, after two very good days things went awry. Another slip early on Tuesday morning led to a great deal of blood spilling, but no serious damage other than an additional plaster to my already heavily bandaged right arm.  

The expectation that a visit to the opticians would solve my reading difficulties was abortive because the day and time turned out to be different from that we had been told. But worst of all was the drive into Worcester, or to be fair, the last few miles of the journey, and this was in two ways. The first was the litter exposed following the mowing of the verges – we are a dirty lot, even in Inkberrow the Parish Council is always raising the issue. The other was the extent to which new housing estates seemed to dominate, and how depressingly they take no account of existing architecture or the landscape. Worst of all they left me with a tedious ‘earworm’. For those who recall Pete Seager and his hit song of 1963, though I cannot give you the melody, I can share the first two verses.   

Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds  

Little boxes on the hillside 
Little boxes made of ticky tacky 
Little boxes on the hillside 
Little boxes all the same  

There’s a pink one and a green one 
And a blue one and a yellow one 
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky 
And they all look just the same

By any definition this has been a miserable summer. Perhaps best illustrated by the two photos below. The first is of swallows gathering on the power cables – a sign normally associated with their coming departure – much earlier than normal. The second photo shows the nest in the tunnel which was occupied very late and still has fledglings in it.  

Typically, the weather forecast for next week, after the children have returned to school is, for at least a few days is warmth, followed hopefully by some decent rain. We have experienced a sustained dry spell – ironic when you see images of torrential rain elsewhere.  

Farm News

Matters have not been so good either with our ewes. This week the vet had to be called out again. An ‘on the spot’ post-mortem revealed little other than that a possible cause of death was an intestinal tumour. Further examination in the laboratory showed selenium was inadequate and that the ewe was carrying a high worm infection. Neither of these factors were sufficient to cause death which had to be put down to the cancer. 

Another ewe was also looked at, and the problem with that was a bacterial infection in the throat which was caught early enough for treatment to be effective.  

All seems well with the cattle, and I have heard no more about NFE. I mentioned last week we had some concerns about overheating hay bales. Given we are well stocked for the winter, these bales have been put out in feed trailers for both the sheep and cattle. 

On Friday some 50 large bales of bedding straw arrived, another 100 will eventually come.  

Though there has been no start to the final few thousand metres of fencing, on Friday it was hoped to carry out a spraying of prep 500 with added ccp and nettle tea, and on the right day according to the Thun calendar but, very sadly our 2000 litre rainwater tank was all but empty and then and the pool into which the flow form runs had developed a major leak. Somehow by Saturday afternoon Chris had managed to find a solution and was able to spray 80 acres – the day also being a favourable one. 

We have received part of the information from the fresh grass samples. But not yet the analysis of trace elements. What we have had is information about crude protein and digestible energy as well as a number of other figures. Overall, the data looks pretty similar to previous exercises, but we have not yet got the most important data which may explain some of the health issues – that is the figures for items such as cobalt, copper, iodine and selenium and in a way as important the levels of the antagonist molybdenum.  

The verges of the drive and lawns have been cut, and it is now easier to see wildlife. Nothing very exciting unless having rabbits in both gardens pleases you. So far, we have only once seen a muntjac, though we know there are a number on the farm. Most amusing of all are the moorhen which clearly feel totally at home. 

All other things being equal I have three topics I intend to discuss – number of words permitting, and only one of the three is in any way political and that is where, after the farm news I will start.  

History

Should Henry Ford actually have called history ‘bunk’, he may have been a great man in some respects, but in others he was a fool. History is one of any country’s most powerful weapons in its armoury. I often complain English historians and the media enjoy wallowing in guilt over some awful aspect of our history. To a large degree I dislike it because it seems to me to come from inverted superiority. On the other hand, it reflects the basic soundness of our society.  

If there is one area which the United States has in common with many dictatorships, it is in their very similar approach to their nation’s history, even if for different reasons. For decades the American public have happily accepted a false history of their society and, perhaps understandingly, influential sources have seen fit to ‘not rock the boat’. 

And then the Black Lives Matter movement did indeed ‘Rock the boat’. Suddenly, it seems, that the way in which their native peoples were, and continue to be, treated has become a ‘hot’ issue. Nothing particularly new has been discovered, but previous efforts such as the work of Dee Brown some sixty years ago had no serious impact on public or political thinking. 

There is now acceptance by a much wider part of society of some of the atrocities committed, and this and slavery is exactly what the Republican Party have been trying to stop getting put onto the general curriculum for schools.  

For some years in the 1800’s a policy of genocide towards the indigenous population was adopted, and the going rate was a dollar a scalp. When that failed and political attitudes slightly changed, peoples who had ranged freely over much of the country were now forced to live on ‘reservations’. Special residential schools were opened to inculcate ‘western’ civilisation and ‘values. These schools were associated with high mortality rates, and for many of those who survived a complete failure to know who they were. Inevitably the reservations became associated in white minds with drunkenness, idleness and depravity.  

I would like to fall back on something I shared with you a long time ago and that was, that one of the ‘triggers’ of the American colonies rebellion was the efforts by the then British government to block expansion to the west, and to introduce protections for the indigenous population.   

Sadly, this was not brought into action as in every English-speaking country to later become a Dominion, though deliberate genocide was certainly not on the agenda, and indeed many problems were caused by misplaced good intentions, these issues were decided by state and/or federal policy.  

As good intentions so often do, everything went horribly wrong, and in the late 1800’s, thousands of children were taken from their families and placed in residential schools where a host of factors led to a very high death rate and severe psychological damage to those who survived.  

Amazingly this practice was still in place in the 1980’s in Australia. 

As one politician said: “colonial policy towards the indigenous population was to ‘smooth the dying pillow’ of an ‘inferior race’.” And let’s be frank, this statement says it all. This attitude these days is more likely to be directly stated. One need only look at China, whose leaders and peoples know that their culture is superior to all others. Whether the Foreign and Colonial Office actually had a view, I do not know.   

No country has a history free of ugly behaviour, but in fairness this is harder to admit to, either for a new country or a country like North Korea where dictatorship retains its grip by falsehoods. In America this has all but ripped the society apart as the Republicans refuse to accept the myth on which the country is built.  

Opposite my armchair on the bookshelves over the television set, one row is given over to issues of the books sold in the 1960’s, a set of Encyclopaedia and the complete set of the Oxford History of England. All terribly out of date, and all impossible to throw away. Directly opposite me are the two volumes covering the 19th century.  “The Age of Reform by Woodward covers the period 1815 to 1870, the other by Ensor the period from 1870 to 1914. In a way the title of the series sums up the discontent of what we now the nations that make the presently named ‘United Kingdom’.  

Should you be utterly uninterested in British history, a book also called ‘The age of reform’ written by an eminent American historian covers a slightly different period in America from the 1890’s to the time of Roosevelt.  

On the matching bookcase I have a number of volumes, written rather later in the Oxford series of volumes devoted to the history of the main European nations, bought as I began to move away from a perspective which placed the UK at the centre of world affairs, and to one which placed us a collection of islands off the coast of Europe.   

With that thought in mind I have been wanting to write something about the19th century for weeks, First from a UK perspective, and then from a European view. Space constrains me to limit myself only to the British side of things this week.  

It is easy to forget that at the beginning of this century there were people alive who had been born in the 19th century. That in the 1990’s there were people who had had relations alive at the end of the Napoleonic wars. The 19th century is not ancient history.   

Although it is commonly known as the Age of Reform, I suspect the historian who coined that phrase revealed very clearly his central interest in issues such as the franchise. It seems to, that the period might just as well been designated, the Age of Change, the Age of Dominance and the beginning of Decline, or perhaps better, the Age of Urbanisation, and the vast movement of people away from the land to the rapidly expanding cities.  

Many of you, like myself, looking back to the movements of our ancestors will almost certainly find this in one or more of your sides of your family. It was not true for my mother, but for my father, it quickly becomes apparent that both sides of his grandparents moved to London early in the 1800’s to find a better life than the land or sea could prosper. Some did, many did not. My sister and I were the product of those branches of those families that, to put it crudely, ‘made good’.  

The explosive expansion of the cities led invariably to a whole range of disasters from poverty to sanitation, and no organisation was in any way prepared for these challenges.  

I have in the past referenced a 19th century book entitled ‘The seven curses of London’ which included poverty, prostitution, health, dire housing or actual homelessness. This book did not really address the situation in the 1850’s when the Thames was no more than an open sewer, and the supply of water might be from that river.   

It was the stench of the river, and out breaks of cholera that forced parliament to take action. Today’s Embankment was part of the answer for London. For the growing towns and cities, it was the age of building brick sewers, most still in place today, and still doing the job they were built for. A disease that was not conquered in this century was the ‘wasting disease’ which we now know as TB – overcrowding, damp, and pollution meant no class might expect to escape it. Another challenge that was not overcome and which no class could escape was the dangers associated with childbirth and infant mortality.  

Though coal had been mined and burnt for centuries, in the 19th century the expansion in quantity mined, and dependence upon it remarkable. There was a cost of course, and I am not talking about today and climate change. The air in the cities was not just full of the stench of sewage and horses, but full of the pollution from coal being burnt for domestic purposes, but also from the many factories, large and small. An asthmatic would have had a short life.   

It might also have been called the Age of Steam, important not just for railways but for ever more sophisticated machinery in factories, the reduction in the dependence on the wind for ships and from the late 1860’s the real beginning of the Agricultural revolution. It was also towards the end of the century obvious that the initial lead over the rest of the world was, in terms of industry, gone. Germany in particular was already a stronger economy.  

It was also of course an Age of massive Reform but not just in terms of the franchise. By a number of acts, married women ceased to be seen as a husband’s property to do with, what he chose; the power of the Ecclesiastic courts was massively restricted; dubious practices in the shipping industry saved lives and ensured unseaworthy boats could no longer be a source of insurance money; after many struggles, many involving voluntary schools, but responding to the demand of industrialists by 1880, attendance at school was compulsory for all 5 to 10 year olds, the initial step being the 1870 Act.   

And since patience must be running out, I conclude on the century of Wars. For the British, not a year passed without fighting in some part of the world. Aside from the scoreless draw with Russia in the 1850’s commemorated by ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, and remembered particularly for the work of Florence Nightingale – which reminds one of course of Florence Darling, the RNLI, the construction of lighthouses and the use of buoys to make life safer for shipping – the battles were essentially colonial, often triggered by the actions of chartered trading companies – resulting in 1899, the first action in the Boer wars.  

Wars elsewhere and not directly involving the British saw the development of firearms and artillery. The cumbersome horse pistol and musket being replaced by guns firing cartridges with rifled barrels and most horrifying of all the machine gun.  

To change tack, despite all these thoughts, I have been persisting in my updating of my collection of early French stamps.   

After the end of the Napoleonic wars, the allies without consultation with the French people, decided to reinstate the Bourbon dynasty. This was a real mistake, and in 1848, by popular vote, Napoleon the Third became the first president of the new Republic and the design of the first stamps was of ‘Ceres’, the Roman goddess of farmers and protector of plebians.  

A set of six ungummed and imperforated stamps were issued in 1849 and were in use until replaced in 1853 by a series of similarly ungummed and imperforate stamps reflecting Napoleon’s new role. These, in their turn, were replaced by a new series, using a slightly modified image of the President, and now perforated. These were the stamps in use until the disastrous decision to declare war on the new state of Germany.  

In fairness to Napoleon this was a decision he was forced into by popular pressure, skilfully whipped up by Bismarck. The Franco-German war of 1870 saw the total defeat of the French forces by the far better trained, equipped and organised Prussian troops. Paris was occupied, and before the Germans departed, France was forced to cede Alsace. Napoleon who had led the French forces, himself forced into exile in England.   

France and especially Paris, was left in turmoil, and only after the killing of some 20,000 was stability restored. “Les Misérables” based on a story by Victor Hugo, does not reflect this turmoil or the French Revolution, but an event in the early 1830’s. 

After this, new stamps were needed, and again the image of ‘Ceres’ was used on gummed and perforated stamps. This series was replaced in 1876 by a series using a new image.  

Stamps of course, particularly have no value in themselves. Value only comes if collectors are interested, and even then, a number of factors affect collectability, and hence value. Condition and scarcity linked to demand set value.  

With imperforate stamps, margins are of prime importance. For the individual, cutting stamps of a sheet could be done with care or not, to collectors the stamps cut off with care are likely to have four clear margins, but most were cut with little attention to this matter. Scarcity depends both on the numbers printed of any particular stamp, and the number that remain today – remember we are thinking of stamps issued at least 150 years ago!  

A few final thoughts on this subject from lessons learnt: The Stanley Gibbons of today is very different from its historic image. Their catalogues are of limited value to the specialist, and the values attributed to stamps tell you no more than what you would be charged if you bought from them, AND they actually had the stamp to sell to you. In general prices given in catalogues grossly over state what a stamp would fetch on the market. Ebay is probably the best guide to what collectors will actually pay. So, your prized used collection is very, very unlikely if sold, to achieve more than 20% of the listed catalogue value  

Poetry

The poems I have chosen may in different ways be inappropriate, but I wanted to use a poet who was not British, and I wanted to find one celebrating ‘Ceres’. I should note that for the Greeks, Ceres was called ‘Demeter’. 

The only poem I could find was written by Schiller, to spare you I have used the first two verses only. Left determined to find a poem written by a French poet, and more appropriate to the weather, I turned to Verlaine and his poem Autumn Leaves.  

The complaint of Ceres by Schiller 
  
“Does pleasant spring return once more? 
 Does earth her happy youth regain? 
Sweet suns green hills are shining o’er; 
 Soft brooklets burst their icy chain: 
Upon the blue translucent river 
 Laughs down an all-unclouded day, 
The winged west winds gently quiver, 
 The buds are bursting from the spray; 
While birds are blithe on every tree; 
 The Oread from the mountain-shore 
Sighs, “Lo! thy flowers come back to thee— 
 Thy child, sad mother, comes no more!”’  

 
Autumn Leaves – in a rather literal translation by Verlaine  
 
“The long laments 
Of autumn’s 
Violins 
Wound my heart 
With a monotone 
Fatigue.  

All suffocating 
And pale, when 
The hour chimes, 
I remember 
The old days 
And I cry;  

And I go 
With the nasty wind 
That is carrying me 
Here and there 
Similar to the 
Falling leaf.

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