At this time of year, the verges in the lanes around the farm are a mass of the creamy white flowers of the meadow sweet. On the earliest map of our little world that I have found, the word hovel is marked in one of our fields. The farmhouse itself is indicated as being a hamlet. In the 16th and 17th centuries meadow sweet would have been an important part of life for our little world both as a floor covering, and as a sweetener or medical herb. Centuries later it was from the leaves of meadow sweet – not willow bark – that a German chemist came up with the drug now known as aspirin.

This week has, from at least the point of view of this individual, been very satisfying, warm but not too hot for most of the week, with hay fever becoming less of a curse and at the end of the week, so-so welcome rain.

This has again been a week where initial plans could not be followed through. Though the weather is the key unknown variable obviously, there are others. This week’s disruption was not caused by the weather but by animal welfare issues, and a neighbouring farmer needing help after his baler landed on his foot, causing major damage. His visit to A&E took nearly 12 hours and most would have taken to their bed for a day or so. This is not an option for a farmer, so he needed to press on, but help was required, and we were happy and able to oblige.

Interestingly at a meeting I had with our Natural England Advisor, and a researcher tasked with devising a questionnaire to explore on behalf of the RPA the social and emotional impact on farmers of stewardship schemes, one of the questions attempted to discover how far farmers interacted with other farmers. Like a number of the provisional questions I struggled at first as to how to answer it since it seemed obvious that when a neighbour is in difficulties, help is given.

The sheep were moved on the 16th after a week on field 4 as part of our policy to avoid overgrazing since it is the fresh grass which is nutritionally the most valuable as it contains high levels of sugar. Experts suggest the sward should be within the height of range two to four inches for sheep grazing. Otherwise very unexpectedly, one of the ewes gave birth to twins one of which was still born while the other is very weak and needing feeding.

It has been a mixed week as regards the cattle. The bull calf that was born last week died over the weekend, while at the same time three new calves arrived. Why the calf died is not clear but what was clear that crows had promptly attacked its dead body. On Wednesday one of our older cows was seen to have a worrying problem with one hoof. Tim, Aélis and Florian managed to corral the animal so Tim could give it an antibiotic jab. At the farm meeting Tim was very complimentary about their help and said the cow was walking much better after a second injection.

As for the young stock, the three held in the barn were judged fit to return to their herd, but a further two are showing eye problems. We are using homeopathy and indeed using a nosode especially formulated to meet the current problem.

At the end of the week some excitement was generated when an eight-month-old heifer unweaned and so still with the suckler herd began ‘bulling’. Obviously, it had to be moved quickly since mating with the bull at an age of eight months could cause serious damage. The fact that Bacchus raised no fuss when the heifer was removed from the herd is not a positive sign. 

Bacchus is now a concern. The next heifer that should join the herd is a daughter, and we do not think it wise or right to let the bull mate with her. In normal circumstances we would have either sold Bacchus on, or swapped him for a replacement. As things stand, because of the TB, neither of these are options. So, we either sell a fine bull or heifer for slaughter, unless we can get permission to use AI and the associated drug to ensure synchronise bulling. In a housed dairy herd this is not necessary because it is possible to identify when they are bulling.

Following on from compost spreading in our field over the brook, a further field on this side of brook also had compost spread on it. Both fields were harrowed, and the rain has come at exactly the right time! When the barn is emptied again, it will be stacked separately since it won’t be used for many many months including having the biodynamic preparations inserted.

I have I know, referred before to the contribution being made to our vegetable and soft fruit gardens by our three woofers, but their efforts deserve repeated mention as we continue to enjoy fresh vegetables and fruit as well as the various jams made by Anne. All the bushes in the business park have now been trimmed by them which has much improved its appearance.

While often I rail against the RPA, I have never been critical of those at the workface who have to struggle with the incompetence of their managers. So, it is I applaud the individual in the capital claims department who telephoned me earlier this week to update me on how our claims were progressing, knowing that for small farms, delays in repayments for work done, cause serious financial problems.

I have seen far fewer swallows than usual this year and indeed not seen a swift at all. But we are delighted that this year swallows are nesting in our passage, though its floor is going to need some scrubbing in the autumn! An explanation I have read for this reduction in numbers does seem plausible. Apparently swallows and swifts on their migration from Africa follow one of two very different routes. Our birds take the western route and given the weather in western Northern Africa there has been a serious lack of food enroute causing many fatalities. Other birds take an eastern route and this year that migration has been normally successful.

The English language

Attaching two adjectives to a noun reminds me that in English we unknowingly follow a clear rule as to order of the adjectives. I confess I have no memory of what it might be, but I do know what sounds/feels right. Working with Aélis and Florian continues to be a pleasure but reminds me on a daily basis just how complicated our language is. Frederick Bodmer, referred to below, regarded English and Chinese as totally unsuited to be world languages but had one blind spot. He was a great enthusiast for Esperanto but since language is so tied to culture he was surely indulging in wistful hope if he really though a new rational language would ever be accepted.

A little politics

There are just too many issues I could touch on this week: the latest British Social Attitudes annual report, the final week of the Conservative party leadership campaign, Donald Trump hitting new racist lows, further totally unnecessary lies by Johnson – our own mini-Trump, the bizarre situation of a number of Muslim countries voting with China over the treatment of Muslims in north China, and on a more personal and trivial level, deciding I really was not that fond of Handel’s music, gearing myself up for the start of the Proms, trying to catch part at least the Women’s test match against Australia, and happy hours spent browsing in one of my favourite books “The Loom of Language” by Frederick Bodmer. 

For all the brilliance of my memory in specific areas, there is one huge gap. This means I can drive down a route many times and see it afresh each time, and so it is with that book which, over thirty years, I must have read many times without any real detail actually sticking in my mind at all, even though each time I pick it up, it is with great pleasure. 

Partial ellipse

Finally, it was a moment to treasure watching the partial moon ellipse on Tuesday evening. Inevitably as I did so, memories flooded back of the effect of the total sun eclipse we experienced in the depths of the ‘bush’ in Zambia when, in the middle of a bright sunny day, darkness and silence suddenly came to the awe and fright of the students and some teachers.


Last week I referred to being surprised at an unexpected interest in Canada. It really was a case of ‘not seeing for looking’.  Of course I am thinking of Canada; our eldest grandson goes there for a month in two weeks’ time, we have great concerns for a cousin and his wife in Ontario, and we were reminded of watching The Apollo launch, landing on the moon and safe return to earth, from our home in Radville and from the school in which I taught with colleagues and students.

I suspect, we and, for that matter many Canadians, are as ignorant of Canadian history as we are of their authors and poets. In 1980 when I last visited Canada to visit family and friends, and show Sebastian his birthplace, it was the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Alberta and Saskatchewan as provinces. Though the temptation is strong to write about the period 1660 to Dominium status in 1869, I will resist, but feel some words about the Durham report of 1840 are particularly relevant given all that is happening in the USA currently. 

The report not merely resulted in the Canadian Act of a Union, it recommended the establishment of devolved parliamentary government, that is self-government under a constitutional monarchy, which was finally put into practice in 1867, and was the template for Australia, New Zealand and Cape Colony, in the first instance. Many have expressed the view that if this report had been written in the 18th century, the American colonies might well have stayed within the empire and eventually become a dominion. 

So, what link to current affairs am I trying to establish. It can I think be argued fairly, that the American constitution, adequate though it may have been at the time, is clearly unfit for purpose today. No prime minister in the British model can act like Donald Trump, or any political party survive with the endemic corruption that has existed in American politics, probably since the beginning. Corruption that is a feature of both parties and makes the issue of claiming for a floating duck house entirely risible. No independent news channels, no accepted intrusive investigative press, no real sense of the world outside the States, and yet a nation so powerful. To be fair, most of this existed before Donald Trump, but it was possible perhaps, to shut one’s eyes to the reality and of course, much though I detest social media, we know so much more about that so-called ‘special friend’ of ours. I am actually appalled at my own words for I am certainly not anti-American by inclination.

I had intended to share one of the two poems written by Stephen Leacock but given the situation here and the United States at this present time I choose the poem below written by a Canadian poet in the 1930’s. 

The Fundamentalist by William MacDonald

‘You say it’s this or that,
That nothing lies between:
Here is all black and foul;
There is all white and clean.

Quick are your tongue’s decrees;
Your judgements swiftly given:
This unto outer darkness,
That unto inner Heaven.

Hail to you, masters wise,
Who can so well
Who can so well adjust
The problems of the skies
With your amazing dust.
You say it’s this or that,
And measure by one rule
The pathway of the seer,
The roadway of the fool.

And while your holy host
A faultless record makes,
The snail-like gods move on
Through their divine mistakes’

A final, final thought, Wolf Willow by Wallace Stegner is really really worth reading. It is a semi-autobiographical novel of growing up on the Great Plains.

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