Meet our new ram!

This week has been one to enjoy a ‘gibbous moon’. Rising later and later each week, it has appeared as a large orange-red object in the southern sky with a bright planet (Jupiter?) well above and to its right after sunset. Apparently, the moon this month can be called many names from, in this country a grain or lynx moon, to a full sturgeon, full grain or full blueberry moon in North America. I have to confess, aside from ‘blue’ or ‘harvest’ all these names are new to me. Sufficient to say when the clouds allowed it, my evening walks have been an even greater pleasure, and ones on which no torch was needed. A neighbour’s field having been cut and baled at the weekend, the smell of cut grass added to the pleasure. Flash by the way rarely accompanies me more than halfway but she is in in dog years quite a bit older than me and helps me feel a little less old as we meander along together. 

On Wednesday evening, in between cool weather and summer heat, we had a rain shower. Not enough of course, but enough to ensure that when I took Flash out later the air was full of the delightful smell that follows rain after a dry period – a smell that at once takes me back to Lundazi when the rains broke. Reassuringly I saw two small toads crossing the track so we do still have amphibians on the farm. Sadly, the weather at the end of the week, could not have been less helpful for the farm. Heat without water is damaging. Farming really does force one to recognise the basic facts of life however uncomfortable they often are. I refer not just to the weather but animal health. 

Looking after the cattle this week has been demanding. The problem continues to lie with the state of the young stock’s eyes which means a considerable amount of time giving eye washes. Additionally, we have the cow with a sore on its hock. It also required a visit from our vet. Further, one calf has a different and genetically caused eye problem. At least the nail clipping of 12 animals brought up no unknown problems. 

Happy Cattle

After a number of years in which Orf has not troubled the sheep, it has returned in a significant way this year. The disease is not fatal but very uncomfortable for infected animals, and aside from homeopathic treatments there is little that can be done. Otherwise the flock seems in good shape and has appreciated being moved onto a fresh pasture. On a brighter note, our wool cut will be delivered next week which hopefully will cover cost of transporting it to Bromyard. Typically, it seems many other farmers have also decided to increase their flock size. As a result, while the cost of rams has not vastly increased, the cost of ewes and ewe lambs has rocketed. The Vendeen ram, which was collected on Saturday, for example was around 20% above the cost of our first Vendeen ram. Our turn-to supplier of ewe lambs is now asking prices which at a minimum have rocketed by more than 100%. 

Vendeen Ram

Otherwise the week has involved yet more ragwort digging in the one field that is, despite years of effort, always a problem.  It is the field that, under the previous government stewardship contract, we were supported in a major re-seed. While it certainly achieved its aim of increasing the wildflower population, it did nothing to reduce the ragwort. Work with the tractor has been limited because of mechanical problems. At least the composted field was chain harrowed before the problem arose. It looks as if the field we had hoped to cut very soon will, without rain, not be ready for some time yet. 

Vetch and Trefoil

Although the barn will not actually be erected for many weeks there is much preliminary work being currently done. The uprights will be bolted onto concrete blocks. Before the concrete can go in, a square metre hole, a metre deep, has had to be dug. That of course could not be done before the site was marked out. Now all that is done, in order for tractor access, the earth floor in the right-hand side of the barn has to be lowered by around 9 inches. That is a lot of earth to be moved and a home found for it. 

The Hole!

BD spraying still is undone, largely because of the hours taken up with animal health issues and attempts to keep ragwort under control – all that aside, also from wasted time on telephone calls and ignored emails. There seem to be no perfect days in August though one day the 21st definitely needs to be avoided. 

On the office front, VAT has been completed but the RPA have apparently done nothing – our email trail extends for miles but that clearly bothers no one in that organisation. Promises to speak or email us seem never to come to anything. Still with our Demeter virtual inspection scheduled for the 19th and the three rented fields to a be entered into organic conversion there will be plenty to do. 

The puppies are now close to opening their eyes which is when their custodians can expect real entertainment. As Rosie puts it, Milly’s hormonal problems have badly affected her relationship with our two other dogs. A very friendly and docile dog has for the moment become almost a menace, if not to humans, to other animals. 



Given England’s performance on the cricket field at the start of the week I wondered whether the team’s problem could be explained by this cartoon from the 1930’s. The cartoonist known as Fougasse was associated with the magazine Punch for many years… 

Fougasse (Cartoonist)

After the performance of Butler and Woakes late on Saturday afternoon I suspect I may have been a little unfair, though in truth the bowling attack is as likely to be toothless as brilliant, and that is true of the batting also. Having said all that, much credit must go to the Pakistani team who live every moment of a game. 

Well done!

Our eldest grandson has just learnt he has achieved a fine upper second-class degree. All the more creditable given his battles with the family health problem and the resulting operations. Happily, the latest of these seems to have been successful. Now comes the next challenge – finding a job! 

Understanding the ‘Ottoman Odyssey’

These notes are already too long but given the tragedy in Lebanon, should you wish to have some understanding of that country you could do no better than to read the relevant chapter in Alex Scott’s book ”Ottoman Odyssey”. 

Thanks to various members of our respective families, Anne and I know a fair amount about our family histories going back several hundred years. Mine is of interest only in that my sister and I seem to be totally English, English. That of Anne, on the other hand, is much more exotic in all respects.  

‘The Northumbrians’

Recently I bought a book by Dan Jackson called ‘The Northumbrians’. I bought it partly because of the good reviews it received, and partly because a significant branch of Anne’s family came from that part of the world. Indeed a few years ago we spent a very enjoyable long weekend exploring that county. In passing we visited the village with which her family had been and was, still associated. An ancestor who began as a coal face worker, eventually became the largest coal mine owner in the country, becoming known as King Coal. An ancestor to have considerable reservations about, but still an example of what determination, hard work and a good mind could achieve. I wanted to announce ourselves to the present family but Anne would not hear of it! That family is referred to on page 183 of the book. 

The book is obviously interesting in a variety of ways, but one which I had not anticipated was in realising that my view that much of the achievement of the British came through the blending of the English with Welsh, Irish or Scottish, overlooked completely the considerable role of the north-east in every sphere of our history – from education to invention and manufacturing, and considerable bloody mindedness, allied to a basic friendliness. Regional studies like this are unusual in this county if commonplace elsewhere. 

Nor had I realised that the peoples of the north-east were very much of Anglo-Saxon origin, and unlike the lands immediately south of them, while suffering from Viking raids were not settled by them, as is evidenced both by dialect and place names. 

But the book is particularly interesting in the context of what is happening in the USA today. Northumbria was border country, and its history is a very violent one. If you have read the historical series by Patricia Finney or MacDonald Frazier’s book “The steel bonnets”, or watched the television series ‘Vera’ you will have got a flavour of the culture. It was border country where Scots and English fought each other, stole from each other and hung onto powerful notions of honour.  

An area where the boundary between the two nations was constantly in flux. After all it was not until the Jacobite period that the Scots can justifiably feel any sense of victimisation. In other words, for some seven centuries the English and Scots fought each other as equal contenders, mainly over this wide border country dominated by a number of families represented on both sides of the uncertain border. While the people of southern England may have become soft, this was not the experience of those from the border country. 

So, what has all this to do with America and in particular American politics? John Hacket Fischer, an American Professor of history is famous for two books. The relevant one here is “Albions Seed, Four British Folkways in America”. 

It’s acceptance by fellow historians in America seems real. What Fischer basically says is that though at the most only 20% of the current American population has British Ancestry, in a cultural sense, American behaviour and thinking reflects the four original folkways of British immigration. One of these pathways was dominated by immigrants from the border lands who, first settling in the Appalachians, spread westwards as far as California and these settlers carried with them all the characteristics of their native land.  

I wrote below the view that consideration of slavery is too Anglo-centric, but it seems impossible in terms of regional difference in America to ignore the British influence. Unsettling perhaps, to think that some of the worst aspects of life in the southern states were inherited from us! 

An American academic wrote last week the English should accept their responsibility for introducing slavery into the American colonies. This, despite an eminent Harvard Professor having recently written on the need to get away from the Anglo-centric history of Africans in the United States.  

Personally, I do not think Gregg Carr goes nearly far enough. Surely the time has come to abandon the blame game and act to make things better. Racism is probably an endemic problem in every society, but its manifestations can be largely eliminated. Obviously, the situation in the United States and the United Kingdom are very different, but though things here may still have far to go, we can look back on the 1968 Race Relations Act as an example of how matters can actually be improved.  

I stand by that comment of moving away from the blame game, but how can we allow such ignorance not only in American academics but in the American school curriculum to continue.   

The trans-Atlantic slave trade began in the 15th century, and if a timeline is of any value that is when it should begin, although there was probably intertribal slavery among native Americans. The first Europeans involved were Spanish and Portuguese, in due course other European traders started to see potential in this trade since European indentured servants died too quickly from the climate and diseases. 

In 1619, and recognising that most of the facts are hazy, either two English privateers or a Dutch warship landed around 20 Africans at a port in Virginia – which port is disputed. What seems clear is that these were the survivors from a captured Portuguese Slaver which may have set off with 300 live humans but had already lost half of them by the time of capture. It is not even clear on landing whether they were regarded as indentured servants or slaves. Of course, the French and Spanish had been using slaves for many decades before, in what are now the southern states. The Dutch in 1625 brought in some 250 slaves to New Amsterdam and so it goes on. 

All this may be interesting, but how does it contribute to changing attitudes to racism. Rather than looking back over our shoulders and attempting to pin blame on societies for whom slavery was seen as unexceptional, let us make a world which reflects this relatively recent change in morality in at least some nations.  

What a reflection on human nature that we waste our energy in this totally unproductive way. Why do we utterly fail to understand morality is not fixed, but reflects natural change in society, and however sad, why not face up to the fact that as humans we are flawed and much of life is about battling these negative features of human thinking and behaviour. And more bluntly, moderate our idealism and respond to human nature as it really is – that way we stand a better chance of actually improving our world. 

This also means more of us need to be less on the lookout for insult. A recent car advert which featured a small girl eating an ice cream in front of it was withdrawn because of complaints. One of the many common human characteristics is to assume individually we are more central to others thinking than we really are. Our antennae are often vastly too sensitive.  

I thought it very appropriate to read in Simon Winder’s third and last book ‘Lotharinga’ (on the three parts of north-west Europe that Charlemagne’s empire was split into by his grandsons), reference to Henry Vaughan’s poem ‘Corruption’ in the context of the terrible damage done to this part of Europe by centuries of warfare. 

Henry Vaughan was a 17th century religious mystic and poet and it is that particular poem I have selected for this week. Not I think for quite the same reasons as Simon Winder but…..It is  perhaps best read aloud – which of course is always good practice. 

Corruption by Henry Vaughan 

Sure it was so. Man in those early day’s 
Was not all stone and earth;
He shined a little, and by those weak rays
Had some glimpse of his birth.
He saw Heaven o’er his head, and knew from whence
He came, condemned hither;
And, as first love draws strongest, so from hence
His mind sure progressed thither.
Things here were strange unto him: sweat and till,
All was a thorn or weed:
Nor did those last, but — like himself — died still
As soon as they did seed.
They seemed to quarrel with him, for that act 
That felled him foiled them all:
He drew the curse upon the world, and cracked
The whole frame with his fall.
This made him long for home, as loth to stay
With murmurers and foes;
He sighed for Eden, and would often say,
“Ah! what bright days were those!”
Nor was Heaven cold unto him; for each day
The valley or the mountain 
Afforded visits, and still paradise lay
In some green shade or fountain.
Angels lay lieger here; each bush and cell,
Each oak and highway knew them;
Walk but the fields, or sit down at some well,
And he was sure to view them.
Almighty Love! where art Thou now? Mad man
Sits down and freezeth on;
HE raves, and swears to stir nor fire, nor fan,
But bids the thread be spun.
I see, Thy curtains are close-drawn; Thy bow
Sin triumphs still, and man is sunk below
The center, and his shroud.
All’s in deep sleep and night: thick darkness lies
And hatcheth o’er Thy people —
But hark! what trumpet’s that? what angel cries,
“Arise! thrust in Thy sickle”? 

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