Conkers in the mist

After Chris and co enjoyed a splendid day trip, joining Sebastian, who with his party had been sailing the Lake District, a day trip which meant that three grandchildren had spent time sailing, Sebastian eventually reaching home late Saturday evening after being stuck for 24 hours waiting for a rescue service to retrieve him and a flat tyre on the dinghy trailer, and Sophie and Paul had created new banisters for the stairs, I went to bed with my mind buzzing with new ideas, and physically, self-impressed by my increasing mobility in ascending the stairs, I spoilt it rather by ending up on the floor in the middle of the night.  

The pain from that felt no worse than after a weekend contact game, but could be done without, and easier to shake off at twenty. For those of my vintage be warned, the soles of one’s feet no longer seem to have any friction remaining.  

Farm Life

The farm was busy on Sunday. More cases of NFE among the younger cattle, which of course meant individual treatment being given, and the non suckler herd – calves and heifers had to be moved the relatively small distance to field A, where yet again ragwort is growing, so fingers crossed. The suckler herd will stay where it is for the moment.  

The flock of sheep had to be moved a longer distance, but the lambs are older now and more accustomed to the process.  

Hawthorn

On Wednesday I accompanied Anne on an ‘outing’ to our local pharmacy and said to her how autumnal it all seemed. Indeed, apart from three fields on the farm, the green seemed to have been drained out of the hedges, trees and fields. I was gently reminded that I had not actually been out and about for almost two months, and her comment was later backed up by Sophie saying I had actually missed the summer of 2021.  

On Sunday, I must admit that, like no doubt most of you, I felt overwhelmed by all the disastrous news coming in from all around the world, but I do not intend to add too much to the acres of print which will no doubt continue to be produced, though I may feel unable not to say anything about the Taliban at the very end of these notes.  

Perhaps for one individual at least, the most exciting event of the week was disturbing a wasp’s nest in the vegetable garden. Tim, the gardener, retreated at speed to the polytunnel garden leaving Paul, who volunteered, to sort the situation out.  

A visit from the vet

Otherwise, the most significant meeting was with our vet Anne Gibbs. We routinely meet with her to discuss how we can better manage to provide our animals with the best possible care, particularly in the light of the constant variation, year on year, in the issues raised through the soil’s levels of vital trace elements.  

The main topic was the health of our sheep, but the fact that our steers are slow to mature was also discussed. A conclusion on that was that we might still be facing the consequences of the year when mistakenly that group was fed on straw.  

A number of decisions were made.  

  1. As a first step blood samples should be taken from both sheep and cattle – something we often do but not on a systematic basis.  
  2. It was agreed that we should send fresh forage samples at the same time from a number of sources – something in honesty we had not done for some time since the outcomes never seemed to vary.  
  3. That we should at once write into our animal heath plan more specifically the issues we face over mineral deficiencies. 
  4. That each year on a regular basis blood sampling would take place.  
  5. Finally, it was agreed that Anne herself, would make contact with the Soil Association about our position. 

We do have recent soil samples which, if for some reason, did not reach Anne’s desk, should be sent again. 

In the meantime, we were reminded that 

  • Unless lambs or calves got good milk from their mothers in the early stages, their growth would always be affected.  
  • That for the ewes, the key time to affect good milk production was in the weeks directly before lambing and thereafter 
  • That since nearly all our fields had barely any perennial rye grass in them, human intervention would be necessary to cover the protein deficiency. 
  • Suggestions that we use licks, which is a matter we constantly come back to, were ruled out. Aside from the fact they did not ensure all animals got their needed share, the danger of TB was far too great since badgers were a constant in our lives. 
  • The fact that we had bought in new ewes was seen as a good step as it brought fresh blood into the flock.  
  • In terms of our present situation, the possibility that, in grazing the animals had ingested earth and hence molybdenum also, was shared since molybdenum ingested in this way, would act as an antagonist in the sheep’s gut.  

All-in-all a long but useful session.  

Sadly, the problem with NFE is still working its way through the young stock and since they are located at the furthermost field on the farm, the task of treating individual animals is all the more time consuming. A positive thought which came from out vet might be that the NFE we were experiencing might be a variant against which a vaccine might be made – obviously an idea to be acted on.  

Tim is back to ragwort pulling, not just in the field the cattle are in but also around the pond. Ragwort is beloved by naturalists for the support it gives to various insects but for a stock farmer, is nothing but a hazard.  

As regards the sheep, another ewe was found with mastitis. Whatever we do we seem to lose a few ewes go this every year and so far, have no answers as to how to avoid the problem.  

There has been a major push this week to complete the tidying up around the barn. Heaps of soil have been removed and sieved to extract the stones and hardcore; unneeded gutters and pipes removed, and it has made a real difference. Internal work had to be completed in order to accommodate the 150 bales of straw expected shortly. The truth is we now have a lot more animals to bed and feed than we did five years ago.  

I was delighted to learn that our uncut area of lawn that earlier in the year was covered with Ladies Smock, is now with Yarrow and Bed Straw. I suspect the area also has its own population of small mammals and insects. It may not look ‘tidy’, but nature does not always benefit from overconcern about appearances.  

A newspaper in the house!

Last weekend we actually had a newspaper in the house. It was a copy of the Times bought because it had a long article on Afghanistan written by Rory Stewart, and because my feeling was that he would have made a vastly better Prime Minister than any of the other candidates. While in truth I only skim read it, I would end these notes on a comment about the Taliban but the world such as it is, my daughter has edited me. Being edited in this way is perhaps a perfect example perhaps of all that I have, for some time, been pointing out as being wrong with this country and those who apparently ‘govern’ our laws and behaviours. The paper had other fascinating articles and it is one of those I would like to address now.  

In an article written by the novelist Lionel Shiver headed ‘Authors must stand up to the language police’ we learn that the women who wrote some twenty years ago about teaching in local authority schools, Kate Chauncy, has been censored for offences against modern orthodoxy. While I remember reading the memoir, I struggled to recall anything offensive in it. Apparently, she described pupils as having ‘chocolate coloured skin’. This, it now appears, is a major racist comment. I hardly know what to feel most worried by, the interpretation, or the fact that Ms Chauncy felt the need to accede to the interpretation. Is it racist for someone to describe me as ‘pasty grey’? Is it that nothing said about me can be racist because I am white? If that is the view of these misguided people, they need to consider how racist they are being.  

To associate racism solely with power, or the lack of it, does not stand up to evaluation.  

I am currently reading the fourth in a series of novels by the historian Antonia Hodgson. They are set in the early seventeen hundreds’ and probably need to come with the warning that they are set among the lowest in society and the language used and descriptions of life are not for the squeamish. The slave trade across the Atlantic had been on-going for many years before British traders realised just how much money could be made from it, and from 1698 began to become seriously involved. Central to the story in this book is slavery, and it makes for uncomfortable reading at times. While not intending to diminish the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade which most estimate involve 12,000,000 persons, of which perhaps a quarter were transported by the British, it has always puzzled me that so little has been written on the trade to the east. Actually, this was only really understood by me when we lived in Zambia. The area where we lived was, at the time of Dr Livingstone a source of slaves for sale on the east coast as distinct from the west coast market. 

But that is not, by the way, why I refer to it here, which I do for two other specific reasons. The first is that a principal character seems to me to closely resemble todays ‘language police’ except his ‘thing’ was heresy. The second related to an email correspondence I recently had with my sister.  

She and her youngest son had spent the fourth day of the test match at Lords. The pair of them are keen supporters of Bournemouth football club and her email contrasted the behaviour of the two sets of fans. Her conclusion was that the ‘yobs’ have taken over.  

As awful as we experience violence and crime today, we delude ourselves if we imagine violence and crime is worse now than ever, and in whichever time we talk about, the common theme surely must be those children missing out on the basic needs of starting with loving parents or guiding figures in their lives.  

A passing thought: Putin has no cause to fear the West militarily, could his fears simply be of Russia being infected by societies such as he sees to the east?  

The disastrous earthquake in Haiti, though apparently not as bad as that in 2010, threw an unusual light on the Caribbean. Depending on your approach to life your thoughts might either be on what a great place to holiday or to think of the inequities, for which most European countries bore some responsibility to cause it to be occupied by Africans largely from central west Africa over a lengthy period of years.   

What is unlikely to cross your mind is that geologically the area is very interesting, or why it is Haiti is part of the island called Hispaniola by Christopher Columbus. The history of Hispaniola in itself illustrates European activities in that part of the world. Originally the whole island was held by the Spanish, but it did not take long for French ‘pirates’ to challenge this and by the end of the 17th century the island was split into two parts. That which continued to be held by the Spanish became the Dominican Republic, and the other part Haiti. Inevitably this led to ongoing, if intermittent, warfare between the two territories which seems only to have ended in the 1930’s. Both are very poor, though Haiti, where a French creole is spoken, is even poorer than the Spanish speaking Dominican Republic. Close enough to America to ensure negative influences from there, corruption and poor governance characterise both countries. Indeed, just to make things worse, in Haiti, the assassination of it’s President only a month before the earthquake could only make coping with the aftermath of the disaster more difficult.  

But yet again I have allowed myself to go off on a tangent. Tourists to the region are well aware of the dangers of the hurricane season but few I suspect realise that geologically this is an area where a mini ‘ring of fire’ exists. Periodically, as when the island of Montserrat suffered the effects of devastating volcanic activity, questions might be asked, but I have never come across a serious answer. The reality is the Caribbean islands all sit on a geological tectonic plate which is situated uneasily between a number of much bigger tectonic plates, and that beneath the islands the earth’s core is particularly hot and active. Not all islands suffer active volcanic activity, but many do. For Trinidad, the result has been positive since tarmac is a widely used material.  

Oddly, go not that much further north, and the uncountable number of islands that make up the Bahamas are all the product of coral degradation, and so limestone is the dominant rock, and since these are located in the North Atlantic are not troubled by the instability south of them.  

But putting all that to one side, it seems typical that Haiti, at a time when it really needs help from the rest of the world, has to compete with the world’s attention to events elsewhere. Yet it’s needs are truly desperate, and it appears these needs are being ignored. The latest news that I heard is that remote villages have been totally flattened and that they are receiving no help at all.  

Let me share an aspect of Brexit and a government led by people whose grasp of management is at best limited, a new set of statistics you may not have seen, a paragraph or so on grade inflation and then a positive final paragraph.  

The aspect of Brexit which was certainly either not appreciated or of no interest to the government planners, is that the country might become short of HGV drivers; currently the shortfall is put at 100,000, moreover this appears to be largely as a result of either government action or inaction, add to that delays at the ports, and add to that Ideas that it has something to do with ‘pinging’ are only part of the story. I suspect the problem was simply ignorance of the importance of HGV’s to ensuring supermarket shelves are replenished as they empty. In other words, a complete absence of understanding of not just of how complex our economy is but that it operates easy day on a knife edge.  

New figures out this week say that the medium salary of FTSE limited company Chief Executives’ is 86 times the medium pay of all other workers. I refer you to my comments last week, and if you feel brave do the sum for yourself.  

I cannot pass up on the issue for grade inflation and need first to admit I sat on the Board of one of the state approved examination boards for a number of years in the 1980’s and into the 1990’s.  

When teaching in Zambia the aim was to enable students to take English GCE’s. But before reaching that level there were examinations at the end of year two. The word was that the pass mark was related to the need for primary school teachers. Before that date I had never thought seriously about testing other than it was about setting hurdles to be successfully crossed if you hoped to go to university.  

While on the Board I realised that it was very much a business, but as importantly, did its upmost to ensure the difficulty of questions was maintained year on year, and the teachers who marked papers were properly prepared for their work. Each year the question of avoiding grade inflation or deflation was taken seriously, and the examination scores adjusted to achieve that aim or, to put it another way, schools were offered at a competitive price, examinations whose outcomes could be justified.  

But that was in another time when politics was uninvolved. There are two straightforward ways to get outcomes to look better. The first is simply to make the questions easier, the second to decide what the outcomes are you want. And in truth how can anyone outside the system know whether grade inflation is the wrong way to describe higher attainment and an increasingly well-educated pupil population.  

One thing is certain, using examinations as a measure for determining young people’s next stage in life, which was after all why the examination system which was established in the 19th century for entry to the Civil Service, becomes ever less useful. I suppose my key message is that marking for degrees, A levels or anything else is not like marking a candidate’s success or failure at a driving test.  

I think we forget how ‘talk, talk’ is only a way forward when compromise is built into the culture. Think back a few hundred years to when the Christian world was so divided. No true Catholic or true Puritan could ever agree since both parties knew without question their position was the only correct one.  

Given the events of this week I have adjusted my thinking and feel determined to end on a positive note. So, no comment on Afghanistan, no comment on Covid. 

I have already mentioned one author that some of you might be tempted to explore. Let me give you another, Mimi Mathews – try not to be put off by the name – I have just finished her latest book ‘John Eyre’ obviously a reworking of a Bronte novel. Helpfully I have never previously read any of these gothic novels, so had no sensibility to be offended, but I enjoyed the book.  

On the musical front I made a determined effort to find value in the orchestral works of Max Reger until my intended good will dissipated. Asking a daughter to find me an option, when the disc started playing, I must confess I broke out into a large smile. Who the composer was mattered not at all, it was a disc of English light music – what a relief and how enjoyable!  Following on from that, in the interests of just listening to what I am given, I have been listening to a CD containing works by Prokofiev, Khachaturian and Shostakovich. The latter, like Elgar, wrote some very fine light music. Elgar for pleasure, but then he was very eclectic in his choice of music to like.  

What I failed to make sense of is why Prokofiev in his piece about three oranges found at least two attractive themes, but then just enveloped them in noise. But still I have admitted my lack of creativity.  

The work by Shostakovich was his Fifth Symphony and was clearly written from the heart, an approach I can fully respond to.  

To contextualise, I have just listened to Stravinsky’s ‘Symphony in three movements’ twice and am no wiser as to why this is regarded as a masterpiece. I clearly have an auditory disability. 

Now to end on a truly positive note. Remember not so long ago there were great, concerns about the depletion of the ozone level – that part which protects us against ultraviolet light from the sun. A worldwide decision to ban the use of CFC, particularly in refrigeration units, has paid off very handsomely. The world has been saved.  

These days I am rather struggling in my choice of poems because my poetry is either in the bookstore or upstairs, and in any case this week the problem was compounded by uncertainty about what was truly needed; a poem about humiliation and tragedy, or one about the autumn.  

But my final decision was to choose one to recognise our youngest daughter’s birthday, born in the days when August was truly a summer month.  

The choice was obvious. A Shakespearean sonnet and that is what you find below: 

Let me not to the marriage of true minds 
Admit impediments. Love is not love 
Which alters when it alteration finds 
Or bends with the remover to remove: 
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark 
That looks on tempests and is never shaken; 
It is the star to every wandering bark, 
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. 
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks 
Within his bending sickle’s compass come: 
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, 
But bears it out even to the edge of doom. 
If this be error and upon me proved, 
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.  

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