New additions to the family

I make no apologies for starting these notes on a very personal note. On Wednesday Anne and I had the great good fortune to be able to celebrate our 56th wedding anniversary. We were married in a civil service held in the registrar’s office above McFisheries in Kidderminster. Our parents threw aside their intense reservations, as did our wider family and friends, although the less generous assumed a child was in the way since we had only met eleven weeks before. Within two weeks we were on board the ‘Windsor Castle’ heading for Cape Town and thence to Ndola, in what was then Northern Rhodesia, and the start of our life together. Of course, we have not managed to do all the things we might have hoped to achieve, but looking back, what a great decision we made, and how well we have used and enjoyed our life together. ‘Lockdown’ has certainly not negatively affected our relationship. 

In the week in which we celebrated our wedding anniversary, England won a stunning victory over the West Indies, and summer returned briefly at the end of the week, I am delighted to say we also had a good week on the farm. Daniel seems well settled, and the hay fever, if not entirely gone, is but a shadow of what it was. 

All the animals have again been moved, but the eye problems suffered by the young cattle do not seem to be lessening.  After much, and ongoing, ragwort pulling, they are on a field that has so far seen little grazing. The main flock seem settled in their new field and so, aside from the rams escaping through a neighbour’s fence and ending in our grandchildren’s sand pit, there have been no excitements. I have referred before to our need to buy new rams, and we have decided to buy both a Vendeen and a Lleyn and let three of our existing five go. 

As regards the cattle, a bleeding foot in one required treatment, and Friday was ‘nail clipping’ time. An annual event carried out in a very professional manner by an individual using the latest handling equipment. The calf born last weekend, after causing some concern because of her dam’s supply of milk or rather lack of, now seems in a better state. 

Cattle in rich pasture

Aside from the endless task of ragwort pulling it proved possible, over and above the animal care and movement, both to do some topping and compost spreading as well as reeling up unneeded electric fencing. 

In the office we heard from our local MP’s office of possible movement as regards a decision on our capital claim for seeds, received capital payment for a proportion of our new fencing, and hopefully have submitted our last evidence for our Soil Association inspection.  

We also had a serious discussion as to just how much longer we could manage without another tractor. The Zetor has given good service for fifteen years but is beginning to cost a great deal to keep it operational. This is not a criticism of the tractor other than it has never been powerful enough to manage without strain its main job. The tractor we eventually bought is 25% more powerful and is a demonstration model with very few hours on the clock, and with a very tempting reduction to its price.  Incidentally how many of you know it’s not miles covered one takes account of with a tractor, but hours working – just like aircraft engines. 

So much of our farm future hangs on the continued success of Ulula, and the ongoing financial sacrifice of the family members here. Those same members who hold some 20% of the shares in the SCBS. 

After all the rain we have had, the water tank should be full, and I hope we shall be very soon spraying again. Not because our Demeter inspection in on the 19th I hasten to write, since we have already achieved more than the minimum! The arrival of the preparations for insertion in the newly formed compost heaps means that is another job to do as soon as possible. 

Compost heap

I stumbled across another noxious weed – sun spurge – on the Pasture-Fed site. Happily, it requires light soils on which to thrive, and our soil is the opposite of that. It is so easy to ignore the critical significance of soil. In Bromsgrove we had light, almost sandy soil and plants like ‘honesty’ and ‘evening primrose’ grew in abundance. Here on the other hand, efforts to grow ‘honesty’ have completely failed, and only two evening primrose plants survive. On the other hand, ‘borage’ and comfrey’ grow like weeds, and comfrey, for all its value as a tomato feed, once established in a garden seems to thrive there for ever. 

Vetch and Yarrow

As far as the grandchildren were concerned, the real highlight of the week was that  Milly after definitely ‘nesting’, losing her hair in the tummy area and finding the heat very testing decided, against all of Anne and my wishes, to have her puppies in our utility room! Even worse, from Flash’s point of view, in her bed! Over the course of a long evening and night a fourth arrived just before 10 on Friday morning and hopefully the last arriving at 11am on Friday morning – the hottest day of the week. The only ones not to spend the night in attendance were Chis, Paul and the pair of us. An important experience for Rosie and Boots – mind you Rosie was well prepared both from videos and books. 

Milly and her pups

Most importantly, all seems well. Flash is excluded from the maternity ward but seems relaxed enough – the first night she was put out and bewildered, but that seems to have past now. 

On a lesser note, saying to Paul the other day that there seemed to be fewer calling cuckoos this year, he was able to tell me that this year for the first time he had actually seen one and it was in full voice – lucky man! 

At the start of the week our power supplies were cut off for maintenance work. I am not going to comment on our dependency on electricity, or whether or not our government realises the potential dangers of this, but instead say how splendid it was to have the quiet and freedom that followed for some five hours. 

Using, I am a little ashamed to say, Haydn’s piano sonatas on my battery powered CD player rather like a harpsichord continuo in Baroque music, I indulged in quiet reflection. 

Obviously, I thought about our married partnership, but then moved onto other matters of which the first was the problems writers find if they indulge in long series based around a handful of characters or events. Reading Donna Leon’s latest book reminded me rather of how I felt about the last of Hammond Innes’s stories. The feeling being that given the plot, I could perhaps write the next book or books myself. I say this though remaining as an admirer of both authors. 

Historical research

And then my thoughts changed hue. When George III lost his wits, the constitution allowed power to be removed without fuss or bother. Now Trump is clearly in a similar position why is it not equally easy to transfer power to his vice – president? 

And then the statement by a Republican that “slavery was a necessary evil” made me wonder whether the current ‘taboo’ on exploring a range of sensitive issues was yet further entrenched by such comments. A world in which nuance seems to have disappeared, and matters are either totally wrong or totally right and certainly coloured by emotion, and where ignorance is the preferred option. There are balanced accounts you may have read such as a history from Malik Al Nasir. Obviously, this situation is perhaps harder for those of my generation, for whom tribalism was meaningless, and who believed it was right and proper to explore and discuss any topic. 

So it was, I decided to venture onto very thin ice and attempt to find out to what extent slavery had been critical to the British economy. While I have a number of books on the slave trade covering both the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Red Sea, I knew none of them attempted to actually quantify the importance to the various economies of the trade. I accordingly turned to the two relevant books in the Oxford history. Both were last updated in the 1960’s so concern for upsetting would not have been in their thinking. 

While I did not find what I was looking for, I had a very enjoyable read, revisiting the past. In passing, a thought that has often crossed my mind, reappeared. Though I accept it may not be true for languages, do we expect young minds to take on board matters that are actually beyond their ken? 

Something I must once have known, I found again. After the abolition of slavery in the UK, it was the British Navy that was tasked with stopping the transatlantic trade. With the ending of slavery, the trading posts established along the West African coasts were all redundant, and the government was eager to walk away, and so in 1821 wound up the Africa Company. However, the navy needed bases, the missionaries were appalled, and traders interested in other kinds of trade needed to be stopped. So, in 1843 the government took over the ex-Africa Company posts and bought up the Danish and Dutch owned forts. By the mid 1850’s the government was more than ready to pull out of West Africa completely as the need for naval bases had gone. However, the missionaries prevailed and the threat from slave trading Kingdoms, having lost their previously lucrative trade, initiated military action that it was felt it had been subdued. 

Interesting though I found that, it was not what I was looking for so, I fear, I resorted to google and eventually found a research paper on my question. The paper was written by a Swedish economist – Klas Ronnback – obviously nervous about the work he was doing. His conclusion was that in 1800 for the UK, at the height of the trade the likely figures were 5% of Gross National Product and if you included the American plantations 11%. Or to put it in cash terms the value of the trade was somewhere between £7,000,000 and £12,000,000 at its peak. 

Significant, but no more. Using the Dutch experience which at its peak in 1760 earnt similar percentages of its GDP from the trade and was then forced out of the trade. The evidence appears to be its traders had easily found alternative trade outlets. Moreover, there seems no evidence to suggest that abolition in 1807 caused significant economic travails, or a birth rate spike. 

The conclusion has to be that while individuals did very well from the slave trade, this had no great impact upon either the growth of population or the functioning of the trading, and industrial and agriculture revolutions, which made Britain’s wealth. To be a little cynical, the acceptance of the unacceptability of the slave trade perhaps prevailed because the economy allowed it. To put it bluntly, sugar was not the basis on which British wealth relied. On the other hand, the Spanish economy collapsed once gold and silver were no longer available from its colonies in the Americas. 

What I have completely failed to discover is what the ending of slaving on the West Coast had on the economies of the African groups who were dependent on the traffic financially. Neither could I confirm that for a period at least, the trade went north to the Ottoman Empire. Nor is there hard detail on the consequences of, for example, the effects of the ending in Central Africa of slaving by the Bemba people, who had sold individuals from weaker tribes to the east coast Arabs. As for the financial importance to the Ottoman economy of slavery I could find nothing. The latest interesting news is that the people of the Arab speaking north Sudan still talk of and regard the black people of South Sudan as slaves! 


After such a sombre exploration, I had to turn to John Clare and since he was writing about one of my favourite flowers, I set it out below. 

When once the sun sinks in the west, 
And dewdrops pearl the evening’s breast; 
Almost as pale as moonbeams are, 
Or its companionable star, 
The evening primrose opes anew 
Its delicate blossoms to the dew; 
And, hermit-like, shunning the light, 
Wastes its fair bloom upon the night, 
Who, blindfold to its fond caresses, 
Knows not the beauty it possesses; 
Thus it blooms on while night is by;
When day looks out with open eye, 
Bashed at the gaze it cannot shun, 
It faints and withers and is gone.

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