The recent gales have certainly changed the look of the countryside and both given us new colours, and easier identification of trees. Overall there are few evergreens in this part of Worcestershire aside from Yew, Holly and Ivy, and they stand out less, so far, than they will as we really get into winter.
The chestnut trees have in the main lost all their leaves, the poplars are looking skeletal, the oak trees are now a splendid ginger, and the seed pods of the ash are a dark brown. Apart from these, hedges, where they have not yet been savaged, are a delicate yellow, indicating elm trees fated to die before they reach maturity; except where beech predominates, and rusty brown is the colour. The willows still retain some of their silvery colour, while the pastures retain a fresh green colour dotted with the white of grazing sheep. Fields around and about, that in September were bare earth, are now covered with the green shoots of winter sowing – cereals and or rape I assume.
This has been very much a week for working with the sheep. Final decisions have had to be made on which ewes to keep and then those chosen divided into two groups in a way which minimises the chance of rams breeding with related ewes.
Then pastures also had to be chosen for the three flocks – the lambs with any rejected ewes, and two breeding flocks. Three rams joined each flock and will stay there for at least six weeks. Some 130 ewes have been kept for breeding.
Now that feeding dominates daily life in truth there is little time available at the end of each day for other activities – on a bad day it is dark by 4pm. The ewes were enjoying getting nuts and becoming very welcoming to whoever is feeding them that day, but on Friday the decision was taken that they were starting to look too fat – so no more nuts!
As is the case every Friday, agreement as to the current sheep numbers on the farm takes place. Trivial though the matter may seem, at the end of December I have to complete a government form setting out the number of sheep on the holding, and as I have probably said before, it is rather like counting bales – getting agreement on the number is very difficult! We are of course debating very small differences in numbers – but still, I like certainty. As back protection, I should say I keep both a flock register, copies of all movement papers and the lambing book!
The animals that went on Sunday achieved good prices and we seem to be in the happy position of having three would be buyers of our lambs. We also have just received our last payment under our Higher-Level Stewardship membership. With no expectation for payments from the new scheme – if we are accepted – for probably nine months, we ‘look forward’ to a significant income gap. In this light, getting the best price possible for sold stock will be very important.
The major event of the coming week is our 60 day TB test when all animals will be checked again. This requires some reorganisation. Our one remaining IR has had to be moved and where she was, disinfected. As a side note, of matters talked about on Friday was the fact that the dilution figure for TB disinfectant is vastly smaller than it was for Foot and Mouth. The actual days are Tuesday and Friday, during which time all the cattle will be held in the barn. So, by Friday afternoon we shall know our fate.
Despite the rain of recent days the pastures are still firm and, aside from the areas around the feeding trailers, there is no poaching. That being the case, there is no need to bring the young stock in. But we are getting through feed fast, and the sooner our last year’s 163 lambs can be sold the better!
The pasture-fed site is currently buzzing as a result of a climate change committee pressing for farmers to no longer raise cattle for their meat. The argument goes that cattle emit vast amounts of methane gas and that this is a cause of raising dangerous levels of carbon dioxide.
Leaving aside all thought of the contribution of ‘big business’ to this situation, opponents make the point that the committee only looked at emissions, while ignoring the potential of pastures to sequester carbon, particularly given that it is said that trees are only able to sequester during their growth to maturity and thereafter contribute little. Moreover, all this ignores the reality that, if we wish to maintain our countryside as it is today, cows and sheep are vital.
From the middle of the week two issues that have been rumbling on for aeons burst into fiery life. Mr Trump outdid himself on the diplomatic front, while Brexit erupted, and both these issues dominated the airwaves. Why oh why do we have to have 24 hours news! It both reduces the width of news covered and encourages unneeded opinion and gives air time to too many voices that seem un or ill-informed.
With the commemorations of the century of the end of the First World War last weekend past, came thoughts. We call it a World War, but our knowledge of what that really means is, perhaps, less than it should be, both in terms of what followed, and the cost of life across so much of the world. Today it feels inappropriate to dwell on the first point, so I concentrate on the second without, I hope, in any way minimising the very real grief and losses in our own country and the empire.
The battles in Western Europe are very familiar. We know about Gallipoli but essentially from only one side and even then, probably many are not aware that British losses totalled far more than those from Australia and New Zealand. We may well have seen the film Lawrence of Arabia and recent events have forced us to realise how much of the troubles in that part of the world stem from decisions taken after WW1. We know of the overthrow of the Russian monarchy and all that followed, but almost certainly know little about the fighting on the Eastern Front.
But without looking at casualty figures, the immediate cost of the war to many other nations is unknown to most of us. At last there is full recognition of the loss of life to peoples from the empire, but the loss of life in Italy, Rumania, the Ottoman Empire, Austria and the Balkans for example, is far less understood.
It is perhaps worth remembering that proportionally, for the Entente Cordiale, the losses of the British Empire were, at 16%, less than one third of the losses of the French and Russians added together; that losses in Italy, Serbia and Romania were proportionally nearly twice as great as the those for the empire. The figures for the Central Powers are stark: 52% for the Germans, 35% for the Austrians and little Bulgaria 3%.
But these figures exclude the numbers physically wounded, and the proportion of the country’s losses. The number wounded were around 2,000,000 or 2% of the total killed and wounded for Britain and its empire, while for Germany were over 4,000,000 or about 4% of the total killed and wounded. I hardly think I need go further – the point has surely been made that for obvious reasons Europeans have a very different mindset.
Finally, to really not lose our sense of perspective, the war was followed by a ‘flu pandemic which killed far more people than those lost in the war. Nature, throughout history, has always been the greatest killer though, perhaps, it is only now with nuclear weapons, that humans can do worse.
Of course, if I was a historian I would be concentrating on the consequences of that war – so many and so lasting in all parts of the world and in so many societies including our own. Or perhaps asking why it should have happened. But of course, both these approaches are already covered in a multitude of books expressing a variety of views!
War poems written in English are many, but it would be a mistake to imagine that this was a peculiarly British phenomena. The poem below is in fact by a German poet. I had hoped to cast a wider net but finding translations that seemed suitable reduced my choice.
The poem below is by August Stramm, yet another victim of the First World War (he died in 1915) and only given proper recognition long after his death. He is now seen, as was Hulme, as the leader of a particular poetic genre.
Wounds, By August Stramm
Earth under the helmet flowers
Grope through space.
On a totally different note, an issue which we debated over the lunch table earlier in the week was that of the many great ironies of life, in our education system we are exposed to so much at a young age that can only really be understood with maturity – leaving aside the once craze for new graduates to move onto an MBA or master’s degree in business administration to be taken before actually having had sufficient life experience to possibly benefit from the experience. I write this somewhat ruefully as approaching my dotage things continue to slot into place and ‘obvious’ connections made. Was Helen Shapiro responsible, or was the song she was so famous for just a recognition of an inevitable and absurd change to come?
The poem at the end of this piece was one that was frequently referred to at home when I was a child. As to who wrote, it or how it fitted into a world view never seriously crossed my mind, and in my studies at university, no reference was made to the poem or its author. We are back again to the reality that we individually and collectively shy away from uncomfortable ‘truths’.
The author was Bernard Mandeville, an immigrant, one of the many that have enabled this country to be what it is. A thinker who in his time was loved by the uneducated, and rejected by most of academia, yet now a name that can, almost, respectably be used in polite company – even though his indirect influence on Mrs Thatcher may still be enough to cause hate mail if recognised.
A man who in fact is now seen perhaps as the first social scientist in the west. He was a deeply prejudiced man in many ways, but this is hardly surprising given the time of his active life which was in the late 17th and early 18th century and his personal background.
A Spacious Hive well stock’d with Bees,
That lived in Luxury and Ease;
And yet as fam’d for Laws and Arms,
As yielding large and early Swarms;
Was counted the great Nursery
Of Sciences and Industry.
No Bees had better Government,
More Fickleness, or less Content.
They were not Slaves to Tyranny,
Nor ruled by wild Democracy;
But Kings, that could not wrong, because
Their Power was circumscrib’d by Laws.
The “hive” is corrupt but prosperous, yet it grumbles about lack of virtue. A higher power decides to give them what they ask for:
But Jove, with Indignation moved,
At last in Anger swore, he’d rid
The bawling Hive of Fraud, and did.
The very Moment it departs,
And Honesty fills all their Hearts;
This results in a rapid loss of prosperity, though the newly virtuous hive does not mind:
For many Thousand Bees were lost.
Hard’ned with Toils, and Exercise
They counted Ease it self a Vice;
Which so improved their Temperance;
That, to avoid Extravagance,
They flew into a hollow Tree,
Blest with Content and Honesty.
The poem ends in a famous phrase:
Bare Virtue can’t make Nations live
In Splendor; they, that would revive
A Golden Age, must be as free,
For Acorns, as for Honesty.
Pretty relevant today I would suggest.