New colours are all around

Unusually at this time of year, because of the continued warmth, driving along our local lanes is a pleasure. tête-à-tête daffodils have been out for a while but now in secluded spots clumps of larger varieties are in bloom while along the verges, snowdrops seem everywhere. In gardens the crocuses are out, as is the witch hazel and plum blossom. Though the hedgerows are barely starting to green up, there is the promise of what is to come. The new growth on the willow trees is a delight even though defining the new colours is hard to describe – a golden yellowness perhaps. The only real blight is not as you might imagine litter – volunteers do a great job of keeping that under control – but the large fields in which all growth has been killed off using herbicides – I understand at one level the practice, but still feel it shows a disgraceful contempt for the ecosystem.

Continued warm weather improves not only the spirit, but as importantly, encourages the grass to grow. With expectations of some 400 sheep to feed, together with up to 80 or more cattle, this is very good news and even more for this year since we are committed to the cultivation and reseeding of so much of the farm. How long it might last we all know is in the lap of the Gods!

TB Testing

As regards the finding of possible TB in four of our cattle, valuable discussions have taken place between our own vet and the government’s senior veterinary advisor based in Worcester as to how we should go forward. Obviously, our inconclusive reactors have to stay in isolation on one of our small fields, but what is proposed is a government sponsored and funded survey into the wild life that co-exists on the farm and, hopefully, thoughts on how we might modify our already widely praised stock management practices.

We also have had positive conversations about the sudden appearance of Johnes disease in our herd. This disease which is probably to be found in almost every herd in the country is not something that impinges on the good life we try to ensure our animals enjoy.

This year for the first time we have seen one of the disadvantages of horned cattle and the need to give overwintered cattle even more personal space. We had to have our vet out again to look at our horn injured calf, happily all is now well and there is now a very protective mother on guard. Needless to say, in space terms, we not only meet, but exceed all standards, but we are going to have to extend the barn further as soon as may be. But this does not mean shying away from keeping horned cattle.

Higher Tier Country Stewardship

Time was starting to press as regards our bid for Higher Tier Country Stewardship, and so it was with enormous relief I heard early in the week all was close to being issued. There is so much to be done over the next two years. All capital work has to be completed within two years, while all cultivation and reseeding has to be completed by the end of this year. Very soon decisions will have to be taken as to which fields get cultivated first and how we balance needs for grazing and hay making.

Over the last three years, DEFRA has been going through a major reorganisation. Tough indeed on the work force who somehow maintain civility when approached, but a nightmare for us the customers. Computerised telephone systems, work places only joined by computers and uncertainty as to role, make the lives of these civil servants very difficult despite their anxiety to be helpful.

New Woofer

Jack will be joined at the beginning of March by a woofer from Germany who gardens organically at her home. March in this part of the world is obviously a key time in the gardening year and there will be much for Sarah to be involved in. As always, the competition for Jack’s time is keen and we will have to make sure he is not overloaded.


The children are now on their half-term and the house and garden is full of dogs and children playing happily but hardly quietly! At the end of last week, the older pupils at their school put on a play based on that marvellous book by Arthur Ransome, ‘Swallows and Amazons’. As a result, the war cries that resound in both house and garden reflect the play all children watched twice!

For those would be ornithologists, a key problem has to be that book illustrations rarely seem to relate to that seen. Periodically a raptor realises our garden is a potential source of food. A recent visitor sat on top of the bird table long enough for me to examine it though my binoculars. The beak made it clear it was a raptor, but its chest colour seemed inconsistent with the identification of the bird as a kestrel, while its head and back colouring and size ruled out it as being a sparrow hawk. Very, very frustrating.

Birds and books

Incidentally we have four moorhens spending much time in our garden, and the way they fail to live together peacefully is very entertaining.  

Synchronicity strikes yet again. A lively discussion one lunchtime as to the small number of basic ‘stories’ that all novels, films, jokes and so on are based on included a perhaps slightly typically hyperbolic approach from me in a suggestion that the number might be as few as three. On Friday however I was reminded of a book by Christopher Booker which claimed there were seven. Whatever the figure might be, the underlying reality is that from childhood to old age we see the world in terms of stories and there are only a limited number of basic themes we can turn to.

As an addict of the written word, if not film, the huge number of books I have read – fiction as well as other genres – confirms that indeed there is only a limited number of base ‘stories’ for authors to turn to, and their need to find a USP, or in more common parlance, a unique selling point if they are to be successful. Sadly, this means authors turn to ever growing use of violence, paranoia and sex. This is not to say these kinds of issues may not be validly used, but there is a vast gap between what is just there for titillation and what enhances the story.

So, violence and sex are now in film, theatre, television and writing almost as a necessary feature. But it doesn’t have to be that way – good use of language, topicality, geography and politics, period setting (backed by good research) and deeper characterisation are what is needed. 

One of the best thriller writers we have had was Simon Harvester, in real life a ‘serious’ writer and world commentator.  Why? Because he, aside from making his chief protagonist an interesting character (Dorian Silk), took us in an informed – if slightly prejudiced way admittedly – way into the actual worlds of central and south east Asia and wrote in a way which drew the reader into the story. The role of escapism I leave for another day!

I have never pretended that I don’t have a weakness for detective/spy/thriller writers but, I am, I trust, reasonably fastidious. Over and above good use of language, in my reading I hope to expand my knowledge, be it of history, geography or politics. The days are past when mere intellectual challenge was all that was required.

As the weeks, months and years pass, the threat of repeating myself becomes an ever-greater fear, though that, I accept, assumes I actually have a readership! Now my memory is not what it was, I find the need to check out when talking whether I am just re-treading matters already covered. So, if that is the case, in what follows, my apologies in advance.

Historical detective novels still appeal to me – these days, American authors, especially women, more than hold their own both in research and use of language. It is ever harder to tell if English is the native language of the best writers. They are helped perhaps in that our modern English now sees as Americanisms, words in common parlance here 150 or so years ago. That’s not to say there are not the most entertaining bloopers such as imaging Bournemouth was a major naval base. Like many British authors, these writers are attracted by class as much as social inequality and criminality. Whatever the ‘special relationship’, these authors see our history as theirs also, even when their roots are certainly not from the UK. Is this perhaps ‘soft power’ or just that in relative terms, their own history is too close to explore realistically.

Side tracking, what constantly amazes me is that class is seen as a solely British phenomena and as such, unknown in other countries. Even chickens have a ‘pecking order’ or hierarchy, as do all animals to a greater or lesser degree. Here we may obsess about class, but that of course is surely better than pretending your society has no such issues. ‘All men are equal’ is a fundamental of the American constitution. In practice the statement, while splendid in its aspiration, is as false in reality as it was then and is now. I chose America but could as easily picked France or Germany, let alone Hungary, Poland or Rumania. The fall of the Weimar Republic had much to do with class in German society.

1688 Bill of Rights

And as addendum to what I wrote last week about the strength we have of living in a democracy that evolved, I wonder how many of us and the rest of the world realise that, the basis of most constitutions, and the United Nations charter, is the English 1688 Bill of Rights, which among other things still requires Parliament to approve a ‘standing army’!

We are where we are because, over a very long time, the notion of government developed to meet changing circumstances and changing ideas. As one of the last monarchs to realise this, we perhaps have to go back to Charles 1, who lost his head as a result of his attempt to force his views onto the population. When the throne was offered to Mary and William, they had first to sign up to the demands of the 1688 Bill of Rights.

The Ice Age

Back to more sober issues, my curiosity was really attracted by new ideas emerging for contributory factors which may have been the reason for the start of the last little ice age. Climatologists at University College London now think some of the effect may possibly have been caused by the huge depopulation of primarily South and Central America following the Spanish conquest.

It is thought that 55,000,000 people died, or 90% of the population, and 56, 000,000 hectares of uncultivated land was left to return to forest, consequently sucking up vast quantities of CO2, which added to the cooling effects of other factors such as volcanic activity. I am not going to indulge in guilt; this was just another example of difficult to accept human behaviour.

Our relationship with CO2 is interesting in itself. At a trivial level, where would we be without sparkling drinks, but rather more seriously vegetable growth relies on it in the same way we need oxygen. Balance is of course everything, and geology shows the effects of changing levels of CO2 in the environment. Somebody once wrote ‘what we love we also have to destroy’. We love our plastics, our carbon based fuels, yet they may also cause the demise of our species even faster than nature itself will.

I think I should end on a lighter note so have chosen this poem.

Now half way through our 55th year of marriage this seemed to fit the bill.

“To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up”

Obviously by Ogden Nash and equally obviously rubbish!

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