New year, new life

Despite it being the holiday period, life on the farm has not been static. Moreover, a period in which we had little rain and warm days has improved the state of pastures and reduced the number and size of the puddles in some, but not all fields. 

With Tim back at work, the load on Chris has obviously lightened. On Monday we went south to deposit Baachus with his new owners and collect Laxfield Piper, nicknamed Dwaine.  A connection Anne and I had to be helped to understand! All went very smoothly. Baachus entered and left the trailer calmly, and Dwaine, bribed by a handful of haylage, was happy to board the trailer, but even happier to get out as he smelt a cow bulling. I should admit that on reading the passport we discovered the spelling was not ‘Dwayne’, and that Dwaine comes from a Celtic word, so nothing to do with The Rock!

To add to the good news, four heifers could be transferred from the rather crowded right side of the barn to join the suckler herd. The eldest, 107, should have gone to the bull some time ago but as her sire was Baachus that was unacceptable.

Over the last two weeks we have welcomed a new bull calf which is more than can be said for his mother who is needing to be pressured to feed and care for her calf. A fact which may have implications for her future.

Hopefully the young cattle will do better this winter than last year when they were essentially only given organic straw as feed. The photo shows clearly what they are getting this year.

The lambs have been moved from the large field on the other side of the brook, where they did rather better than on the field where they were previously. Another fifteen will go this weekend. The ewes are needing a great deal of feed, but otherwise seem fine if muddy. Hard to believe that time has passed so rapidly the next activity for them will be scanning. Reverting to the weather briefly, it is worth noting that grasses are still growing and for Rosie’s birthday, plenty of blooms could be found to put round her place at the table.

The dry spell of weather has allowed ‘Buster’ to start laying the hedge by the bridle path – this is for the second time since we began farming here! The task has proved quite a challenge for him because the wood to be ‘laid’ has been adversely affected by the weather.

New Year’s Day on a farm, is like any other day, in that work continues uninterrupted by messages or phone calls. But a major triumph was achieved by Chris and his gopher, Boots, in that the tractor is no longer stuck permanently in 4-wheel drive! 

Changing scenery

Returning to an earlier paragraph, as a passenger on the journey south with Baachus, the outing was a real pleasure. Scenery so very different to that around us here, but driven through by us on a regular basis until a few years ago, for over 50 years. The roads we followed have not widened over that period, though the number of vehicles has increased by a multiple of ten, while traffic fatalities have fallen dramatically from just under 8000 to well under 2000. Presumably more to do with mechanical changes rather than human behaviour. In admiring the scenery we consciously did our best to ignore in-fill housing, but did note the absence of snow fences – a common feature of these roads not so long ago..

History of the nativity

Once I was reminded that the word Christmas is only used in English speaking countries, curiosity led me to explore the history of how the nativity has been celebrated. Originally the birth of Christ was in fact not regarded as a matter of interest, but by the end of the 2nd century views changed, and January 6th was fixed upon as the date to be celebrated. Later In the 4th century or thereabouts the decision was made to change the date on which the birth should be celebrated to the 25th December, possibly (as conjectured by James Frazer in his book the Golden Bough) to replace the pagan festival of the winter solstice. This date was celebrated by the 6th century in England as the Feast of the Nativity. Christmas as the term only comes up as the word to use much later according to the OED, but was in general use by the 16th century, though often it was spelt in various ways such as Christenmasse.

Our family Christmas

The effort that goes into making Christmas Eve and Christmas Day special for children, as we all know, is considerable. For our family the routine is as follows:

It is not until Christmas Eve that putting up the tree and the decorations, deciding who should get what present and then packing them take place; eventually Christmas stockings are also in place before,  perhaps, listening to a midnight service if energy levels permit.

Christmas Day starts closely after 6 for the cook, though probably much earlier for the children, preparing ground work for the Christmas meal –  the vegetables, the checking of recipes and roles within the cooking team – pausing to first set out the Christmas morning breakfast before enjoying thirty minutes respite while that is enjoyed. And then the big event, preparing the turkey and all its trimmings. By now children are chomping at the bit to open the Christmas presents laid out under the tree. Chaos then reigns as adults try to maintain some semblance of order as presents are distributed and paper torn off. A time of heightened levels of excitement and noise and disorder but all feeling cared for and loved.

Eventually the cooking team call us all to the table and hours of work are eaten within minutes as periods of total silence alternate with noisy babble and demands to pose and display the appropriate cheesy grins for the amateur photographers amongst us.

No wonder the afternoon requires a period to recuperate for the adults while the children do their own thing, alternating harmony with disagreement but usually at a reasonably low decibel.

As for myself, largely a spectator for the last three years, all this takes place as I listen to Christmas music and carols, make supportive visits to the kitchen and utter words as seem appropriate while wondering how we had ever coped with not only doing all this for our three children, but also attending an evening service at the cathedral on Christmas Eve as well and for years leaving stockings from Father Christmas. At the same time as I sit peacefully, I am enjoying the cooking smells and drifting in my mind back to memories of my own childhood Christmases and of family members now long gone physically but still, in perhaps a slightly faded, if distinct way, part of the here and now.

Time to think and read

Having had such a lengthy period in which to think and read choosing what might be of interest to share is challenging. I have little to note about music little was listened to other than familiar carols and Christmas music. One ritual I did omit this year was the playing of Bach’s Christmas mass though I did listen to some Christmas music by Schultz 

My reading has been a mixture. Eventually I got round to reading Henry Gibb’s only attempt at writing science fiction which I acquired for 5p some years ago. The book was ‘Pawns in Ice’ and left me totally uncertain as to what I made of it.  As with the spy novels he wrote under the pseudonym Simon Harvester, his hatred and fear of the threat of Russia and its ideology was embedded in the story. The latest story by Lindsey Davis was much easier to digest.

While ‘Dominion’ has remained unfinished I have started on Simon Heffer’s third book in his series on the history of modern England. I began with some hesitation since I have rarely enjoyed his newspaper columns and television appearances. But the reality is both that he is a serious historian and an attention holding writer. Inevitably early on I got side-tracked into searching for accounts of WWI which concentrated on the other fronts involved in the war, so still have several hundred pages yet to read.

Alexander Watson has in recent years being writing on these matters (the battles away from the Western front) and a good starting point is his book ‘Ring of Steel’ though if you can read German there are other excellent sources. Sadly, an over focus (if understandable) on the western front and British losses, meant that lessons that should have been learnt were not. Events that shaped Italian, Austrian, Hungarian and Russian thinking seem to have either been completely missed or ignored.

Chris has been reading David Cameron’s account of his time in office and has just finished the section on negotiations with the EU from which it is hard to fault the ex-Prime Minister’s efforts. (As a side comment we are only too ready to forget that both the right and left wing of the media were totally hostile at all stages). It seems clear the basic sticking points were related to events experienced by all the other countries, and even if understood by Cameron, were either not known, let alone understood or worse, wilfully ignored by the media. So much we have to blame on our Anglocentric understanding of history.

This time of year is obviously one where deeper thoughts come to the front, not least as the numbers of Christmas messages received drop remorselessly. Putting that to one side, an issue I have been pondering is whether the blossoming of choice since the 1950’s has been, overall, a positive or a destructive force. I certainly feel it has played a part in distracting us all from the really important issues of life.

Celebrating the wren

Coming into the New Year it seems appropriate to celebrate the wren. A small bird with a very short life span, very susceptible to cold winters when it’s population may be reduced by 50%, it nonetheless both survives and thrives – a model for us all in the year to come.

Both Keats and Wordsworth wrote fine poems about this little bird, but space allows only for that by Keats

The Wren

Why is the cuckoo’s melody preferred
And nightingale’s rich song so fondly praised
In poet’s rhymes? Is there no other bird
Of nature’s minstrelsy that oft hath raised
One’s heart to extacy and mirth as well?
I judge not how another’s taste is caught:
With mine, there’s other birds that bear the bell
Whose song hath crowds of happy memories brought.
Such the wood-robin singing in the dell
And little wren that many a time hath sought
Shelter from showers in huts where I did dwell
In early spring the tennant of the plain
Tenting my sheep and still they come to tell
The happy stories of the past again.

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