There can be no doubt that having a few days of sunshine significantly lifts one’s spirits. Certainly, I have been far more productive this week than for some time. No doubt passage of time and bodily healing has helped, but I write cautiously since the truth remains, ‘benign vertigo’ may choose to trip me up at any stage, and I am given no warning.
As a sign of recovery, I returned to the book called ‘The Silver Collar’ by Antonio Hodgson, an author I referenced some weeks ago. I had put it one side unable to finish it, not out of squeamishness, but simply because it described so vividly how awful conditions were at the time it was set, and the picture it painted of how thin the veneer of civilisation is that we embrace. Nonetheless, an author I am happy to recommend.
Given the events in Afghanistan and Texas recently, and the treatment of indigenous people I wrote about last week, I have spent much time thinking about the notion of ‘belief’.
It appears to be an inbuilt factor in humans, but while it provides succour to many at the induvial level, it also has been, and still is, the cause of innumerable deaths – directly and indirectly. Why is it that belief so often seems to require complete intolerance, and a sense of righteousness?
No doubt experts have devoted careers to attempting to explain the matter, but if so, no one seems to have come up with either explanations or ideas on how to reduce the problem; or is that what de-radicalisation programmes are about? I wonder what their success rate really is.
Somewhere the answer must lie in the personality of individuals – how else is one to understand the popularity of psychotherapy, despite years of attendance achieving nothing.
Freud, and that generation of ‘scientists’ who drew vast generalisations from work, with their handful of patients, have much to answer for, or perhaps more fairly, failed to understand the need of most humans to have explanations – even when there may be none. Why do so few realise that many key questions are unanswerable?
On a totally personal level, why my dreams so often contain debates between myself and preachers, probably does not fall into that category.
Mid-week I had my first chance to see all the farm and stock. It must be some six weeks since we had significant rain, and my goodness how obvious that is. I even managed a small walk into the wood, which is usually the last place to really dry out, but even here the ground had great cracks in it. Two fields at least need topping, but you will recall that currently, ours is unusable. In one field we saw a patch of yellow fleabane, but otherwise, apart from some white clover and a small patch of ragwort by the large scrape, only a handful of fields looked green. Strangely there remained a small patch of water in that scrape, though the level in the Brook was as low as I ever remember seeing it.
I was surprised that the cattle were very bothered by flies, even though they are nowhere near water. Of course, that meant no dragon flies, which are marvellous predators of flies.
That curse of farmers, the ‘creeping’ thistle, is very bad in a field which historically has been reasonably free of it. But my goodness, how marvellous to get out like that and even do some walking!
It was just as exciting to see the new fencing, talk through which were the next old fences to be dealt with, to see that the largish field which we could only put cattle on if electric fencing was used, is now fully cattle proof – mind you, a desperate cow would hop over even that. The erection of new fences has also made it possible to install extra gates, though it was slightly depressing to see how the drying out of the underlying clay had already moved some gate posts.
Friday was a tense day because all the cattle that will be going onto new farms had been given their scratch for TB on Tuesday, and the results were unknown until their scratches were examined by a vet three days later. Happily, all were clear, and now can be moved off the farm at any time during the next 60 days. While on the subject of TB in cattle, you may well have read that badger cull is to be extended to seven new areas including Worcestershire, and that the culling programme will end in 2025. Perhaps most positively, there is a hope that within five years, appropriate vaccines can be developed both for badgers and cattle. Something has to change, nearly 30,000 cattle were slaughtered in the last twelve months, often given the crudity of the tests, quite needlessly.
We have also this week had two other sets of data. Those identifying levels of mineral trace elements, and the sum of results of the blood sampling.
The only constants over the last fifteen years are the grossly high levels of molybdenum in the fresh grass samples, and the absence of liver fluke in either the sheep or cattle. Otherwise, there are points where the information from the grass samples does not match the results from the blood samples. Quite what to make of that is a real puzzle.
Saturday sees foot trimming for the cattle. The number of animals treated was ten. As I have written before, the advanced technology is staggering. No more risk of being kicked, since the animal being treated is held securely, and hooves are not trimmed on the trimmers lap!
The sheep appear to have low levels of cobalt. The evidence from the post-mortem on the dead sheep may not represent general issues, since the cancerous growth may have been related to the mineral deficiency and high worm count. Our vet is still working to try to make sense of this often-contradictory data we have.
Fly strike had to be dealt with in one lamb mid-week, and early signs on another had to checked out.
Finally, I am relieved to share that, though we had no thunderstorms, we did get rain from Thursday afternoon into the small hours of Friday morning, and again on Friday afternoon. The effect on the pastures, though not as dramatic as in that film showing the results of rain on a desert, is apparent. Certainly, on Wednesday the bridle path was a dust track.
The barn area looks a little odd at the moment. While all the bedding straw is now under cover, a number of ‘over warm’ hay bales are stacked outside, some way from the barn. We may be insured, but why take unnecessary risks merely for the sake of tidiness.
I confess that the abandonment of the final test against India did have a silver lining, at least for me, since the week has felt very short, particularly when Thursday was ruined by time taken going to and at the opticians, and the aftermath of some five lots of eyedrops in each eye meant, on return home, there was only one course of action open to me, and that was sleep. At least in ten days’ time I should find reading and typing on the computer much less straining.
The headline of the week for me was in the Wall Street Journal, and it was ‘You Are Living in the Golden Age of Stupidity’, with the subtitle: ‘The convergence of many seemingly unrelated elements has produced an explosion of brainlessness’. The article is really worth looking for, though that paper is, while being worthy, subject to that seemingly American need to measure books and articles by weight. It is really quite astonishing the divide between the mass of people and the thought-provoking writing of a small minority, and it is a constant danger for any commentator on America to overlook this reality.
Last week I attempted to itemise some of the key changes and events in England during the 19th century. Of course within hours of that being transmitted I immediately remembered a number of other things I might have mentioned, from hot air balloons, to transatlantic cables being laid as a first step in ensuring better communications across the world, and in particular, to distant parts of the Empire; gas lighting and an extension of central heating to wealthy domestic homes; Catholic emancipation before 1830, extended to others in the 1870’s; the first ‘red brick’ University – London opening in the 1830’; Marconi and the telegraph, and the first telephones together with photography and recordings; the realisation after the events at Peterloo that the army should not be used to maintain law and order, and in due course Sir Robert Peel set in place a civil police force on the lines of that he had introduced in Ireland; in the 1850’s there was a significant reform as regards gaining posts in the civil service, and in the 1870’s the practice of officers having to purchase their commissions was ended; I have not mentioned the emergence of two party politics, with power oscillating between Whig and Tory; I have not mentioned the role of ‘public’ schools in preparing young men for life as colonial administrators; I have mentioned some reforms relating to the workforce, but this century saw the introduction, though on rather smaller scale, than that which we now know as health and safety; the vast capital investment overseas, allied to great numbers of emigrants not just from Ireland or Scotland, but including skilled workers like the tin miners from Cornwall.
No more, I have had enough of waking up thinking of all the bits I have omitted. What it all adds up to is that those living in the 19th century lived through one of the most tumultuous times imaginable.
I admit it was a challenge too great, and even worse the view, that I might try the same for Europe. Leaving aside the fact that the world did not just contain the UK and Europe, it was a ridiculous belief in my powers to bring together knowledge of individual countries and areas of the middle East, when professional historians such as Norman Davies struggled, and the Longman History of Europe required two volumes to cover the century.
Nonetheless, I am going to share some thoughts: Davies suggests in his history of Europe that the 19th century might be seen to have three relatively discrete periods – that the period up until the 1850’s could best be summarised as a period of revolution, the next twenty years of reform, and thereafter a period of relative calm, but within which a number of the then ‘great’ powers shuffled for dominance, all against the backcloth of British control of the seas. The Longman’s histories adopt a similar approach.
Accordingly, I am going to attempt, after some generalisations, to explore why that tripartite division does not really work for England, if Ireland can be put to one side for the moment, though I doubt that I will reach that today, but first I think we need to recognise that in the 19th century Europe was no more a unity than it is today, and so generalisations are particularly iffy.
After looking at various tables including levels of literacy, wealth and growth, I started thinking of the several divisions into which Europe could be said to fall. The first and most obvious is religion – the Protestant North – the Roman Catholic South, and East and then the Coptic countries; but division by language is also possible – the Scandinavians – the Romance speakers – the Teutonic speakers and those countries speaking a Slavic language; as is division by climate, by history, by ‘newness’, by Atlantic maritime or Mediterranean maritime or land locked, by links to the Ottoman empire, or to the Hapsburgs. Hard actually to know where to stop, indeed two more could be added, by wealth or poverty and finally by size.
Leaving aside all else, the more you go down this path, the more amazing it is that the European Union has held together as long as it has! The fact the man who led for Europe in the Brexit negotiations has moved to being a Eurosceptic, alongside the increasing dissent from countries like Poland and Hungary, which probably could economically survive outside the Union than say Greece, has to raise doubts about the longevity of an organisation which seems to have lost sight of its beginnings as the Iron and Steel Federation, whose signatories were France and Germany and most importantly, the fact the World War II ended seventy five years ago, and that the leaders of today have had quite different experiences than the early enthusiasts.
That countries that broke free of Soviet domination a quarter of a century ago dislike moving from one dictatorship only to find themselves in another points to another division in Europe between those societies that had no experience of the pros and cons of freedom and find that freedom challenging, and those who may have lived under absolute monarchies, but for whom freedom had meaning.
There are though certain matters that can be referenced.
Thinking of music, the 19th century was in large part dominated by German composers, who picked up and further developed symphonic works, chamber music and lieder. Their dominance in these areas was so great that aspirant composers from many countries flocked to that country to learn how to compose similarly. As regards opera, I think Italy had the edge over France, while from Britain the Oratorio, choral music and the works of Gilbert and Sullivan prevailed alongside the music hall. Despite emphasizing the input from Germany, nearly all countries during this century produced composers whose work is still highly regarded, and though experts may hear derivatives from the great German composers, most of us can recognise the nationality of the composer we are listening to.
The 19th century also saw massive shifts in the arts, not just in painting but also sculpture. Turner is regarded by many as the first impressionistic artist, but generally speaking, it is to French and Spanish painters that accolade is given. Painting in water colours seemed confined to Britain.
Additionally, there was a move away from both Biblical and mythological themes, as well as a return to interest in painting ordinary people. I think I once compared Scandinavian painting as being of that character at a time, when formal portraiture in oils remained the norm in Britain.
Those countries that did not already have colonies fought to grab the bits of the world that were available. Belgium and the new Germany in particular ensured that the history of Europe in Africa was darkened further.
While in Britain, in Disraeli a Jew could become Prime Minister, the century actually saw increasing anti-Semitism, which expressed itself in displacement of large numbers of Jews from Central and Eastern Europe, and in France a notorious judicial misjudgement. No country was free of this curse, but it was particularly evident in Roman Catholic countries which followed the Pope’s judgement that it was the Jews who murdered Jesus. No doubt it was also associated with attempts to transfer political unpopularity away from the authorities.
It was in the 19th century that it became obvious that the Ottoman Empire was in retreat. Greece became an independent state, parts of the Balkans were ‘liberated’. It was in this century the term ‘the sick man of Europe’ was coined, and the Crimean war reflected the struggle to divvy up territory now becoming available.
Too much to say, but not really enough time and knowledge!
With so much cricket having been played in the last few weeks I have inevitably thought of that voice from the past, John Arlott.
In his time the greatest cricket commentator, the man who shamed the MCC into supporting Basil D’Olivera’s selection as a player for the English cricket team, a great poet, and producer for radio of poetry, and also, I discovered, a great friend and supporter financially, as well as a fellow drinker, of Dylan Thomas. That Arlott was a wine connoisseur I certainly did know from the friendship Ian Botham developed with him. Oddly as a Hampshire man through and through, it was the Glamorgan cricket club he supported.
Whatever, I came across some details of the correspondence between Thomas and Arlott and included in that was a poem promised to Arlott, but apparently only found after the death of Thomas. Too good I thought not to share but be aware next week there will be a poem written by Arlott himself.
In reading this poem, if you have ever heard either the voice of Dylan Thomas, or that great actor Richard Burton – also Welsh, try to hear it as if read by either be author or Burton.
The Unpublished Poem by Dylan Thomas
Out of the don-draped greenery of Magdalen grounds
This day I sing of spring and her attendant hounds;
Under the rook-gowned trees, aloud in the plush park,
The scholar’s life I lift from a converted ark,
Chalet or potting shed, ratcatchers’ lounge or home
Of the academic owl and graduate gnome,
Refuges of bats, pendant and cricketing, wax fruit
And nibbled blazer, tandem pump and riding boot,
A haven now for Me, far from the gastric throng,
Where only the ousted mouse pricks to my spring song,
His nasty ears, and the river rat, dispossessed,
Shivers outside the window in his Flea-loud vest