Phew! All cows TB free.

Phew! All cows TB free.

“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”

I know not why, given our main activity is raising animals for meat, but the week in which a TB test takes place, creates in me a level of anxiety which, permeates all life until the results are handed are known.  

It is not a matter of finance, even if the whole herd were declared reactors. It might be a sense of waste, though all slaughtered animals will enter the food chain; guilt or a sense of failure perhaps, but that would be pointless, because we do everything we can to keep the herd ‘safe’.  

Bottom line I suspect, it has to do with the fact I do not see our livestock as mere mechanical. While they are with us, they are treated with respect, care and compassion. When a steer goes for slaughter, the feeling is more than just relief that income has increased. That said, I never have had any sense of a personal relationship with a cow or sheep in the way I have with Flash. Or am I deluding myself and it just my dislike of not having control – I hope not; after all there are so many things in farming that are outside our control.  

Phew! 90 cows all go clear, what a relief. I struggled to eat some lunch and then retired to bed for a while. Apparently, it went more smoothly than on Tuesday when the vet turned up early, and before all animals had been moved to their appointed position. Chris and Tim were once again joined by Brendan, and unlike on Tuesday, I stayed firmly at home in the farmhouse. Over our lunch, inevitably, we remembered past experiences going back to the time when I was more than merely a nervous spectator. Brendan said how much easier it had been having the extra spaces to hold groups now we had the new barn – from 450 Square metres to 850 and now 1250!  

One of the oddities of our world is the number of ratios that crop up. I suspect the one everybody knows is the ‘Normal curve’. Less well known perhaps is the ‘regression to the mean’. Another oddity is the 80/20 rule, and in teaching it meant 80% of one’s time was taken up by 20% of the pupils. Happily, this does not apply to lambing this year as only twelve ewes remain to lamb. Perhaps this had something to do with using 4 rams! I cannot at this stage comment on the overall outcome, but so far so good.  

We are tenants of the Stockwood Community Benefit Society: this year we will as a part of that responsibility host the annual Inkberrow Horse Show. Horses are not really my thing, but it will be good to have the community again welcomed onto the farm, as we did for so many years. One of the ways we do routinely keep our local community updated on life at the farm is the insertion of the farming part of these notes into the monthly parish magazine.  

It is difficult not to despair over some scientific research. A recent headline told us that legumes in pasture increased the take up of nitrogen. I just happen, as one does, to have a copy of Adela G Erith’s monograph ‘White Clover’ written in 1924. I quote: ‘Not only is it valuable as a forage plant but the residues of its root nodules, leaves and stolen add nitrogenous and other substances to the soil’ Well, well, something gardeners and farmers have known for years is now scientifically confirmed.  

I wrote last week about our continuing need for rain. Indeed, the Pasture Fed site has carried tales of misery, of three years of drought at the same critical time of year.   

Here is an example: “This is the third spring drought in a row after incredibly wet winters, which will have washed nutrient out of the soil; therefore, we are left with stress tolerant plants – buttercups and dandelions – succeeding before others. Last year, our cattle would have been starving without docks (!!!) and plantain.”  

We are better placed than we once were, because the organic matter in the soils of our fields has, as we learnt recently, significant improved over the years. On Tuesday thinking about which poem I could add at this point, which referred to drought, I realised that English poets seem to have been much happier to write about wind, rain, cold or frost so, I turned to a poet I have used before, Banjo Paterson, he who wrote Waltzing Mathilda, and the Australian equivalent of Robert Service and Rudyard Kipling, and quickly had perspective restored. I quote a short section from his poem ‘My Cattle’.  

“The drought is down on field and flock,  
 The river-bed is dry;  
And we must shift the starving stock  
 Before the cattle die.  
We muster up with weary hearts  
 At breaking of the day,  
And turn our heads to foreign parts,  
 To take the stock away.  
    And it’s hunt ’em up and dog ’em,  
    And it’s get the whip and flog ’em,  
For it’s weary work is droving when they’re dying every day;  
    By stock-routes bare and eaten,  
    On dusty roads and beaten,  
With half a chance to save their lives we take the stock away”  

And then in the early hours of Wednesday morning we had rain and, judging by the bird bath, useful rain. What a relief, not least because on Thursday a considerable amount of compost had been spread, but, in a wider context in this country, we perhaps should abandon using the word ‘drought’ and refer only to a lack of rain.  

And then I read at the end of the week that a Cambridge University study published last month had reached the conclusion that since 2015, Europe had experienced the worst summer droughts for over 2000 years. I still intend to avoid using the word drought myself.  

Back to the theme I was writing on last week. My feeling is that the thinking of these English ‘Age of Enlightenment thinkers’ was very much influenced by war, by the terrible social disturbance between, for England, 1642 and 1660.  

What is commonly called the English Civil war, is now better described as the war of the three nations – Ireland, Scotland and England. Some would call it the Anglo-Scottish war but that of course carried on through to 1746 and ignores the Irish rebellion of 1639. 

Trouble began in Ireland in 1639, erupted in Scotland in 1640, and eventually reached England in 1642. I have no intention to go further, except to note both the role of the French and Spanish, and that there were three actual wars in the period. And for us, for whom Worcester is our county town, a reminder that the Royalist forces who fought there included 16,000 Scots.  

I began by suggesting how the war affected philosophers, but of course there were many other effects. For the English, estimates suggest the overall population lost some 3.5% of its number, for life in general including trade and agriculture, it seems something like 10 to 20% of the male population were involved in the fighting and, never to be forgotten, families were divided in their loyalties. But most importantly in the long run, it killed republicanism, and led to ‘government by Parliament’ and a nation headed by a constitutional monarch, though today’s position was not actually reached until the last century.  

The other nations involved fared less well. The Scots had been ruled by the Stuarts since the 14th century and since Charles the First had been King of Scotland as well as King of England, execution carried out by the English, and the forceful joining of Scotland to England not only rankled then but continued to this day. The Scots, or at least many, rebelled in what was called the Jacobite Rebellions, ending eventually in the 1740’s following a brutal campaign by the Duke of Cumberland. In between whiles, the Act of Union was agreed, since the government in Scotland was bankrupted by a disastrous venture in South America. None of this history makes it completely unsurprising that many Scots want independence again.   

In the interests of trying to see the situation from both sides, the relationship between Scotland and England had rarely been good, let alone peaceful for centuries, and the border moved several times. The ‘marches’ or ‘border lands’ had a notorious reputation for rustling, and border raids were common. Families would have a Scottish part and often an English part. After the abortive attempt to conquer Scotland centuries earlier had failed, just as the Romans did, that was how things were. Additionally, ties to France were a cause of tension, as in due course was religion.  

But if the Scots came out of the situation badly, it was the Irish who really suffered. The English had had a very tense relationship with the Irish because of language, very different government structures, cultural differences and religion. And, over time, the fear developed that Ireland provided a backdoor for foreign invaders – particular the catholic Spanish.  

The Elizabethans attempted to reduce this risk, but it was not until Cromwell that the worst atrocities were inflicted.  Ulster, the protestant part of Ireland saw a huge settlement of Scots, and the Catholic south suffered terribly. Ironically, many Scots were originally from Ireland but over the centuries had adopted a very different religious outlook. For the Irish, they picked the wrong side to be on. Like the Scots, they saw themselves as being a nation in their own right. We all know the consequences. The events of the “English Civil War” were not the cause or the initiating factors in the Irish issues, but they certainly exacerbated an existing problem.  

For centuries after, not only did the divide persist and grow, but the fears of the Elizabethans that Ireland posed a risk to the United Kingdom were very much in evidence through two world wars, and the religious divide until very recently permeated relationships.  

Oddly, despite best efforts whether, Scots or Irish, English is the ‘native’ language for nearly all of us. Given the sensitivities of all this I should probably declare that, as a result of my father’s interest in genealogy, followed up by my sister, over the last 300+ years there is no trace of any intermarriage, official or otherwise with any other generally accepted British group – Welsh, Irish or Scot in my family. It is of course true that that both my mother and father could trace roots in Cornwall, but they certainly saw themselves as English, while retaining, on my father’s side at least, some nostalgia for Cornwall, and on occasion, such as the loss of the Penlee lifeboat, a substantial donation, since several of the crew were distant relations.  

Moreover, perhaps the supreme irony is that the DNA of all in these islands, though there are differences, is not as diverse as people were once certain it was.  

Unsurprisingly, there is a marked difference between the DNA of the Cornish and the Devonian. However, as I understand it, we are all ultimately descended from people who came from the steppes of Eastern Eurasia.  

Last week I had a very positive email from a reader who correctly drew my attention to my failure to acknowledge that, when I write about philosophy, I really should qualify the word with Western. This very valid point set my mind racing and I am still groping my way through all the thoughts that it initiated.  

My initial response was a moderately sensible, if slightly defensive answer! Perhaps a starting point is a straightforward admission that I have never been able to make sense of Eastern philosophy. I have collections of both Chinese and Indian poetry and have on my shelves books about political histories and books attempting to set out the thinking of both Confucius and Buddha. I have even read Mao’s Little Red Book in the same way that I have read Mein Kamph, and Das Capitol.  

Just as once visiting the local library I was not sure in which section to find Das Capital, which it seemed to me could sit in several places – economics, philosophy, sociology or even religion, I never knew what I needed to read to better grasp this alien way of thinking.  

This is not a valid excuse, but it raised many other thoughts, and my current view is that perhaps in Eastern thinking there is no straightforward divide between what is regarded as philosophy and what is seen as religion in the way it is in Western culture.   

Labelling or compartmentalising issues is central to today’s Western materialist thought and culture. So, we have boxes for philosophy, psychology, sociology and religion, even if they might all be striving for the same thing and interrelated.  

The search for understanding – such a monumental task – has become binary, is it through belief or reason. For us in the West this is a divide most cannot, it seems, bridge.  

However, I was advised by a family member that some wiser head had some time ago come up with the answer – 42! (See the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Universe). 

In Eastern philosophy religion and philosophy seem intertwined as they were once centuries ago in Europe.  

This of course leaves up in the air the definition of philosophy. Is it an academic activity or is it a statement of belief, in English it can be either depending on context?  

I have never concealed my secondary education required a choice between history and geography. Given that the head of the history department was one Jaspar Dodds. whose reputation was fearsome, the choice was simple. He, by the way, is long dead but still remembered as a legend with both fear and reverence.  

One year after A Levels, his little Austin found its way on to a flat roof over a one-story building, put there as I remember of a farewell gesture from pupils. 

At university I did find this somewhat of a disadvantage since in the first term one of the subjects was Constitutional History, and this started very badly when I revealed that I thought goal and jail were pronounced differently. The scorn of an Oxford Don, who in any case thought Oxford was no place for non-public school products, might well have destroyed me. Sadly, all it achieved was a deep and, if I am honest, contempt for academia, even if I admit, aside from my undergraduate years, another three years had to be added as I collected further qualifications.  

Last week I read about a translation of Don Quixote into Chinese, via an English translation, three hundred years ago and that this had recently being translated from the Chinese into Spanish. All of which crucially underlined the critical role of the Chinese translator whose interpretation of Don Quixote bore little relationship to the intention of the author.  

So, in recent years I have, wherever possible looked to see the beliefs and history of the world through the eyes of people of other nationalities. Immediately I have to concede that, apart from writers for whom English is a first or equal first language, it is, aside perhaps from poetry, writers from Europe I have been reading in translation. The translators of course may well have put their ‘own spin’ on the translation.  

I have referred to the dangers inherent in translations. There is another issue to consider. Does the language spoken, effect thinking or is it the other way round? In other words, is it perhaps a totally illusory belief that one can ever think accurately outside the box of the language one was raised in? Can the best one can hope for, is raised awareness of the fact.  

Re-reading this I am conscious of having ducked yet another issue which will exist for everybody everywhere, of what leads to how one thinks. Assuming that certain issues which can loosely be described as ‘nature’ are put to one side for a moment, we know life experience, upbringing, education, class and race are important factors in how we think but they do not tell the whole story. What an individual makes of these factors will, in large measure relate to their character and personality which are in some unknown way related to one’s inherited genes and the many tens of mutations which will have changed them. Every experience will to a considerable degree affect different people, differently.  

So, in an effort to finalise these rambles and refer back to my starting point – the need to remember that I should refer to Western philosophy and by extension to all I write. I end by saying that how one responds to Eastern or Western philosophy is entirely individual. For myself, the esoteric fails to appeal, I have to live with the fact that, for me, pragmatism, is how I see the world and I suspect that is, for me, despite the obvious flaws in aspects of his thinking, why John Locke appeals. He was capable of taking an idea as far as was sensible and then letting it rest. An apostle of liberty but drawing a line between that and the hedonism of Sartre.  

Frankly, reading and typing is testing at the moment, but perhaps because of the last paragraphs I was driven to dig out my copy of Turkey’s most famous poet, Nazim Hikmet’s collected verses.  

It is true he was a Marxist, though an idealist or romantic rather than a supporter of Lenin or Stalin, but a man who because of his beliefs and writings spent years in prison both in Turkey and eventually losing his Turkish nationality.  His breakthrough was the Epic of ‘Sheik Bedreddin’, based on a peasant rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, and led to his first incarceration by the Turkish government since Ataturk was no less of a despot than Erdogan. 

Nazim Hikmet – the lines below come from his poem “On Living”  

“This earth will grow cold one day,  
not like a block of ice  
or a dead cloud even  
but like an empty walnut it will roll along  
in pitch-black space …  
You must grieve for this right now  
–you have to feel this sorrow now– 
 
for the world must be loved this much  
if you’re going to say “I lived”

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