Prep spraying time!

Prep spraying time!

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

In general, I see the glass as being half full.  

Sadly, in relation to farm and family, too many years of living with the knowledge that the ‘buck’ stopped with me has been impossible to shake off, despite knowing how tedious it is to others. The implications of that sadly are that, too often I assume the worst quite needlessly.  

So, it was with some relief that I found that my view of the effect of the weather on the farm is shared by all our neighbouring farmers. Growth is some four weeks later than normal, and if that is to be the future, then adjustments must be made.   

After such opening paragraphs I am very pleased to say that this shortened week has gone well.  

On Tuesday an invigorated Tim returned from the Costa del Bradley Green looking suntanned and raring to go. The immediate result – three new calves, including the second pair of twins we have had born in the farm. The ATV was fully operational by lunchtime which seemed miraculous. Mind you, to keep the balance the hydraulics on the Zetor tractor had a hissy fit and prevented Tim, for a while, from completing the task of clearing from the barn the winters cattle litter.  

On Friday, almost before the sun was up, Chris and Boots were preparing the preparation 501 (horn silica) for spraying, and by 8am the whole farm was sprayed. Additional support was provided by Nicki who sprayed the gardens and took a photographic record of the whole exercise. So early in the morning they saw three of the six roe deer on the farm, a solitary hare and three buzzards.  

Early morning spraying

I have been able to resume my late evening walks, though normally, it has to be admitted, without Flash. I have been surprised at seeing so few bats, but then neither have I seen much in the way of moths. While the owls on the farm seem to have gone quiet, what I do hear every night in the dusk, long after the blackbirds have fallen silent, is, and here maybe wishful thinking comes into play, what sounds like a nightingale. Otherwise, apart from catching a buzzard by surprise, my walks have been uneventful. In the gloom, the ridge and furrow in the field by the drive can be clearly seen. I share with you that rig or rigg and furrow is the term used in more northerly parts – yet another illustration of the value of reading poetry.  

The evening walk reminding me of dogs and last week’s poem, our border collies are masters of the in it and out, but do not climb on chairs! The dog I had in mind, now long since gone, was our Doberman who in Africa saw the two-seater sofa as her own, and while not overtly objecting to humans sitting next to her, had the size and bulk to gently push them off if she felt in the mood. The alternative was her imaging she was a lapdog and this really did not work.  

Our hay fever fears have meant that the area of lawn left uncut has been significantly reduced – a good move since we all suffer. As yet we have not seen many wildflowers in the lawn other than daisies – a plant in decline it appears, but hopefully other types will come.  

I wrote last week of the state of our horse chestnut trees. Because of drought and flooding we have lost a number of fruit trees in the orchards, and flowering cherries along the farm track. Some survive, a red flowering May tree, the Perry pear trees and a couple of Hazel bushes. All rather sad as last year, for the first time many were carrying fruit. Incidentally, our apple trees by the house seem to bear no fruit this year. The pond adjacent to the orchard has had moorhens nesting there, and the first tiny balls of fluff have appeared.   

Red Chestnut

Earlier in the week a swarm of bees swept over the house. How excellent it would be if this year our tree mounted bee home was occupied. Of the two hives on the farm, one has a thriving colony within it.  

Wasps at the seaside

If there is one insect that arouses real panic in me, it is the wasp. An article read recently suggested we should all come to love this yellow and black striped horror because not only does it eat a range of smaller pests, but it is also as important a pollinator as the bee. The article was most convincing, but whether I can shake of my fear of the beasties is another matter. I think my fear can be traced back to childhood when my grandmother owned a beach hut on the promenade at Shoeburyness on Sea, while behind it was ‘Uncle Toms Cabin’ from which candy floss and toffee apples could be bought if you had the courage to fight your way through the wasps.  

After the floods of 1953, a concrete barrier was erected ensuring no view of the sea was left, and the only pleasure left in using the beach hut was in watching the white bodied day trippers pass in the morning and see them traipse past, lobster red in the evening! Of course, in those days getting sunburnt was an important part of any seaside holiday. No sun Creams in those days, just calamine to ease the torture in the evening. Just how did so many of us reach old age? Or perhaps most of our generation didn’t…  

A little music..

Given how short a week it has been, my listening to music has been limited, not least because Anne and I have been watching ancient repeats of Vera. A further distraction came from discovering a two CD version of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces.  

Next week I hope to explore the playing of Gabriella Lengyell, whose only claim to fame I know of is that she was a pupil of Hubay’s. She was of course Hungarian, and seems to have given up concert playing to teach in Paris where she took up residence after the 1956 uprising. If her recordings prove too testing, my fallback position will be a set of CDs of Vladimar Horowitz playing the piano.  

..and cricket 

With the return of partial sight, I have watched some cricket. Passing rapidly over why they don’t put Anderson and Broad out to pasture, I was struck by what a cruel game cricket actually is. Instant death is not there is most games, nor in most games is the element of chance recognised. A bowler who delivers the ‘knuckle ball’ will readily admit he has no idea which way it the ball will go, either in flight or bounce. Skill on the batter’s part can only take one so far. In that sense it is like say of Bridge, without the right cards your skill may at best reduce your losses.  

What is happening in government!

I had no intention of commenting on our government, but how can I keep quiet in a week when: 

  • new powers to sell our health and personal data to private companies has been approved without ‘anyone’ noticing 
  • the incompetence of the Home Office in housing asylum seekers has been revealed by the courts 
  • the immigration figures for the first four months of this year show the actual number of non-British people coming into the country – despite government promises 
  • the Defence Ministry orders, for 3.9 billion pounds plus VAT American made armoured cars which are proving completely unfit for purpose 
  • the aid budget has been cut by 4 billion pounds this year  
  • and now the commitment by Johnson personally, to spend all that was necessary to help children catch up on their learning lost through Covid is shown to be completely false as the Tzar appointed for that purpose resigns on getting a fifteenth of the funds asked for  

‘Slightly Foxed’  

I am sure I have recommended the quarterly magazine ‘Slightly Foxed’ to you before as the only publication I know that has the power to attract writers of standing to provide essays on authors and books past and present. 

What prompts me to recommend it again is their summer edition. Sixteen essays in some 90 pages. One I feel I must quote from is written by Jim Ring. After quoting St.Ignatius and Lenin about the importance of capturing the mind of the child, he writes as follows:  

“…as someone whose children grew up in the dark shadow of Harry Potter. I was more fortunate. Well before the age of reason I was drip-fed Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Richmal Crompton, Anthony Buckeridge, C S Lewis and above all Arthur Ransome.”  

The views of a writer and filmmaker who concludes his essay with the words: 

 “My wife and I managed to leaven our daughter and son’s diet of less desirable literature with a fair dose of Ransome. The result was that they turned out all right in the end.”  

Who are the English?  

For many years I have turned to the poem below when people ask ‘who are the English’ since to me, being English is merely a word used to describe people who were born here or just chose to live here. I have never seen it as having ethnic connotations.  

Reading the latest thinking it appears that only one set of invaders actually seriously added to our DNA and they were not the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, or Normans. All rather different from the conclusions reached in the first decade of this century.  

It seems that when the ice retreated, and these islands became inhabitable, the first settlers were from Iberia, and that was nine or ten thousand years ago. The invasion that really counted came around three thousand years ago and this time came from the East. Other invaders came over time but made little impact on our DNA. The Romans left straight roads, the Anglo-Saxons, our language, the Normans added to our language and those that followed undoubtedly made a cultural impact. Where our two to three percent Neanderthal inheritance came from is unclear, but presumably from the invaders in the nineth century BC.  

So, Daniel Defoe got it wrong, though right in principle. It adds to the amusement that his origins were Dutch!  

“Thus from a mixture of all kinds began,  
That het’rogeneous thing, an Englishman:  
In eager rapes, and furious lust begot,  
Betwixt a painted Britain and a Scot.  
Whose gend’ring off-spring quickly learn’d to bow,  
And yoke their heifers to the Roman plough:  
From whence a mongrel half-bred race there came,  
With neither name, nor nation, speech nor fame.  
In whose hot veins new mixtures quickly ran,  
Infus’d betwixt a Saxon and a Dane.  
While their rank daughters, to their parents just,  
Receiv’d all nations with promiscuous lust.  
This nauseous brood directly did contain  
The well-extracted blood of Englishmen.”   
(“The True-Born Englishman,” ll. 1-14)  

A final thought, while DNA may have forensic value, it seems it can reveal devastating news to a family, but otherwise what does it add to an individual’s real self-knowledge.  

America

I had not intended to write more about America and its peculiarities, but the other day I got a glimpse into the tortuous and awful concessions that had to be made to induce the southern states to join the Union.  

Chief among them were concessions over slave owning, and a twist to the 2nd Amendment in the constitution which banned Black people from carrying guns, and effectively allowed the use of guns against slaves and ex slaves.  

I have resisted previously drawing attention to the fundamental difference between the establishment of the police here and in America. Their police were set up to capture escaped slaves and protect the White population. What a contrast.  

Remember the levels of guilt here about the massacre at Amritsar? This year for the first time an American President has publicly expressed regret and apologies for the slaughter at Tulsa in 1921. I suppose the numbers killed were lower than the 20,000 Parisians killed in Paris in 1870, but then that was carried out by the French. (I am contrite, what a racist comment that is).  

The teacher  

If you sometimes feel I comment too often on education, as some of you know having spent all my working life up to retirement experiencing just about every conceivable role apart from HMI, you will, I hope, tolerate the situation. At base, I am a teacher, in whatever situation I find myself in. I am well aware how irritating that may be at times to family, possibly to you, but that is how I am.  

I spent some time in recent weeks attempting to think about teaching, and in passing tried to find out why pedagogy is a word in common use on the continent, and creeping into use in the United States. I did come across a splendid rant about the word being used in this country on the grounds that it was totally pretentious, and teacher training has served us well to date and why should we abandon that term.  

Fairly obviously, teacher trading is about preparing would be teachers as to how best to to ensure that the young people they work with, actually benefit from their classroom experiences. It should also be a mechanism to eliminate those quite unsuitable to become teachers. Sadly, fashion plays far too great a role in determining how best to achieve this.  

Nor, it has to be honest, did Ofsted (the official government funded inspection body). It lost sight of the fact that there can be a wide gulf between delivering a well-prepared lesson with clearly set out objectives, if what is actually learnt is zilch. But then, this was often the way with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of schools who, in my time were widely regarded as specialising in an approach which seemed based on a ‘do as I say rather than do as I do’.  

Education and teaching are about learning, and people learn in very different ways. I have recently seen an American paper suggesting the number could be as high as fifteen. In practice I think most practitioners would identify around five basic types. As a teacher with thirty children in front of you, how do you meet all these needs. It was difficult enough when classes were made up of children of roughly the same ability, but even then, of course, the proportion actually willing to learn remains a factor.  

With the number of teachers being in excess of 450, 000, even if you hope the Bell Curve is skewed, the reality is the vast majority of teachers are neither exceptionally good or bad. The proportion who are first class is small – and I have no belief that degree or quality of degree – has any necessary importance.  

In the days when my team were actively involved in teacher training, our sad experience was that though it was possible to turnout more than adequate teachers, an individual either had the gift to be exceptional or not.  

How do you learn  

Ask yourself how you learn best, through seeing, reading, repetition, listening or doing. For most people it will be one or more of these routes. For myself, I have never ever worked it out, other than that interest and or pressure help. It was straightforward when I had something akin to a photographic memory, but after (O) levels that was a hinderance rather than a help, so it had to go. I never knew how to revise, and therefore struggled with subjects that required memorisation of unrelated facts.  

In the not too distant past the importance of memory was recognised and formed an important part of any educational programme. I confess I do not know when things changed but it was certainly not any part of the education I received, and that continues to be a matter of regret.  

Neurological knowledge has expanded vastly since I retired, and that new knowledge is in part why philosophers who are ‘determinists’ reject the concept of free will. Whether this expansion of knowledge has actually helped in any way is, I think questionable. Rashly reading some academic papers on how the brain solves problems merely highlighted how little is actually known. We don’t even have an answer to why, to solve a tricky problem, often the best answer is to sleep on it.  

That of course brings into the equation consciousness and the unconscious.  

Putting all that to one side, if only to retain a semblance of sanity, there does still spear to be agreement that memory falls into three basic categories – sensory, short term or working memory and long-term memory.  

  • The First is easily recognised since it covers such things as riding a bicycle, driving a car, skating and of course walking.  
  • Short term memory is sometimes seen as synonymous with working memory, sometimes not. Whatever, by definition, it is where information is held briefly and where the capacity to hold different pieces of information is short. For example, a given telephone number is likely to be forgotten with seconds. Another less obvious point is that if a person reads too slowly, they may find it hard to connect the first part of a long sentence to the end of it since short term memory probably never exceeds 30 seconds.  
  • Long term memory is exactly what it says and can be built up either through short term memory or directly, and in theory has no limits on its capacity. The speed at which memories in this area can be brought forward and used appears to be closely linked to measured intelligence.  

Thinking therefore seems to be the process of retrieval and manipulation of short and long-term memory, but how problem-solving fits into all this is still unclear.  

Having confused the would-be teacher, let me try and express my thoughts on some of the characteristics of a good teacher. All too important to be ranked.  

  • Never forget you are in loco parentis.  
  • Actually, like spending time with young people.  
  • Be comfortable in your own skin 
  • Be empathetic but know at what point to back off 
  • Enjoy challenge within agreed parameters 
  • Know your pupils as individuals and not just the irritating ones 
  • You will have bad days in your personal life – do not take the troubles out in your students.  
  • Have that presence which is necessary to ensure discipline 
  • Be able to cope both with your own mistakes and the minor disasters around every corner 
  • Know your subject 
  • Remember that there are obvious parallels between the teacher and the stand-up comic in terms of your ability to engage with the class and pick up matters before they become issues 
  • Be prepared to show you are a real human being and laugh at yourself  
  • Never laugh at pupils  
  • If appropriate laugh with the pupil 
  • Do not ever show favouritism or overt dislike 
  • Develop the hearing of a bat and eyes in the back if your head 
  • Though it is your responsibility to present matters in a balanced way do not pretend to not have views 
  • Whether it sits heavily or not, you are a role model and if ex pupils remember you in the years to come it is more likely that it is you as a person they remember 
  • If you are fortunate, they will also feel you were a good teacher 
  • And most importantly remember schools do not exist merely to provide you with an income and pension 
  • Finally give yourself a break, perfection is utterly unrealistic 
    • seven great lessons out of ten and you have had an outstanding week; seven good lessons out of ten is a more than adequate target to aim for.  

How not to leave children feeling! Robert Blake on a boy returning to school after the holidays  

The School Boy

I love to rise in a summer morn, 
When the birds sing on every tree; 
The distant huntsman winds his horn, 
And the sky-lark sings with me. 
O! what sweet company.  

But to go to school in a summer morn 
O: it drives all joy away; 
Under a cruel eye outworn. 
The little ones spend the day. 
In sighing and dismay.  

Ah! then at times I drooping sit. 
And spend many an anxious hour. 
Nor in my book can I take delight, 
Nor sit in learnings bower. 
Worn thro’ with the dreary shower.  

How can the bird that is born for joy, 
Sit in a cage and sing. 
How can a child, when fears annoy, 
But droop his tender wing. 
And forget his youthful spring.  

O! father & mother. if buds are nip’d, 
And blolsoms blown away. 
And if the tender plants are strip’d 
Of their joy in the springing day, 
By sorrow and cares dismay.  

How shall the summer arise in joy 
Or the summer fruits appear, 
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy 
Or bless the mellowing year. 
When the blasts of winter appear.

Finally, to reassure all you who have been wondering why our unhappy royal emigrant needs 24 bathrooms in his modest mansion, stay calm.  

Bathroom in American English means a lavatory and washbasin – mind you that still seems as many as you would have in a service station.  

I believe there was a television series called ‘Versailles’, I suspect that no one revealed in that, that the building consisted of 1000 rooms had only the one ‘privy’ – how priorities change!  

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