There has been no Indian summer to enjoy so far. While it would be an exaggeration to say autumn is definitely established, there is now a definite nip in the air and the days are obviously shorter. The weather has meant late harvesting for some of our neighbours, and it is surprising to smell the aftereffects of harvesting coming from cut fields so late in a season which began over seven weeks ago. For those of you who garden I hope that, as we are, you are enjoying your autumn raspberries. With sliced pear they are a lovely dish to end the soft fruit season.

Tensions have been high this week because of Brexit. The debates in the House of Commons have revealed the best and worst of human behaviour. While trying to avoid sounding partisan I have to say Mr Johnson has rather exposed his inadequacies. In the same spirit I am willing to admit Mr Corbyn performed unexpectedly well. I know I will want to express views on what has been happening constitutionally in the next set of notes.

For ourselves, the limited amount of rain we have had has enabled good progress on the Stewardship programme. Three fields have now been prepared for drilling – that is ripped and rolled – and by next week the iron bridge will be ready for a modern drilling machine to cross it (before and after photos below). It was interesting to meet the very individual who installed it many years ago, as the brick bridge was no longer strong enough. At that time there were no rails. When they were welded on, a width of eleven feet was regarded as more than adequate – even though, when the roller is taken over – at a width of ten feet eleven inches – the task is testing!!

After looking at the Marie Thun calendar, a date has been chosen for making 500 and cpp. At the same time, two days have been earmarked for spraying 500. Given our sprayer has a capacity around 450 litres upwards of six tankful’s are used, and since spraying cannot start before 4pm and it is now dark by 7.30 the exercise spreads over two days.

This has not been an easy week with the cattle. Aside from a second still born calf this year, our hopes that the eye infection among the cattle was over were misguided. Moreover, this time one of the calves that needed treatment was still with its mother in the suckler herd. Fortunately, we have a mobile crush which meant there was no need to bring the entire herd in. Baachus, who rarely takes an interest even when new calves are being tagged, on this occasion felt differently or perhaps just saw the apparatus as giving him with something to provide a good scratch. The two from the young stock were split from their herd and put in the barn.

There is far better news as regards the sheep. While six cases of foot rot were found in the ewes, all but two of them looked generally very good. The lambs were not only drenched but weighed, and we were very pleased with their performance. Lleyn sheep are by no means the heaviest breed, but a goodly number weighed over 40kg. A matter under discussion is whether we need a new ram and, if we do, whether to go for a Vendeen or a Lleyn. Our previous experience has shown us that Vendeen rams throw good lambs so that is probably the direction we shall move in.

Overall the pastures look in good shape but the task of pulling ragwort seems endless and in the one thistly field, the plants are near to flowering so topping will be necessary next week. 

Discussion on pasture-fed has included comments not just on the value in ensuring that animals had clean water in their water troughs, but techniques to ensure it. Given what I had seen as I have gone around the farm earlier in the week, I have asked Theo to let me have a comprehensive survey of the water tanks. An issue which has generated much heat has been the validity of current approaches to carbon auditing. I must confess I have failed to follow this very closely.

The farm is currently well stocked with haylage and bedding straw. Organic straw has been ordered and should be with us soon. Much of the haylage is not for own use but for selling on later in the season when prices may be to our advantage. This is a new enterprise arising out of our growing relationship with a neighbouring farmer.

We have had visitors this week, one, an individual interested in a joint enterprise in the wood, and the other a selection of officers and elected members from Wychavon Council. This latter group came as part of a programme of visits set up by the council’s Regeneration Officer. The committee is charged with the task of exploring ways of helping local communities thrive. They came to us primarily because of interest in the Stockwood Community Benefit Society, and after a presentation from Sebastian and inputs from Chris, went on a tour of the Business Park and in particular the ground source energy set up. All seemed to go well – and so it should since Anne made some excellent Rock cakes.

In fact, this week quite an amount of time has been given to Business Park issues over and above the normal functions. As I think you are aware, we have regular formal meetings with our Fisher German support individual Dan Ballard. The meetings cover a range of issues but always have at their centre a review of the current position concerning leases and tenant happiness – or otherwise!

Back to school

The house suddenly became quieter on Thursday as the summer holidays came to an end. When the children got home after their first day full of happiness it really was a good feeling. Certainly not related to this was a second visit to the house by our robin. A visit which is so much more welcome compared to those of a pigeon.


The Proms are nearing their end, and despite my best efforts I have not managed to listen to all I had intended to. One matter I have been more successful in has been listening to some of the pre- concert talks. Their quality has varied from the sycophantic to the unintelligible, but most have been informative. One small snippet of information did catch my attention. Performers today are not taught to improvise except perhaps for organ scholars. Historically great pianists of the past saw improvisation as a normal part of their skill set.

..and reading

I am now reading the ‘Serpents Mark’ by S W Perry, the second in a series set in Elizabethan London, the first book of which I referred to on the 18th August. In it I learnt that customs officials in those days searched incoming goods primarily for seditious catholic literature rather than for drugs,

While I knew a little about the history of the London Custom House, first erected in the 14th century, burnt down in the Great Fire, then rebuilt by Christopher Wren, but later burnt down again, I realised how little I knew about the history of customs in this country. All I can say to others curious about the matter is, do not go there unless you are seeking a PhD – it’s far too complicated to be considered by ‘a thick farmer’ as my son-in-law likes to describe himself.

These historical novels often provide information not commonly known. At some time, we may all have wondered where London’s water supply came from as its population grew. I now know that from the late 1590’s waterwheels inserted under the arches of the Old London Bridge added to other sources of water, as well as being used to grind corn. These first wheels were destroyed in the Great Fire but speedily replaced. They finally were taken out of service in the early 19th century. Hard not to shudder at the thought of drinking water from that source.

Interesting language insights

Recent correspondence drew my attention to the fact that not all European languages use the same modern Latin alphabet. English now having given up the symbols for the various pronunciations of ‘th’ uses the modern Latin alphabet which includes the letter ‘J’.  It took my mind straight back to those dreaded French accents – acute, grave and circumflex. Quite what their purpose was, was never explained, but meeting other languages I found this practice of putting symbols above vowels or adding letters was common and appeared to have some relation to how a word was pronounced. This led to the obvious question, why are they absent from our language. 

I rapidly discovered I was in another minefield! 

Firstly, they are apparently called diacritics and though not found in Dutch and English are found in all other languages.

So why not English? Well you can take your pick as to which answer to choose. Perhaps the two that stand up to scrutiny are the introduction of the printing press allied to no common view as to correct spelling or pronunciation, and no national body to rule on what was right and wrong. The most entertaining answer I found suggested it had much to do with the unsanitary conditions in Victorian England which among other things caused genetic damage to our facial muscles which reduced our ability to use our mouths to speak either in an animated fashion or distinctly. The answer I suspect is the most likely is we don’t see any need for them. 

Google demonstrates that this basic question is a source of wonder to many, but as some wit wrote, “English manages without them because it is a pidgin language!”

And before I get jumped on, I am aware that diacritics can, for example, be found, often used by English poets! For example, if a poet wants the stress in beloved to be on the last syllable – ‘ed’ – a stress mark may be used.

To balance all these rather heavy matters I eased my mind by turning to a paperback by one of the great American humorous writers I am acquainted with. I refer to Richard Powell whose writings in his time were considered on a par with Joseph Heller author of Catch 22. “Don Quixote USA” has as its hero a naive and gullible American who gets caught up in the politics of a South American ‘banana republic’. No doubt one of the reasons I enjoy it so much is that in our time in Zambia the local attitude towards the volunteers of the Peace Corps seemed very close to how our hero Arthur Peabody Goodpasture was seen to behave.

I am very attached to the poems of John Mansfield and since Tewkesbury is, so to speak, just down the road I have chosen the poem below

Tewkesbury Road – Poem by John Masefield

It is good to be out on the road, and going one knows not where,
Going through meadow and village, one knows not whither or why; 
Through the grey light drift of the dust, in the keen cool rush of the air,
Under the flying white clouds, and the broad blue lift of the sky.

And to halt at the chattering brook, in a tall green fern at the brink
Where the harebell grows, and the gorse, and the foxgloves purple and white; 
Where the shifty-eyed delicate deer troop down to the brook to drink
When the stars are mellow and large at the coming on of the night.

O, to feel the beat of the rain, and the homely smell of the earth,
Is a tune for the blood to jig to, and joy past power of words; 
And the blessed green comely meadows are all a-ripple with mirth
At the noise of the lambs at play and the dear wild cry of the birds.

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