Reflection and renewal

However strange this period is in so many ways, it is Easter, a time for reflection and renewal. It may be for you as it is for us, not quite what we are used to, but the message remains and even if we cannot be with others in the flesh we certainly can in spirit.  Happy Easter all of you.

What a huge effect on morale, warmth and sunshine bring. Though the troubles of self and the world remain unchanged, it is possible to view them in a new light. On a very personal note I have for the first time in nearly three weeks ‘walked’ the dogs before going to bed. I write ‘walked’ because to be honest the exercise for them is more about enjoying interesting smells than keeping me company. The week has also seen bright moonlight which means no torch is needed and the ‘lockdown’ means no noise of car tyres or revving engines, no flashing light in the sky or sound of overflying high, low with vast headlights if their landing path takes them over us. No noise in other words other than the faint scuffling noises from the hedges and the cries of tawny owls hunting over the brook. A time to relax and be grateful to be alive despite no sighting of the ‘pink super moon’ on Wednesday evening.

This burst of summer found me sitting in the garden gazing at the completely pale blue sky and for a moment wondering why I saw no swallows or swifts. And then reality struck, I have not yet heard a cuckoo. The grandchildren are making the most of the combination of fine weather and no school and currently working on becoming either circus gymnasts or Olympic performers. The three dogs loll around watching their antics with mild interest – too hot to want to have the ball thrown for them.

The fine weather has meant work on the farm infrastructure has been carrying on apace and a surge in demand for meat means that this week more of our lambs were sold as will some seven of our young stock. Given the complicated year we face in terms of grazing, this is all very good news. Lambing preparations are well advanced. More organic nuts have arrived, and we hope this extra effort on our part to ready ewes will ensure lambing goes well.

There has been no confirmation yet as to when the final reseeding will take place, nor any new correspondence from the RPA, but we have this week started the erection of more new fencing. In the process an untidy corner where the bridle path turns sharply towards the barn has been cleared of brambles and properly integrated into the field. Separate from this activity has been a major ‘push’ to tidy the windrows and we can now see what a large area we have here. There will be at least one trailer load of pig netting to be sold, plastic bags with unusable feed have been emptied, and the contents composted with old bales of straw. In truth it was an unsightly area in which before we could take little pride.

We also now have clear photographic evidence of the effect of flooding. The scrape may well have protected areas downstream but at a cost! Whether grass will regrow we have yet to see.

As far as the lakes in the gallop are concerned all that can be seen now are damp patches. You will recall these lakes formed in the area of the field where quarrying at some time in the past had left deep depressions. The grass appears to be growing back here.

I am sure the absence of any reference recently to woofers has been noticed. I hardly need to tell you why, but they are missed. I have been refusing applications over the past weeks and getting increasingly uncertain as to whether restrictions on travel will have been lifted by late June when we were looking forward very much to students from ISARA in Lyon. We stay in touch with many of our ‘friends’ in other countries and so far, all seems well, if worrying, for them.

Biodynamic Gardening Calendar

Some time ago, the publishers Floris asked Rush Farm to try out their new app for the Maria Thun planting calendar. This calendar we have been using since we started farming. This time of year is the very best time to start using it for all the preparation for work that is going in in home gardens, horticultural establishments and farms. It is a very useful adjunct to the calendar that Floris publish every year in that one can check up quickly on one’s mobile without having to plod back to the potting shed or Kitchen. To find it, search for the Biodynamic Gardening Calendar in the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store, and when you find the app you will be guided to download.

Perhaps linked to the weather and the consequent activity on the farm, my own mind has been much more engaged this week. While stamp sorting has continued I have, thanks to the third book in the SW Perry series, had my eyes opened to two areas I had felt reasonably knowledgeable about – firstly the relationship between the expansion of empire and the role of the incorporated trading company and secondly the situation in the Mediterranean from the 15th to 18th centuries.

XY or XX and onwards

Before going into that, the week started with a fascinating discussion on the radio on that driest of dry subjects ’Sex and Gender’. A lifetime ago I worked in a London Borough which had declared itself a “nuclear free zone”, and where to suggest that women were in any way different from men was sufficient to get a final written warning.

While at that time it was known that there were chromosomal differences between the sexes, the knowledge was very limited. It was known that only men have both X and Y chromosomes, but it was assumed that while women have two X chromosomes one of these was inactive. Now it is known that this notion was false. 

Apparently, our immune system derives from the X chromosome and that in men can be described as ‘lazy.’ Women therefore have more effective immune systems since they have two sets of the X chromosome both of which a women’s body can call upon. There is much speculation that the higher death rate in men rather than in women from coronavirus, is attributable to this. There are of course a whole range of implications that might now need to be explored, not least the basic notion that there is no gender difference between drug tolerance.

Like I am sure every individual of serious Cornish ancestry, from my childhood I knew of ‘wreckers’, possible Spanish blood in the family post the Armada, the stannaries’ and of course, if your family came from the south coast and tip of Cornwall, of Barbary Corsairs raiding coastal villages for slaves.

While the first two matters also certainly had no truth in them the last two were very real. The ‘tinners’ Parliament – the stannaries’, certainly did exist and were found in both Cornwall and Devon. They date back to a time when Norman maps of England showed Cornwall as a separate kingdom with its own King. (In passing you may not be aware that with the publication in 2006 of the findings of those exploring the DNA of the United Kingdom, a clear consistent difference between the Cornish and those from the other bank of the Tamar appeared)

The raids for slaves were not confined to the Cornish coast but to the coasts of all Europe from France to Italy and for a period of two hundred years these were a serious problem especially for the countries on the northern coast of the Mediterranean. It is estimated that perhaps a million slaves were captured to enter the slave markets of the Ottoman Empire during this period, an empire whose demand for slaves almost certainly was in the same league as the Romans.

I had imagined I knew a certain amount about the Mediterranean from Roman and Greek times through to today. I either have failed to remember or failed to register in Fernand Braudel’s famous writing the incredible turmoil in the area until, sufficiently irritated, Britain and others forced calm by stamping out the endemic piracy. As a stamp collector I knew of British stamps overprinted Morocco Agencies and Tangier and had of course seen the film Casablanca. I certainly was not aware that Morocco all but became England’s oldest ally – typical perhaps of King John that he failed in that venture.

Whether it is true or not it seems quite probable that piracy/slaving became really bad in the area between the 16th and 18th centuries because the Europeans captured the trade in black Africans while at the same time the Moors had decisively defeated the Portuguese and ended that nation’s slaving activities in the Mediterranean. Of course, particularly in the Balkan states under the Empire ‘blood money’ was a normal part of life. It is really only in this century that historians have unearthed as much detail as is now available. 

All world groups whether religious or power based, prefer to concentrate on the positives of their past rather than the less savoury aspects. Leaving to one side the United States which lives in a world of its own, a key problem for Christians and Muslims alike, is to recognise their respective empires had both positives and negatives to their existence.

Fascinating though all that is and, if you wish to follow it up, read ’Piracy and Captivity in the Mediterranean 1550 to 1810’ edited by Maria Klarer – but be aware the Kindle edition is vastly cheaper than the print version. 

I actually was equally fascinated by discovering the role of English Chartered Trading Companies in the Mediterranean. Again, I knew from other sources including stamp collecting, how much of the world eventually became pink on the map because of the activity of such companies elsewhere, but I had not realised how active they had been in the Mediterranean. Some failed, others merged but they all had a significant impact. For the record, looking at the world as a whole, such companies were certainly not confined to the English but in terms of numbers and sprawl, even the Scandinavians, great traders though they were, came nowhere near. Moreover, the initiatives which led to their creation varied greatly from country to country. The British really were not seriously driven by missionary zeal or territorial ownership until well into the Victorian period as perhaps neatly exemplified by the New Zealand Company.

I referred to the failure of King John. It was Elizabeth I who, towards the end of her reign established the contact and the agreement with Morocco that lasted for centuries and did much to protect British trade. Wool to Morocco in return for spices to England.

Piracy in the Adriatic and the role of the Uskoks I leave to someone else to explore. I do have reference books on Balkan history but do not feel competent to write about it.

Slavery is probably as old as prostitution and no nation or group of peoples has clean hands. Moreover, like prostitution it still thrives today and probably in as many forms. We delude ourselves if we think otherwise.

Suddenly I feel the tone of this note has become bleak. That was certainly not my intention, nor does it reflect the pleasure during this week I got from exploring aspects of world history. I end therefore with a poem which though it may never make anthologies has, I feel, a strong resemblance to the Queens’s Speech last Sunday. 

Supposedly written in 1869 by Kathleen O’Mara, all the evidence points to it having been written in March of this year by an American called Kitty O’Meara

And people stayed at home
And read books
And listened
And they rested
And did exercises
And made art and played
And learned new ways of being
And stopped and listened
More deeply
Someone meditated, someone prayed
Someone met their shadow
And people began to think differently
And people healed.
And in the absence of people who
Lived in ignorant ways
Dangerous, meaningless and heartless,
The earth also began to heal
And when the danger ended and
People found themselves
They grieved for the dead

And made new choices
And dreamed of new visions
And created new ways of living
And completely healed the earth
Just as they were healed.

For those of you for whom this is too fluffy try this by one of Europe’s greatest poets of this century, Rainer Maria Rilke

The future: time’s excuse
to frighten us; too vast
a project, too large a morsel
for the heart’s mouth.

Future, who won’t wait for you?
Everyone is going there.
It suffices you to deepen
the absence that we are

I could hardly let you go without this Cornish shanty!

I’ve stood on Cape Cornwall in the sun’s evening glow,
On Chywoone Hill at Newlyn to watch the fishing fleets go,
Watched the sheave wheels at Geevor as they spun around,
And heard the men singing as they go underground,
And no one will ever move me from this land,
Until the Lord calls me to sit at his hand,
For this is my Eden, and I’m not alone,
For this is my Cornwall and this is my home,
I’ve left childish footsteps in the soft Sennen sand,
I’ve chased the maids there, all giggly and tanned,
I’ve stood on the cliff top in a westerly blow,
And heard the wave thunder on the rocks far below,

First thing in the morning, on Chapel Carn Brea,
To gaze at the Scillies in the blue far away,
For this is my Cornwall, and I’ll tell you why,
Because I was born here and here I shall die.

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