Spring is on its way!

I believe I need to start with the beauty of the advancing spring. Whether it is our gardens, or out on the farm it is all around us. On the ground the cyclamen have been joined by a fantastic display of snowdrops. Along the hedges catkins abound, in the air and on the ground, the mating season for the birds seems at its peak, the first bees are out and about, as are the evening moths. We must hope all this is not a cruel trick.

Harbingers Of Spring – Poem by F. Kenrick

‘Springs just around the corner
The harbingers we see
The bulbs are pushing through the earth
And bulbs adorn the trees
Now days are getting longer
Nights not quite so dark
The sun rays getting stronger
And fields don’t look so stark
The hedgerow starts to thicken
As plants begin to grow
This forms a perfect hiding place
For the birds to go
They nest and fledge their young there
And fill the air with song
They know they’ve got to hurry
Spring doesn’t last for long’

Farming Life

I am rather at a loss to know how to describe the week that is past on the farm as it has led to such a mix of emotions. The outcome of the testing of the cattle for Johnes and BVD was part good and part bad. However, it was not susceptible to immediate judgement since the results may well have been coloured by the last-but-one TB testing, and so no decisions can be made. The fact that twenty cows are in calf is great news, but seven of the twenty have question marks over their heads. And hanging over us overall is our inability to see how TB is alleged to be in our closed herd, and just what we might do.

What is positive is the situation re feed and bedding straw. It is good news also that Milly turns out to be a strong swimmer and survived her reckless plunge into the swollen brook! 

The frost most mornings allowed vehicles on the pastures for a brief period, but though the puddles have gone, the ground remains waterlogged. Those out there for scanning on Sunday, which started at 8am, were grateful that there was no frost and even better – already warming sunshine. This year the results are the best ever at a ratio of 1.92 lambs per ewe. Excellent news on which to end the week.

Jack’s work in the wood continues. The bramble is so well adapted to our soil and climate the task of keeping it under control is rather like painting the Firth of Forth bridge used to be – apparently the paint now used makes that saying redundant – but so what. Having the extra pair of reliable hands that Jack adds to the mix, has been a great boon this winter. Come March he may have to share his ‘home’ with another as we are expecting an enthusiastic organic gardener to join us for the month to start off the sowing in the vegetable garden.

I have just written a piece for the parish magazine on how Anne and I got involved in farming. No doubt it is rather subjective, but it is meant to be our view. What it does underline is that time, in human terms, is not a constant. The past twelve or thirteen years has rushed past.

Excellent GP’s 

For myself the week has been less productive than usual. My lifelong friend asthma has rather dragged me down, but a reluctant visit to the GP seems to have already had a very positive effect. For the record, our GP service here is a wonder. I was at the surgery just after 8am and home before nine with the necessary medicines from the ever-cheerful pharmacists.  So, apart from listening to Rubinstein play Chopin rather repetitively I listened to little music until the weekend when I got sucked in to listening to the Berlioz weekend celebration of his music. The effect on my reading was similar, and what I have read has taken me into depressing territory not least in reminding how me how dangerous it is to live in a world where we seem to replicate the model of secondary education where joined up thinking is either anathema or too demanding to contemplate. Specialism obviously has taken us forward, but we so often fail to see its dangers. Being the world expert on potatoes or black holes, does not make you what I, or indeed hopefully many understand, as being an educated person.

Germany on my mind

Whether it is chance or something more significant, yet again I have been drawn into a book at the centre of which is Berlin. I have only the once met individuals who saw themselves as Berliners through and through. The married couple were well known artists – indeed we have paintings by both on the walls of our home. Of significance is that our other German friends saw them as almost an alien breed. Hans Stein’s Paintings encompass a range from the bombed-out ruins of the city, to rural landscapes, and are bold and dramatic, while those of Anneli Schwager are impressionistic, use more muted colours and are ‘less in your face’.

Whatever, for some reason I am currently dipping into a book about the Weimar Republic. The back cloth and complicated politics of the period were not new to me, but this book covers so much more, including philosophy, art, architecture and all the matters Christopher Isherwood wrote about, and from whose writings the film Cabaret is derived. Above all, it emphasis what an innovative period this was creatively, and this is underlined by the excellent illustrations.

Despite the back cover carrying an endorsement from Eric Hobshawn, do not let that put you off. Much of the writing about the creative arts was rather beyond me, but a part I could relate to concerned the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, and his rejection of philosophy from Plato and Socrates to his time, and the major influence upon him of Nietzsche and Spengler. Spengler, by the way, had views on war that can be seen in Wagner, and very obviously in the thoughts of Adolf Hitler. 

Heidegger’s most famous book ‘Being and Time’ posited that the real question philosophers should ask is ‘what is the meaning of Being’ – the word in German is Dasein.

Since he apparently felt the German language was the only one in which this question could be discussed, I felt somewhat relieved at my inadequacies, but at least I now realise that this, and his attachment to Nazi ideology probably explains why he was not on the list of philosophers I studied!

Very unfairly I felt the name of Mary Whitehouse come to mind in reading of his views – simply because of her attempts to hold back change, in a minor way, mirrored his.

The next obvious thought was the advantages of an evolved democracy and the well-developed checks and balances, together with the military knowing its place, such as ours, at times of trial such as the 1920’s, the 1930s, the 1970’s and 2008.

It is for these reasons I think talk about Brexit, whichever way it goes, leading to a total societal breakdown, is rubbish.

The book is by Eric D Weitz and published by Princetown University Press

Owain Glendower

I have written before about myths, and how every nation or family group for that matter, has its own and many like the Anglo-Saxons happily adopted myths from the people’s they overran. 

‘In our time’ a few weeks ago had Owain Glendower as the matter for discussion. First thoughts were about how much, or perhaps more honestly, how little mention is made of him in English history books. The discussion reminded me of that program in the six-part series presented by Hugh Edwards on The History of Wales, where the picture of Glendower as a Welsh nationalist was presented.

Unlike King Arthur, the discussion made clear that the man certainly did exist, and that he was part of the Anglo-Welsh nobility, that he did for nearly a decade lead an uprising, but that the uprising was not, certainly at the start, essentially about nationalism, but just part of a number of baronial struggles for power at a time when the new King, Henry IV was weak. Worth remarking that all the evidence points to Glendower living out his final years peaceably with the family of one of his daughters in Herefordshire.

Afterwards I turned to Robert Tombs to check whether I had overlooked mention of this great man. But no, that author saw English priorities elsewhere; the reduction of the population from 6,000,000 to 2,5,000,000, a weak impoverished king facing attack the from the French, the Scots and his own powerful barons together with issues over heresy and Lollards. The absence of any mention of Glendower I assume indicates how in the overall scale of things, his uprising was no more than a mosquito bite.

Other less Anglocentric historians do refer to his years of rebellion, but affirm his legacy was reprisals, leading to over 120 years of hardship and second-rate citizenship for the Welsh and rescinded only by Henry VIII in the 1530’s.

But all historians, except for a small number of nationalists, make the point that the Wales of 1400 was not the tribal Wales of popular imagination, and that during this period it was not the English being the aggressors but their neighbours primarily to the north and across the sea.

So, as always, it is up to each of us as individuals to decide what to cling to! If you are in fact English and I believe the definition of that as given by the author of ‘small island’, Andrea Levy, it is perhaps worth bearing in mind that it seems an English characteristic will see the worst in themselves, enhanced by viewing the past through the prism of modern eyes. Yet another form of exceptionalism that we so often hear in any national discourse.

How’s your French?

Despite clear blue skies and warm days, we have had a number of beautiful frosty mornings with a large orange-red sun rising over a blue horizon and shedding light for all to enjoy.

My own capabilities as a French speaker fall into the category of Franglais but the poem below seemed just too apt to not share.

Apologies for the failure to insert accents – beyond my technological competence

LA GELÉE  (frost) By Anne Marie Chapoutom

Ce matin, Il y avait

Des milliers

De diamants

Dans les champs.

Les gens ont dit :

“C’est la gelée.”

Mais moi

Je sais bien

Que c’est la lune

Qui a fait craquer

Tous ses colliers.

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