“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”
It would be very un-British not to start with the weather, especially given our concerns about growth on the pastures.
Sadly, it has remained stubbornly atypical, in that though temperatures may have fallen slightly towards the end of the week, what has not fallen is rain. Even sadder is the forecast for next week. At one level I have to laugh, for years as an ordinary citizen, the thought of weather like this would have been a pleasure in which to revel!
Bad news on the TB testing front I regret. We shall be losing at least 4% of the herd, and possibly 9%, all this after a lengthy period, symptom free. Without doubt a damper on a week which otherwise had to that point been going well.
Looking for a silver lining, it means Alice has now really seen the highs and lows of livestock farming. Earlier this week she was involved in the successful assisted birthing of a calf that presented itself backwards, while on a daily basis she has been involved in all aspects of lambing. Lambing has been going very well, with nearly three-quarters of the flock having lambed and with negligible losses. The next destination for ewes and their tagged youngsters will be the field by the drive, while the rams are moved onto their field on the other side of the drive.
In terms of cattle movements, all was complicated by the outcome of the testing, as the ‘inconclusive reactors’ and ‘reactors’ have to be kept separate, but the extra barn space means only two fields have to be found. The two fields identified, now have the cattle on them. What I suspect many of you are unaware of, is that once TB is found in a herd, other consequences come into play, one certainly is required, and that is bringing ourselves up to date with current restrictions and being swamped by paperwork.
Incidentally, determining that an animal has TB is nothing to do with how they look, as Alice and Brendan said, the three reactors externally look very good!
I must acknowledge the input by Tim and Alice to the lambing; Alice has been a godsend. Also contributing have been Rosie, helping Alice with the bottle feeding, and Brendan who on Friday left London at the crack of dawn to play his familiar part in the cattle testing and moving. A great team all round.
Next week will continue to be about lambing, and also cleaning out the main barn. A tedious but necessary task. There will also be the need to ‘decontaminate’ – all part of the work required post the finding of TB.
As to the garden, though some flowers are fading, others are taking their place, including very vigorous purple honesty, a plant that has struggled a little to establish itself. In our garden in Bromsgrove the honesty grew freely but was always white. Our various apple trees are either in full bloom or merely at bud burst, obviously a joyous sight except for the niggling fear of a late frost. Despite our best efforts to keep them out, a rabbit has been seen. Happily, not before our holly hocks have grown on strongly.
Alice was the fortunate person to be the first to hear a cuckoo this year, so far, we have not heard one by the house.
I am sorry to have to tell you that though the crane breeding population nationally is apparently thriving, so far none have reached us. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that we once again have a barn owl hunting over the farm which is good news. We also have had our first sighting this week of a green woodpecker feeding on ants. Finally, and rather late, the bird boxes we had as a wedding anniversary present last year are now in place.
I have to confess to being deeply frustrated by the self-imposed constraints on the length of these notes. There have been so many gems this week to share, from a range of American publications, aside from books I have been, and in some cases am still, reading.
The puzzle of the Easter bunny
One I will share because it contains a puzzle that has defeated me. For centuries, if not millennium, the hare has figured as an important symbol, particularly at Easter – incidentally a term it seems, restricted in use to the United Kingdom and Germany (Oestra according to Bede was an Anglo-Saxon saint, and Jacob Grimm of German folk story fame, though she would have been called Ostara in ancient German). Indeed, neolithic people buried a hare beside the body of a dead person, and for the Romans the hare was a sacred creature. Later in the 16th century came the notion of eggs, and both the English and Germans turned the hare into a delicacy to be eaten at Easter. Yet now we refer to the Easter bunny – why and when did the rabbit replace the hare?
As a wedding present Anne’s grandmother gave me a copy of Rudolf Steiner’s seminal book “The Philosophy of Freedom”. I struggled with it then, though understand it a little better now. I had two basic problems in making sense of it and they were over the understanding of ‘freedom’ and who it was that Steiner was in dispute with on so many pages.
The latter I at last understood when in a second-hand bookshop shop in a small town in Somerset I came across a two-volume book devoted to the German philosophers of the 19th century. The vast majority of whom I had never heard of before, but having read both books, I had a better idea of whom Steiner was in dispute with and possibly even over what. It was I admit an eyeopener to discover how seriously Germans apparently took philosophy!
Secondly, I came to realise that ‘freedom’ as used by Steiner, and perhaps generally in Europe at that time, meant freedom to think.
While freedom as I understood it had nothing to do with what went on in people’s heads but solely referred to physical matters. It seemed very clear then to me and even more clear today, that what I think, is solely my business, though what I do think is something that is obviously influenced by internal and external influences, which assuming a degree of freewill, we will choose what to make of these. Looking back at life between 5 and 17, what irritated me most at church was being told what I ought to think and having no chance to ask the obvious questions such as why and where the evidence is.
Picking up from my last set of notes, I have been thinking a great deal about the various understandings of ‘freedom and liberty’ without finding a great deal of help from the various books on matters cultural. For myself, I found it difficult in thinking about those words to disassociate myself from the concept of free will, and to a lesser extent equality.
Recourse to the dictionary was not a great help since the definitions given make clear how very much ground each word covers. Add to that the obvious reality that the meaning of these words has interpretations that depend greatly on the nature of the society concerned.
In plain English, freedom means that I am free to do what I like, so long as I remain within the laws written, and otherwise of the state in which I live.
Liberty on the other hand is something given to me.
“May I ride your bike” illustrates liberty. “I shall ride my own bike” illustrates freedom.
So far, I have made no reference to tolerance, let alone what that might mean, again time and society determine the meaning of this word, and this seems particularly relevant today at least in America, and this country, where increasingly, minority groups push against the envelope of meaning. Tolerance in France appears to mean to many English thinkers as accepting behaviour that is, in our understanding of the word, illegal. But here we stray into even deeper waters, so I will recoil a little and go back in time.
Tolerance as we understand it in this country dates back to the point at which the power of the Catholic church was broken and it was, with ups and downs, at last realised that belief was a personal matter, and it was only behaviour that the state could take action on.
So, I am free to think what I like, but am not at liberty to translate these thoughts into action if it would impinge on the thinking of others.
So, for example, in this country, and many others, as an individual we can feel abortion is wrong, but the fact is that, living in a democracy, we have to live within the rules as laid down by the state.
Returning to my original assertion that thinking lies outside the power of religion or government, I was careful to caveat this. Eire, until relatively recently, was entirely under the thumb of the Roman Catholic church, and how you thought had to match how you acted.
Today we see the same situation in a number of states headed by dictators, or societies where religion dominates. Every government in one way or another attempts to influence the thinking of its people. Businesses, through advertising are in the same business, but at least we know that is their purpose.
Goebbels in the Nazi period developed propaganda to a new and more effective level. Currently the Russians are going even further. Rather like Trump and in a lesser way Johnson, they clearly believe the more you repeat a lie the more it becomes to be believed. Brainwashing of course, hardly a new technique but not one to be expected in the 21st century.
It is also worth remembering the words of Montesquieu, in societies accustomed to despotism, freedom has a quite different meaning. Moreover, thinking of individual human nature, many prefer a well-defined framework in which to live, a fact I learnt through years of management.
Turning to books: I have given up reading the whole of Piers Plowman. It may be a glory of English 14th century writing but it is easy to see why the Canterbury tales by Chaucer are still read, and William Langland is much less known. That which I did read reminded me of John Bunyan’s work “The Pilgrims Progress”. That of course was written in the 17th century and Bunyan was a protestant.
For me the ‘Pilgrims Progress’ was without doubt a formative read. I cannot date when I read it, but I was probably nine or ten since my copy proudly bares a label saying Ex Libris and underneath Adrian Parsons. I confess attempting to read it again a few months ago I was unable to stick the course, but notwithstanding that, though I failed to become a Christian in Bunyan’s definition, the tribulations his pilgrim suffered have never been forgotten.
It has been in my mind for some time to explore the notion of alliterative verse. A form of poetry restricted it appears to languages like the English and German of the 5th century, largely gone in German by the 11th but still in use in Middle English in the 14th century.
It was the poetry of a warrior people, but little survives in manuscript. The term alliterative verse was apparently first used in the 16th century by which time it described a long-gone approach to poetry. The form was clearly fixed and required that each line in a verse should be broken in two with, in the first half at least two words beginning with the same initial letter and sound and, in the second part at least one word having that followed that pattern.
It is best seen in English in the poem Beowulf, which dates from perhaps the 6th century, and eventually appeared in Old English in the 11th century. Following the Norman Conquest, alliterative poetry seems to have gone to be replaced by rhyming verse. ‘Piers Plowman’ in the late 14th century, written at around the time of the ‘Canterbury Tales’, is perhaps the last significant recorded use of alliterative verse. Since then, it has been rarely seen. The line A feir feld full of folk : Fond per bitwene (line 18 and ‘p’ is our ‘th’). exemplifies this pattern.
I set out two longer examples:
The first is from a modern translation by one of our leading poets seeking to preserve the original style of the poem Beowulf:
“He was four times a father, this fighter prince:
one by one they entered the world,
Heorogar, Hrothgar, the good Halga
and a daughter, I have heard, who was Onela´s queen,
a balm in bed to the battle-scarred Swede.”
This next piece is from lines 18 to 20 of Piers Plowman:
“ A feir feld full of folk || fond I þer bitwene,
Of alle maner of men, || þe mene and þe riche,
Worchinge and wandringe || as þe world askeþ.”
So, our ancestors preferred their rhyme expressed in a different way from the Romance languages who expected their need for rhyme at the end of lines. The death of alliterative verse did not of course mean that alliteration ceased to be a common feature of verse or for that matter advertising. I still recall:
“Men at sea will often hanker for the flavour of an anchor”
More seriously, that ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ that appeared a staple of the ’O’ level English literature examination displays the value of alliteration perfectly:
“The fair breeze blow, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.”
Finally, a verse from the 20th century employing alliteration for effect. The verse comes from the Edgar Allen Poe poem ‘The Raven’:
“Closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay like a load on my weary eye,”
Today, putting to one side advertising, alliteration is very often found in children’s stories.
Most of us as parents or grandparents will be familiar with the stories of Lynley Dodd celebrating the adventures of Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy and his many friends including Schnitzel von Krumm with the very low tum, and from Germany this appears to follow a similar pattern.
The verse below is by Peter Maar and appropriately called ‘Choir of Hornets’:
summen im Chor.
Weil die Hornissen
ihren Text nicht mehr wissen.
So was kommt vor.”
Where the sound of the double ‘Ss’ repeats. No need of a translation I think but I am grateful to a very good friend for the poem.
Finally, back to English, tongue twisters like ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers’ retain their popularity.
I cannot end in a week like this has been without some political comment. I first think a few words on ‘zeitwende’ are called for because recent events suggest that the word had no real bite to it.
First, it is obvious that Germany is certainly not going to hurt its economy by acting against Russia promptly. Secondly, it may be increasing the proportion of GDP spent on defence, but given the state of Germany’s defence equipment, most of that new money, if it arrives, will be needed merely to make what they have operational.
Additionally, the latest news makes it is now clear that there is no question of actually sending any useful military gear to Ukraine.
I think we should be careful how excited we are about the news from the EU that after sanctions against Russia were agreed in 2014, France and Germany ignored them to the tune of £300,000,000, since in both world wars dealings between neutrals and combatants are well attested, and nobody had clean hands. That said, as the leaders of the EU, perhaps higher standards might, at least by the naive been expected.
A minor rant. In the Commons this week Mr Johnson is said to have apologised 49 times. Later that day he met with Conservative MPs. One of those members, admittedly hardly a fan of the man, walked out early telling interviewers that there was no hint of that apologetic manner or apology he had displayed earlier, but instead was in great good cheer and displaying his normal style of bombastic bluster.
Drawing a conclusion about an individual able to display apparent abject apology in one forum, and the opposite in another, all within minutes is all too simple.
Finally, Anne and I had our fourth vaccination on Thursday afternoon and, despite horror stories seem to have survived with only minor side effects.
Having spent hours waiting for the results of the TB testing of the cattle I turned to Ogdon Nash from whom comes this sad gem.
And middle aged ends
The day your descendants Outnumber your friends