The blackberries are ripe to eat!

I began the week feeling distressed. Last week I mentioned walking over raw, but cold, lava. This was in Iceland in 1960. In an idle moment I thought that I would look on a map to trace the route we walked all those years ago. I could find no atlas gave me sufficient detail so resorted to my iPad. I very quickly wished I hadn’t, the Iceland of 2021 appears to bear little relationship to the country I visited. Tourism appears to now be the main staple of the economy, and the inevitable result is the loss of the charm and isolation we enjoyed. You no longer can even get there by boat from the UK.  It rarely pays to revisit scenes of past adventures not least because it also rubs in the fact of how much time has passed in the interim. 

One pleasure to share with you is an advertisement we saw when watching the new series of Midsomer Murders – normally we only watch recordings so as to avoid the adverts by using ‘fast forward’ but not last Sunday evening. Most quite defeat me, but the one that somehow summed up this world in which producers keep offering us products that few of us need or want was as advert that stated that: “You choose the future.” What an absolute nonsense! Tens of thousands of men and women all round the world work very hard to persuade us that it is not them who choose the future as they produce more and more unnecessary goods. And millions lap it up! The title of a book read years ago which I knew was relevant escaped my memory but, knowing the author was Vance Packard saved my bacon. The book was called “The hidden persuaders” which exposed all this, but while read by many, and widely applauded, changed nothing. The whole topic reminds me of the sitcoms of past years which rested on the notion that ‘keeping up with the Jones’ was the main driver of life for many. 

For myself, obtaining the long-awaited new spectacles – even if the opticians ignored part of the problem – was a great bonus, not least because I got to Waterstones Bookshop in Worcester for the first time in years – not yet having my new glasses ensured no vast purchases, though Chris did buy me a map of Iceland! Sadly, on arrival at the farmhouse I discovered the opticians had installed the wrong lenses. 

The Farm

For the farm I am very happy to record that at last we have had the necessary rain for our fields, and with the higher temperatures at the end of the week, there will be more growth. Having said that, given we now have significantly reduced the proportion of perennial Italian ryegrass in our fields as part to our contribution to the environment, we are caught between a rock and a hard place as far as ensuring our ewes have sufficient protein to ‘throw’ healthy lambs. Traditional grass mixes do not provide the protein needed by many ewes towards the end of their pregnancy.

Sown cover mix

The Pasture-Fed certification presses us to abandon organic protein loaded feeds because they are not 100% grass, while happy to allow non-organic rye grasses to be grown by those it certifies – if it is not the government, there are many other bureaucracies to cause us grief! 

Sunday was a very wet but busy morning down at the barn where Chris and Will, supported by four children, drenched the ewes. The kind of activity only possible on a family farm like this, where all, except for the ancient members of the family expect to play their part. The exercise actually drew attention to the fact that at long last the blackberries are plump and ripe to eat. Apple and blackberry crumble cooked by a granddaughter is a real treat. 

Towards the end of the week, it was the turn of the lambs to receive their planned attention. The weights of the lambs are not as good as had been hoped, but I referred to the action we might take to adjust to the reduced nutritional value of our pastures that are in the Stewardship plan, and the likely consequences, so for me at least, having re-explored the average national figures, came reassurance. 

On Thursday we had our now weekly tour of the farm. The area in front of the barn has now been sorted with hardcore, and planeings laid over the hard core, while an adjustment has been made to ensure the better drainage for the new barn. All is now to look very trim.   The fencers have been at work, and in places more gates installed to make the movement of stock around the farm that much easier. Except for the drive, all fences to be replaced are gone. Despite all the rain, many ditches are still dry, and the scrape is only marginally fuller, though the ground in places is much softer.  

Dry ditch

The suckler herd is now on field three, and inevitably there are some muddy patches where the cattle have stood around. All seemed well, and our visit caused some excitement to many – particularly the calves in the area by the scrape. 

At the top of the hill the bull showed some interest. He had lost his ring since the last time we looked at him, did move away slightly, but coped with Chris taking close ups of his nose. Also in that part of the field were two cows with their three young calves – one set of twins and a single. While the twins were old enough to be interested in us, the very young single huddled up to his mother. Perhaps the image from the trip that remained with me was the slight figure of our youngest grandson keeping these very large animals at bay by standing in front of the ATV in a classic traffic policeman pose. ‘At bay’ is, of course, a bit over the top since the animal were merely wanting to have a sniff or lick, and his father was shutting the field gate, and I was off the vehicle taking photographs, but the image is as I portrayed it.

The sheep were totally disinterested in us, and after the excitements earlier in the week are now in two neighbouring fields. Though there is plenty of grazing at this time of year the stock have feeding trailers available to them.

You may recall we had some involvement with the Worcester Wildlife Trust. That organisation had gained government

funding to explore ways of reducing phosphate in the waters of the Bow brook. Early in the week I received a set of papers from the Trust including a phosphate management plan for our farm. This paper appears to suggest that we do nothing but continue to farm biodynamically – very good news. 

Other papers included a useful geological analysis of the farm – I obviously have the official geological map, but that does not show in enough detail the complications arising from the farm sitting on three slightly different subsoils; details of, ‘in threat fauna and flora’ either on the farm, within one kilometre or within two kilometres are all sadly rather out of date, but I will share with them our own more accurate information. Sadly, the soil analysis was not as detailed as we would have liked, but they cannot be blamed for that as the data they had collected met their needs.  Anyway, all very interesting, and I have already had a useful starting conversation with the key individual at the trust, Caroline Corsie. Now that our former Natural England advisor is not as available to us as she used to be, contact with Caroline is all the more important since she is very much an agronomist. 

The last Hollyhocks

The garden has been really revived by the rain, and along with the roses, the asters – so beloved by bees – flourish, as do the sedum and cyclamen.

Despite the new reality of a rabbit population in the garden, the hollyhocks long over, have plenty of growth for next year and, I admit it freely, the grass now cut, does enhance the overall appearance. 

Bee loving Astor
Autumn Cyclamen

Otherwise, a few thoughts to share: As belief in science reaches levels once associated with religion, an article shared with me by Anne, reminded me of John Casti’s book, “Paradigms Lost” that is somewhere on the bookshelves and was published sometime in the late 1980’ or 1990’s. The book explored a number of scientific certainties that over time turned out to be false. I think I found this particular book almost as influential to my thinking as Karl Popper’s writings, and Schumacher, who wrote “Small is beautiful”. The reason I refer to it here is that a word expressed by Hippocrates and dismissed for centuries: ‘miasma’ has now become acceptable as the ‘experts’ realise Covid is airborne, and that most recommended safety actions were a waste of time.

I would never advocate a Michael Gove approach towards experts, who can do no more than work with what they know, and their own prejudices and, like teachers, in the need to survive, assume that one solution works for all, and/or a trend line is rather more important than it may be.

Doctors have after all come a long way from thinking bloodletting was always effective and patients even with high fevers need to be kept in darkened airless hot rooms!

The news that a group of very wealthy individual spent large sums of money to spend three days in space struck me as a terrible indictment of our society on several fronts. Actually of course I find it even worse that in the interests of nationalism, or in the case of individual dictators’, vast sums of money should be spent on seeking answers to matters that are no more than hubris rather than on matters relating to our own planet and its population. 

Improving our understanding of how the winds, seas, the burning hot magma just beneath the surface, and the effect on climate, is surely more worthwhile than seeing space as possibly answering the questions that humankind has lived with since humanoids first became creatures aware of themselves. How is it scientists convince a government that, for example, sending an object into space to orbit Mercury five times before just becoming space junk is worthwhile? We know the human brain is able to achieve the most amazing feats, so why waste all this talent attempting to solve that centuries old question of how and why? It is no answer to talk about ‘the big bang’ since that ‘solution’ fails to answer the basic questions. 

I am not for one moment denying that certain activities in space have not helped the lives of ordinary peoples, but at what cost? 

I suppose you would rather I did not spend time talking about a ‘just in time’ economy which ignored the need for at least some built in resilience, but I do recommend, whatever your political views, you watch on BBC One a programme about the Blair-Brown years. Episode one was shown at the start of the week, and it was a joy to listen to two individuals who were, and remain, real political heavy weights as distinct from those who now spoil our lives.  

I had no difficulty in not watching or listening to either of the big parties’ conferences, though I confess I could not escape noticing the written media, all but the Daily Express struggled not to be very rude about the Johnson speech. Which is worse, vacuous or economically illiterate – I choose two of the milder comments; oh well, democracy is not guaranteed to solve our problems. 

I think enough time has passed to allow me to offer this poem by Rudyard Kipling which certainly for me, resonates strongly and I certainly have a place in my heart for the dogs that have featured so strongly in my life: 

The Power of the Dog

THERE is sorrow enough in the natural way 
From men and women to fill our day;  
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,  
Why do we always arrange for more?  
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware  
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy  
Love unflinching that cannot lie 
Perfect passion and worship fed  
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.  
Nevertheless it is hardly fair 
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits 
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,  
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs  
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,  
Then you will find – it’s your own affair, – 
But … you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,  
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!),  
When the spirit that answered your every mood  
Is gone – wherever it goes – for good,  
You will discover how much you care,  
And will give your heart to a dog to tear!

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,  
When it comes to burying Christian clay.  
Our loves are not given, but only lent,  
At compound interest of cent per cent,  
Though it is not always the case, I believe,  
That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve;  
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,  
A short-time loan is as bad as a long –  
So why in – Heaven (before we are there)  
Should we give our hearts to a dog to

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