“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”

Now that the weather has, it appears according to weather maps which showed that the jet stream was moving north, calmed, it feels the time is right to update you in rather more detail about the situation on the farm.  

I think the first and most important fact to share is that despite there being moments of concern, the barns were undamaged by the high winds. These three storms were the first real storms we have had since the new barn was erected and the opportunities for the wind to lift a roof obviously exist. Sadly, one of the ancient ‘stag’ oaks was blown over – it had been dead for years but had provided a home for little owls. 

The second is that despite the welcome, if unusually heavy rain, we have had at no stage the level of water in the brook rise significantly, and so we had no flooding. Inevitably we have considerable amounts of standing water in fields, in the overspill channel for the brook, and along the bridle path. This is not from the ditches, which at no stage have threatened to spill over, and even by the weekend appear to hold very little water.  

The pastures still look green but shows few show signs of new growth. Understandable because soil temperatures in the pastures appear to be still close to zero – perhaps because of the waterlogging.  I was a little surprised about this since we have not, so far, had much really cold weather. On exploring the literature, there is quite a divergence of opinion on what temperatures are required for growth.  While there is natural agreement that air temperature and moisture are required, on the critical issue of the necessary soil temperature for growth, suggestions range between five degrees and ten degrees. There was agreement on the optimum temperatures for grass to grow well. If my adjustment from degrees Fahrenheit to Celsius is correct, the range is 15 to 23 degrees. It was good to be reminded of the issue of soil temperature since this explains how grass continues growing late into the autumn but is slow to show life in the spring.  

Our hedges, of which a number were trimmed in the autumn, look tidy but as yet show few signs of life in the form of blackthorn in flower, though away from the farm and out of this frost pocket, some hedgerows are already showing white. It remains a depressing sight to see the numbers of dead elms – a fungal disease as we know is particularly savage in this country since the vast majority of elms come from a common stock.  

After a conversation with our vet about the condition of a number of our ewes, this week Chris and Tim drenched the ewes. Otherwise, rather as last week there is little say about the animals except to express pleasure at the arrival of a new heifer calf.   

I have slowly come to realise that the start of lambing is likely to coincide with our full herd TB testing. This is because local vets are so busy carrying out these tests that we had to change our booked dates. Such a complicated process it now seems with our large number of cattle. There are larger milking herds nearby, but set-ups in dairy farming make the task easier. Even so, for the vets, to carry out the tests, two lengthy visits, separated by two blank days need to be blocked out.  It looks as if we may have a woofer for that period.  

The island in the scrape has not yet been strimmed, nor the bird boxes put up. Not perhaps surprising given the recent weather.  

Information from DEFRA continues to dribble out. It is hard not to believe it is simply because decisions have yet to be made. I suspect the lack of urgency is more because, sat in their offices, staff have very little understanding how troubling this lack of pace is to farmers. The NFU recently published the number of farmer suicides in the past year. An alarming figure, and a stark contrast to the chocolate box image of farming, but a clear reflection on the pressure’s farmers face, exacerbated by government actions over new ideas for agricultural support and Brexit. 

A rather worrying report from the Soil Association suggested that only farmers converting to organic farming will get substantial grants, but nothing extra for existing organic farms. Surely this must be wrong.  

Snowdrops in the spinney

A recent development is that UK organic certification is no longer acceptable to members of the EU, and as a consequence organic goods sent into the E.U. may not be listed as such. Finally, the quote from the February edition of Which, that I referred to last week continues to lead to anger and agitation from many sources, and while this has been raised with the editor of the magazine, there seems to be no apology or withdrawal of the statement. Foolishly listening to the Foreign Minister of Russia on Thursday morning, I felt his attitude to the truth mirrored closely those of small minority groups in this country whose views about farming attract far more attention than they deserve.  


Turning away from the farm, the news on Thursday morning that Russia had actually launched an attack on Ukraine could not be more disturbing. As it happened, ‘In Our Time’ on Thursday morning was a discussion about that noted Russian intellectual Peter Kropotkin, a descendant of Rurik, about whom I shall write a little later. in the circumstances I felt that was a surprising example of synchronicity and so listened to the programme attentively. Now is not the time to explore his life further, other than to say he absolutely rejected the path Lenin set for Russia, and firmly believed that a built-in mutual approach to life was as real, depending on circumstances, as Huxley’s concept that life was about no more than the survival of the fittest.  

I was going to share my reading of the actual history of Ukraine, which I pulled together one afternoon earlier in the week after listening to an unhinged Putin spell out his imagined ideas, but in these circumstances, it feels rather pointless. None the less, a few points are perhaps worth sharing.   

The people we call ’Vikings’ certainly did not refer to themselves using that word. The Norse or Northmen came from Norway, the Danes fairly obviously came from Denmark. These people looked to invade and explore the world to their west. Those from Sweden were also great travellers but looked to the south and east.  

Sometime during the 6th century, the ‘Germanic’ tribes moved westwards, and the areas they vacated became available to ‘Slavic’ people. By the mid-8th century, the Swedes has set up trading posts in Slavic territory just over the border from Finland. These settlements gave them access to the great rivers Dnieper and Volga, down which they travelled as far as the Mediterranean. These people, the Rus, were very much traders and settlers rather than raiders. ‘Rus’ by the way meant something like ‘travellers by boat’ and was a Norsk word.  

At some point these Swedes became known as the Varangians, and their first Prince Rurik founded a dynasty which held power until the Golden Hordes ended it in the 11th century. Varangians lingered on in parts of Central Europe until the 16th century. It was these people who established Kiev, and an empire known as the Kievan Rus. By the 11th century the language used was essentially Slavic as the first settlers became assimilated. For those who are especially curious, I quote the definition of Varangians:  

Ultimately from Byzantine Greek Βάραγγος (Bárangos), from Old Norse væringi, from várr(“pledge”) or værr (“pledge”), which is cognate with Old English wǣr (“fidelity, loyalty”), + Old Norse gangi (“companion”). Cognate with Old English wærgenga  

It was later in the next century that the languages of Ukraine and Russia moved away rather as Friesian and English drifted apart.   

Efforts were made in the 17th century by Russia to pull Ukraine away from the Lithuanian/Polish empire, but it was not until 1795, after a protracted struggle, Catherine the Great achieved the division of today’s Ukraine into two parts, with the Dnieper River acting as the boundary between them. The land to the west falling under the influence of the Austro-Hungarian world, while Russia gained control of the area to the East.  

It was under Stalin that further Russification of the language was intensified, making it likely that Eastern Ukrainians in particular may have Russian as their first language. All this rings eerily close to attempts in Wales to eliminate the Welch language. That effort failed as it did in Ukraine.  

Attempts to rewrite history are hardly uncommon, but this latest effort from Putin is deranged.  

It was of course sad that the Russian Foreign Secretary was able to utter one truth in his litany of lies. It was indeed France and Germany in 2008 that blocked the admission of Ukraine and Georgia to membership of NATO, and yet again German economic interests looked like they would block certain sanctions, but common sense finally won through.  

At the start of the week my list of possible discussion points was, as usual lengthy, but I have been so disturbed by events in Ukraine my heart is not really in the right place. Therefore, I shall restrict myself to remarks on my progress with both the books I have referred to before and the music listened I have listened to.  

Words & music  

I am still reading ‘Dark Star Safari’. Theroux is now in Uganda visiting Makerere University where he spent some years as a lecturer after his time in Malawi. The travelogue becomes if anything more depressing. Years ago, Elspeth Huxley not only wrote fiction but also about her childhood. A magical book called ‘The flame trees of Thika’, which I still occasionally dip into. Reading that, that idyllic little world is now a shanty town suburb of Nairobi was sad enough for me to put the book down for now.  

I turned instead to Rachel Hammersley’s primer on Republicanism in order to avoid making too many mistakes, should I ever get round to writing about it. I think I felt on reading it I had a reasonable grasp of Greek and Roman thinking, as well as British thinking, from the 17th to the 19th century, and so felt reasonable secure on those periods. American thinking, which was so substantially based on British views, with a dash of French thinking thrown in, also I found unsurprising. It was of course reading about European thinking from the 16th century onwards that revealed huge gaps in my knowledge. Fascinating stuff even though chunks required going over more than once.  

A marvellous example of a word we all think we understand the meaning of without realising the many different interpretations of it that exist. Incidentally after exploring Kropotkin further, I realise ‘anarchism’ falls into that category of words we all used yet have a myriad of meanings to which I choose also to add paganism.  

This week in particular, listening to music has been particularly valuable to my peace of mind. I found a disc contain works by Helena Munktel especially enjoyable. This Swedish composer, like Any Beach, wrote much music for songs. In general, I find it distracting if the songs are in English, but in the case of Munktel, all happily is in Swedish! But the high spot of the disc is the violin sonata which is captivating.   

Indeed, on Saturday evening despite a good trip round the farm, I realised that absolute calm was needed – the effects of thinking about Ukraine and foolishly watching rugby – had been too deleterious. I turned to the string quartets of Von Dittersdorf wondering just why it was so many composers of the period who were regarded as the equals of Haydn and Mozart at the time, are now seen to be of minor talent. I then turned to the spring edition of ‘Slightly Foxed’ which contained some sixteen short essays. Not that many years ago essay writers were highly regarded. I guess that their present absence has much to do with the discipline and expert use of language required of the writer. As far as I am concerned a good essay is a pleasure to read.  

Somehow this poem really hit the spot for me. I confess I am not in general an admirer of the man or his poetry but…..the full poem is made up of 9 verses. Auden spent the war years in America hence the first two lines.  

W. H. Auden – 1907-1973  

September 1, 1939  

I sit in one of the dives 
On Fifty-second Street 
Uncertain and afraid 
As the clever hopes expire 
Of a low dishonest decade: 
Waves of anger and fear 
Circulate over the bright  
And darkened lands of the earth, 
Obsessing our private lives; 
The unmentionable odour of death 
Offends the September night.

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