The Great (cattle) Escape

At a personal level this has been an exciting week. Able to read again, I have turned to the piles of books unread for four months, and what an exciting mixture I found – crime novels to philosophy, plus three or four history books. As so often happens with crime fiction these days, especially if the author is interested in doing serious research, periods of time are very much brought to life and new things are learnt.  

Any ex- Londoners among you may well know the Christopher Fowler series about Bryant and May. One of the first books I read at the weekend was “England’s Finest”, twelve or so, short stories but all very readable. The second book was by Abir Mukherjee called “A Rising Man” and set in Calcutta. A great read, and a fascinating insight into the Home Rule movement in India in the period after the war in Europe and written by an author who was born in the UK but whose family came from India. The balance is perfectly pitched. Read it if you get a chance.  

Before talking about the farm, I trust you all caught the story about the striking binmen in Marseilles. This followed an offer which would raise the length of their working week from 21 hours to something closer to the government demanded figure of 35 hours but would leave them with their nine weeks of holiday and increase their pay.  

At the same time, it has been increasingly depressing on the political front. Despite my best efforts to avoid the antics of our prime minister, the challenges facing the country and each of us as individuals cannot be just brushed away by a government that seems to have no interest in or notion of governing.  

The second in the series of Brown and Blair exposed clearly the effect of their early lives on the men they became, and the inevitable collapse that was to come. Above all it illuminated clearly the weaknesses of our present leaders. Even an ‘I’ article felt the need to raise the spectre of the Stockholm Syndrome to explain how 1400 conference attendees could cheer and applaud a leader whose attachment to historically core Conservative beliefs was demonstrated to be absent, and whose lack of interest in the lives of ordinary people was laid bare. The only positive I can draw is thank goodness Corbyn did not have the same gift of the gab.  

Farm News

Watching the tractor and topper working in field 8 seemed a remarkable metaphor for farming. Field 8 is one of our two fields where ‘ridge and furrow’ is most striking. The effect of this is rather like watching a boat rising and falling as it surmounts the waves. Tim clearly has a strong stomach! That the pastures could be worked on in this way is because though we did have good rain, it was not enough to soften the ground over much.  

Mind you the analogy does not really fit since the regularity of the ups and downs of ridge and furrow certainly does not truly reflect life on the farm. As you can imagine weekends in theory have a role in recharging batteries for the coming week. Unfortunately, Sunday morning began with the security cameras in the business park, after the alarm went off, showing cattle having a good ‘nose around’. The Burdett family had to leave their breakfasts and move into action. Given it was the young stock, the task of getting the animals back in the barn might have been very testing, but well-planned drills meant the animals were all back where they were meant to be with little fuss. The ‘inquest’ on how they had escaped came to the conclusion that the gate opening was not a result malicious action.   Apart from topping in a number of fields, using a hired larger muck spread, larger than our own, the four fields whose turn it was to be composted, each received a goodly amount. Of the four, only one had been partly composted in our time here. Those fields will now be not available for grazing for a month. That huge heap you may remember seeing in photographs is now greatly diminished. The next step for those four fields is chain harrowing.

There has been much discussion on grazing techniques in recent weeks, with a range of views expressed from that which suggests an approach to grazing that does not take account of our ‘temperate’ climate is doomed to failure, to the promotion of docks, and to a lesser degree thistle, because of the trace elements their deep roots bring up. I certainly buy the defence of docks both in terms of what their deep roots bring up as well as the value of their seeds. I confess that I was a little surprised not to come across anything about dandelions since I see them as positive for much the same reason as docks. As to thistles, I find it hard to feel positive about the invasive creeping thistle. Other thistles are less of an issue since they are annual, and their seeds are much beloved by small birds.  

Two comments about ragwort to note, one perhaps to reflect on, when next moving the ewes in particular, neither comment carrying any statement of authenticity. That first was to the effect that ragwort has a cumulative poisonous effect on sheep, which does sound plausible since they will eat the young plants. The second was hard to reconcile with our experience as it described ragwort as an ‘early successional plant’, but this appeared to come from someone attending a webinar with Rob Havard so… here ragwort appears late, but I suppose that could be because we fail to spot it an earlier stage, or as Chris suggested the phrase meant the plant was one of the first to colonise new ground.  

It appears that more fencing will take place next week. Putting the poles in is likely to take a day, and then another day will be needed to actually complete the fencing.  

A musical interlude

I have written about books I have recently read or am looking forward to reading. I share with you that having now spent more time with von Weber, and in particular his flute and clarinet works, I have just, rather bravely I think, listened to some of Frank Bridges chamber music. It seemed much more akin to Franck’s piano quintet than to any compositions by an English composer – very intense and emotional. Since it might have been my own state of mind, I shall of course play it again to see if my comments are out of order.  

Algorithms

Recently I read an article which questioned whether current climate models took proper account of the earth’s natural cycles. There is now a vast amount of data from the past, whether it be earth snow or ice cores, tree rings, recorded data from not only Europe, but from civilisations millennia older than our own, and from geology that evidences that the earth experiences a range of cycles. From the point of view of the modeller, these are hard to build into their algorithm’s since none of these natural cycles are exact – scientists can effectively model the movements of an asteroid but that is a different matter.  

One of the problems with algorithms is that information about them is not shared, so it is impossible to know whether attempts to include these natural cycles has been made and if so how. Did the modellers resort to the common approach of the ‘trend line’; that is ignore outliers in the data available, and then determine the line of best fit. Moreover, who knows which scientists either have no vested interest or particular prejudice. I referred last week to paradigms lost. We all know that the value of ‘g’ is a constant, except it isn’t. The variation may be small at about 0.7% but it exists. Why were we taught it is a constant? Because for centuries that is what is what it was believed to be. In any case, what is it – we know ‘g’ forces matter, even if our knowledge goes no further? In any case this is a digression, what is truly of concern is that we are required to accept a mass of predictions without any basis on which to judge them. Belief is all very well but is it enough in this instance?  

Perhaps this is why the met office with their extraordinary computing power find it impossible to even get daily forecasts more than 80% accurate. Modelling as an approach is not to be scorned, and normally gives us some idea of the range of outcomes possible. Of course, it is dramatic to see images of Buckingham Palace standing in water, but how likely it is that that actually is what will happen is a different matter.  

Ideas & beliefs

There are a number of ideas I try to keep in my head whether thinking, writing or talking. Among these I would include: today’s fact may well be tomorrows fiction; a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing; notions of certainty are, outside a belief system, dangerous; what excites me may be far from what my listener or writer is excited by and thinking in particular of something I wrote last week, shortening a thought may be the wrong thing to do.   

For example, I wrote about ‘miasma’ last week and deliberately left out that for many centuries, fresh air was considered dangerous because of the belief in ‘miasma’. Cholera, for example, was first assumed to be airborne and remained in the 19th century a regular cause of death. Eventually, following a more thoughtful and data base approach it was realised that contaminated water was the problem, and mortality rates fell dramatically. This caused a switch in thinking which resulted in a slowness to recognise that covid was actually an airborne disease.  

A couple of comments regarding history 

Two last comments. This week we watched two ‘serious’ programmes. The first was about the Celts and part of me was impressed by the way the presenters bravely went into a much-debated area. What did not impress was the time filling enactments of the noble Celts slaughtering the horrible Romans at the Battle of Alia. The second programme was about Alexander Pope who was presented as being perhaps, only second to Shakespeare as a poet. Yes, people did ‘dress up’, presumably to add verisimilitude, but the documentary was most interesting, and left my thinking in a quite different place. I realised that reading Pope required knowledge of the period and an ability to cope with both length and rhyming couplets. I, for one, will certainly go back to his poetry which I have shied away from for years – beware! To help me in this I look forward to reading Ritchie Robertson’s book, ‘The Enlightenment’ which I have just acquired. As Anne might quite possibly, rightly say, ‘what on earth are you doing still buying books at your age’?!  

Sitting in the car the other day I was watching and being totally entertained by a ‘parliament’ of rooks. Though not so playful as ravens, their flying skills are fascinating to watch. The poem below is by William Barnes, the Dorset poet and unlike many of his poems not in dialect.  

Knowledge of collective nouns was once believed important and I well remember at primary school having to learn them as, if not as important as spelling or multiplication tables, needing to be learnt since they were still used. Where and when they were determined I do not know, but some were easier to keep in the memory than others such as a ‘murder’ of magpies. A ‘chattering’ of sparrows is so accurate a description of the noise outside our kitchen doors. 

The Rooks 

Ay! when the sun is near the ground, 
At evening, in the western sky, 
From west to eastward, all around, 
The gathered rooks begin to fly. 
 
In wedgelike flock, with one ahead, 
They flap their glitt’ring wings in flight; 
But did you ever hear it said 
Whereto they take their way at night? 
 
At Akdean wood, folk say they meet, 
To fold at night their weary wings, 
And roost, with little clenching feet, 
On boughs that nightwind softly swings. 
 
O yes, at Akdean’s shadowy ground 
Are broad limb’d oaks, and ashes tall  

Black pines, and aspen trees that sound 
As soft as water at a fall. 
 
There I have spent some happy hours, 
Where yellow sunshine broke through shades 
On blue-bell beds and cowslip flow’rs, 
And us among them, in the glades  

If you fancy trying your hand at dialect, two other poems about rooks might be worth trying: Zun-Zet or The Spring, but in fact rooks, being an inescapable part of country living, appear in a number of his poems. 

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