This Saturday saw Boots celebrate his 8th birthday, underlining how fast time is passing for all of us, but also providing another opportunity to celebrate family togetherness, and good cheer in the light that, as Paul and I are having a ‘better’ few weeks regards our back problems – and long may that last – Chris has succumbed to an old injury and now needs the chiropractor as much as we did!
I don’t think I can avoid commenting on the weather. After the heavy night frosts, and sunny days of the recent past, our need for rain had been met by the end of the weekend and, southerly winds recently, aside from blowing leaves off the trees, ensured some growth continuing. That said we are now feeding all but the lambs and so are essentially into the winter routine. Jack joins Tim in this task which makes it go not just more quickly but also more smoothly. Feeding the young stock outside is very tricky to do on your own.
Overall, as far as the stock is concerned, a major plus is that Bacchus has thrown off his shoulder injury – not that it really interfered in his basic interests but……We have had another calf – a heifer, and so are now only waiting for 5 more before Christmas.
In terms of the sheep, one of our last Dorper ewes is sadly looking to be on her last legs despite Tim’s best efforts. Otherwise all seems very well. This coming week is going to be very much taken up with the sheep. Twenty go for sale on Sunday, thereafter final decisions have to be made on which ewes are fit for breeding from and which ewe lambs to hold back for integration into the breeding flock next year. Each week we discuss which fields to use for tupping without making a final decision but there are only two weeks to go now!
At long last some very necessary hedge cutting – ‘flailing’ – has taken place, though more remains to be done. As a matter of belief, we do not overindulge in attacking our hedges, even though we know the apparent untidiness upsets some of our neighbours. Apart from anything else, the hedgerows provide food for so much of the wildlife.
The boundary hedges need to be high and thick to minimise drift from non-organic neighbour’s spraying, otherwise it appears that birds apparently require a mix of hedge heights and this need can be accommodated along the internal hedges. Cutting, apart from these considerations, is also important in other ways; Given the opportunity, the hedges encroach on the pastures – blackthorn is a particular problem, and brambles must be controlled since sheep easily get entangled in their thorns. Without ‘pruning’, hedges lose leaves at the base of the hedge, and if you are a keen butterfly enthusiast you will know certain species need new shoots to both feed and lay their eggs on.
Flailing seems a very crude technique, but there is much evidence that, as with roses, it strengthens the growth and frankly is the only realistic way to do the job.
At last our tractor has been serviced, though a return visit in a week or so will be necessary. So, with luck, it will keep going for at least another twelve months! And, if the compressor can be sorted, dealing with the tyres in the feeder trailers losing air becomes a much easier business.
The quarterly VAT returns for Ulula and the Farm had to completed this week and Chris spent many hours doing this work. Managing the accounts of the business, alongside the day to day work of running both the farm and the online store is a challenge, but the health of the farm depends very much on the health of Ulula. Without some form of diversification any farm struggles to survive.
Foolishly I stayed up into the small hours of Wednesday morning to see how the American mid-term elections were going. It felt rather like what I imagine watching paint dry. It was not helped either by their system of referring to districts(wards?) by numbers rather than using names. On the other hand, it did push me into exploring why the word ‘gubernatorial’ was used instead of elections for state governors. The OED could not explain this.
Gubernator was in our language in the early 16th century – direct from the Latin of course – but was pushed out by the French word ‘governor’ – also from the Latin, now spelt ‘gouvenor’. Why the rejection of gubernator – I found no clues on this point however. Perhaps it fails to trip of the tongue as easily as governor. In 1747 the adjective gubernatorial came into use in the American colonies and there it’s use remains standard for that one part of the electoral system.
Earlier we had watched Hugh Edwards in a new series on the history of Wales. The scenery was magnificent and despite the fact that the dramatisations were, as usual, tedious, it was very interesting. The term ‘celtic’ inevitably irritated (since we are now certain that there was never a Celtic invasion of people only of culture) but the explicit assumption that the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Cornish were the remnants of an all but extinct people pushed me to re-visit the outcomes of the Oxford University led exploration of the genetic history of our islands.
Rather against the grain of belief, one of their findings was that the ‘Celtic regions’ are genetically more different from one another than from the rest of the ‘islanders’. Of course, myth and feelings at the end of the day trump other realities. It was also useful, especially as an English person, to be reminded that whichever of the home nations we refer to, before nationality came – all be it later in some of our nations than others – all people were members of a tribe which occupied its own patch of the country.
Thinking about what wrote I two weeks ago I realise I might have downplayed our experiences of living in central Africa and Canada. I hope not, but just case I elaborate here because those experiences deeply influenced us both. In both cases we lived in small settlements far from ‘the big city’.
Zambia exposed us to a culture little changed for hundreds of years, now faced with the challenges of modern life as understood in the West. Young people were inspired by determination, optimism, an ability to ‘make do’, friendliness and good humour – all in the face of European interference, poverty, malnutrition, and disease. Together with the challenge of their elders’ drunkenness and corruption.
A world which, aside from the possible dangers from wildlife and drought, could provide for life in any season, but where longevity was unusual. A world in which electricity and clean water were only just becoming part of life for most people. A world in which the sound of the cicadas was all that was heard after dark. A world in which old beliefs jostled against those of the missionaries.
In Canada we met families whose ancestors only 70 years before had settled in territory challenging to all but the stout hearted, a land that historically had been merely a stopping ground on the passage south, or north, of humans, animals and birds. A world of ‘can do’ , interdependence, welcoming of strangers and personal accountability but also insular and of low aspiration, a world which in winter was unforgiving and life threatening, a world for which survival depended on electricity and fuel oil, a future threatened by the removal of any reason for the settlement being where it had been established and non stop country and western music. A society from which the more able moved on at the earliest opportunity but one in which a sense of community, safety and mutual responsibility showed up the society we came from.
Those seven or so years changed us in a whole host of ways and for the better. It reshaped our sense of values and enabled us to see pre-established views and prejudices in a new light. It also has made us far less tolerant of those who feel ‘this nation is going to the dogs’.
The reality is surely how lucky we are to live in this country, despite its obvious imperfections. People should get real and find some sense of perspective. If we seem to have one particular national habit, it is to grumble – probably what has got us where we are today – but think what we are now able to enjoy. So, when you read me moaning about some new regulation or delay, know that I do so knowing just how lucky we are compared to our ancestors and to the mass of the world’s citizens.
So many poets have written about autumn that choice is difficult. Hulme had a short life being one of the many casualties of the First World War. Not one of the famous war poets, his influence was none the less important to other poets, and it seems rightly fitting to hear from him on today of all days:
Autumn BY T. E. HULME
A touch of cold in the Autumn night—
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.