The year has been a good one

No doubt I fail, but I do attempt to avoid political issues, however the issue of Brexit is clearly not a party political issue since both the main parties are completely split within themselves. The gridlock in parliament and the absence of any sense of where the nation is going is having a damming effect on morale here, just as it probably is in all farms and small companies. I see no way in which history cannot in the future lay the blame for all this just not on the ideological extremists on both the right and the left but on the way in which a common market expanded towards becoming a state.

The annual report is complete

With that off my chest, having just completed the annual report on the farm for the board of the benefit society, I feel slightly better at once. Despite the downs of climate change, a falling pound and TB being identified in our cattle, the year has for all our associated parts been a good one.

A year of bizarre weather

We have had, even for this country, bizarre weather. A hard frost on one night sandwiched between double digit temperature nights. The extent of this year’s drought has been illustrated clearly by the way in which our ponds are still well below normal levels as is the level of our brook. That’s not to say that we have a shortage of mud around farm gates and the water troughs in the fields housing the sheep.

The lamb selling process is not easy

Talking of sheep, the ewes look really good, and the rams are still finding work to do. On Wednesday another 15 lambs went off the farm. Such a lot lies behind that simple enough statement, but on any day, let alone a wet one, it is not an easy task: The animals to go have to be identified and then separated out from the flock; those chosen have to be scanned so that we and the buyer know exactly which animals they are getting, paper work for the government and our organic certifying bodies completed and then the animal loaded into the trailer and driven by Chris to their destination. Sadly, an ill lamb which we had been attempting to treat died towards the end of the week.

A feeding dance with the cattle!

With all the cattle in the barn, feeding is the main operation to be carried out at least once every two days. We use feed trailers so, before they can be replenished, animals have to be moved elsewhere in the barn. When the barn capacity was doubled a few years ago, Sebastien acting on advice from Chris and Tim, designed a lay-out to make these movements relatively straightforward. And indeed, it does make all this possible, but even with two people involved, it all takes time and care. Basically, gates allow the left-hand side of the barn, where the majority of cattle are held, to be divided into four quarters. This means when the tractor takes the feed bales in, the cattle can be isolated from the replenishment of the feed trailers. A complicated little dance except the dancers are large horned animals!


TB regulations

Despite at our recent TB re-testing and our IR being declared clear, we now learn she can only move off the farm for slaughter. This is a new tightening of the regulations based on new evidence which suggests the spread of TB may actually come in most cases by animal to animal contact, and the movement of stock from one herd to another. This was obviously not the case for us but…..

Biodynamic preparations

At last conditions have allowed for the preparations 502 to 508 to have now been inserted in field three which was composted from an untreated heap. It is perhaps worth recording that there is a difference of opinion as to whether these preps need to go into heaps or direct into fields. Our normal practice is to place them into our heaps.

Higher Tier Stewardship plans go ahead

Though we have still not heard from the RPA as to our acceptance or not for the Higher Tier Stewardship scheme, we are advised not to worry as this is apparently normal practice. Despite this advice, following a paragraph in the weekly NFU update I telephoned the RPA to see if we should worry – it seems not – so fingers crossed. We have therefore gone ahead with getting the contractor who is to do the re-seeding to pay us a site visit. That will hopefully happen before Christmas.

Pasture-fed membership

Perhaps it is the season, but the Pasture-fed web site has been dominated by discussion as to how members might have some means of showing their membership.

An early suggestion was a tie, but that was quickly rejected on the grounds that farmers, women or men, rarely wear that garment. No decision has yet been reached, but the level of engagement is impressive. I will advise you of the final decision.

Changing landscape colours

A week or so ago I commented on the changing colours of our trees and hedgerows. This Monday, my back forced a visit to the chiropractor in Birmingham. The route involves passing through open countryside, skirting the ‘new’ town of Redditch and its splendid planting of trees and bushes, and then a run in through the suburbs of the city to Edgbaston.

I was much struck by how the scenery has changed. The evergreen trees are now seen to be in a variety of shades of green, the holy trees carry red berries while the snowberries and fruit of the spindle are white and pink.

Viburnum stand out particularly as one of the few trees to flower at this time. The bunches of mistletoe are unmissable, as are the different colours of the weeping willows and the common willow and the catkins offer hope for the end of winter. It is also a time when the reds of dogwood and trunks of the silver birch catch the eye.

So much to see if you make the effort to free the mind and just observe the natural world as one might a painting.

A miscellany of thoughts:

After a number of power cuts I wonder how far society realises how it has allowed itself to become dependent for survival of our species on electricity. In terms of warfare we can forget the ‘bomb’ since any enemy only has to disrupt our electricity to force capitulation. In fact, is this threat even greater than that posed by climate change?

Watching the Archaeology programme presented by Dr Alice Roberts, and in particular the excavations in the Orkneys, I continue to fail to understand why climate is ignored. Was the settlement in the Orkneys tied to the Medieval Warm Period – no mention of that at all. For many years it has been known that in the middle of the 6th century a catastrophic climatic event took place. Now the argument seems to have reduced to whether the vulcanite activity in 546 took place in Iceland or America. The obvious question has to be – did the term ‘the dark ages’ simply refer to a folk memory rather than historians finding no contemporary documents for the period.

I should give credit to Brian Fagan whose seminal book ‘The little ice age’ published in around 2000 looked at history in the light of climate and its change and, so far as I know, has not been bettered since.  As an archaeologist of world standing this is but the first of a number of books he has written on the subject. Hubert Lamb is also worth reading if this is an area you wish to explore further.

A programme on Versailles was so self-absorbed in flummery that no mention was made of the likelihood that the way in which Louis XIVS style of government operated directly contributed to the French Revolution.

Oddly, several days later I came across an Oxford Pamphlet entitled ‘The Fourteen Points and the Treaty of Versailles’ first printed in July 1939 – my copy is dated 1941. Many weeks ago, I wrote about this matter but without reference or indeed knowledge of this pamphlet. I am happy to say the words of the Oxford historian were very much in line with what I wrote. The copy is stamped 78 WING Royal Air Force, reference copy, so must have been purloined by my father and come to me after his death. Should the RAF want it back I will be happy to return it and trust no prosecution will follow!

How often when free trade is discussed do we remember that cheap food, (which as farmers causes us despair) has, since the earliest times, determined the future of governments. Any brief look at Roman history shows how vital it was for corn to be cheap, and in more modern times Peel’s decision to repeal the corn laws in the 1840’s exemplifies this. This was clearly a decision that split his party but reduced social unrest.

How often when problems of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party are raised do we remember that the last serious anti-Semitic riots in this country occurred in 1947 and matters were fuelled by comments from such as Ernest Bevin that ‘the Jews were hoarding fuel’, while it was the labour minority government of 1930 that passed anti-Semitic laws. This is not to suggest other political parties are or were prejudice free – far from it, but it certainly shifted open expression of feelings that Edward VII was, apart perhaps from being rather anti German, not a man holding such a prejudice.

Do we realise how far we have accepted we, that is society, have allowed small groups to have an influence far in excess of common sense. I am reminded of my time in Brent when politics was driven by the agendas of small groups of vocal extremists. We are a society choking on moral outrage.

The concerns of many in our age group about how children are raised has at last led to the publication of literature drawing attention to the dangers of misunderstanding what parenting should be about, with its creation of a fragile and emotional age group. At the same time a fight back is taking place in the U.S.A. about what is described as the ‘mollycoddling’ of the American minds in their university education. The primacy given to emotion, and the growth of attack response. All this is perhaps linked to the findings of cognitive behaviour therapy that a key task is getting individuals to recognise ‘what is’ and ‘what the mind sees’.

A back spasm that led to an emergency visit to the chiropractor happened because I have been trying to rationalise my collection of books and cd’s, and this meant back movements that caused physical troubles as referred to above, and emotional problems because the scale of my accumulation is both so self-indulgence and hence absurd! A further problem with the task is the temptation to dip into the books I am moving and remember when looking at a cd why I bought it and what I thought of the music – all of which makes it a slow process.

I think the world is very fortunate to have Wikipedia but there is a downside. It is too easy to accept what is said rather than refer to the range of books which hopefully lie behind the Wikipedia account. Personally, there is no parallel between holding and reading a book and reading a comment on a computer screen.

Finally, see above, I have been reading on my iPad a series of detective stories. The author(s) is the husband and wife team who use the name Robin Paige. Unlike most stories set in England and written by American authors, it is difficult to know whether they are English and/or professional historians. They are in fact American and widely read in that country. This is highly unusual in that most historical novels written by Americans fall into one or both of the obvious traps. These traps include lack of adequate research, ignorance, laziness or belief that American readers cannot cope with ‘English’ English. In my view, the novels are very readable both in terms of story, and historical accuracy and well worth reading – enjoyable and educational!

This week, I have chosen a poem written by a Hungarian poet picked up by an English writer who was coping with living in a country where a winter temperature of minus 26 degrees F. is normal.

This caught my imagination because it reminds me so much of our winters in Saskatchewan. Winters where for up to 2 months the temperature was no higher than minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. From our sitting room window the grain elevators were the striking feature.

To my shame I never even found out whether they were in use; neither could I recall whether trains ran on the line beside it. My rather rubbishy photo shows this view.

The ‘borrowed’ photo below is Radville in approx. 1970 and is typical of the landscape in Saskatchewan:

Having written this section of my notes on Friday, as an example of how unobservant I was/am I found on Saturday this  aerial photograph of Radville from the time we were there, and for the first time saw the township as a whole, and using Wikipedia discovered that the train line, for freight traffic only, was still in use in 2008, so most have been running in 1970!

The poet is Attila Joseph, whose short life ended before the Second World War, and was translated by John Batki and published with other poems by Joseph in 1997. Let us fervently hope climate change does not have temperatures like this in store for us too! The poem is really far too long and probably better declaimed, but I like it.

Winter Night by Attila Joseph

Be disciplined!

Summer’s flame
has blown out.
Above the broad charred lumps it covers
a fine light ash stirs and hovers.
A place of silence,
this air,
this fine crystal atmosphere
scraped only by a sharp twig or two.
A lovely people-lessness. Only a shred
of tinselly scrap–some ribbon or rag–
clings fiercely to a bush,
for all the smiles and hugs snagged
in this thornful world.

In the distance, knobbly old hills stand
ponderous, like tired hands,
shifting at times to guard
the sunset’s flame,
the steaming farmhouse,
The vale’s round silence, the breathing moss.

A farm worker heads home, weighed down,
each heavy limb earthbound.
The cracked hoe on his shoulder rambles
along, shaft and blade a bloody shambles.
As if returning home, leaving life itself,
his body and tools both prove
heavier with each move.

Night flies up scattering stars,
like smoke from a chimney belching sparks.

This blue and iron night comes floating
on the stately waves of bells tolling.
Feels like my heart’s stopped, forever still,
and what throbs, with bated breath,
is perhaps the land itself, not death.
As if the winter night, winter sky, winter ore
created a bell,
its clapper the hammered earth, the swaying core–
and my heart sounding its knell.

Clangor’s echo floats, heard by the mind.
Winter struck the anvil: iron to bind
the heavenly vault’s dangling gate,
that poured all that fruit, light, wheat, hay
while summer held sway.

Like thought itself, the winter night
is bright.

This muteness, this silvery dark
makes the moon the world’s padlock.

The raven flies, silence grows cool
across cold space. Bone, can you hear the silence?
Molecule clinks against molecule.

In what showcase shine lights
such as this winter night’s?

Frost sticks daggers in twiggy hands
and the wasteland’s
black sigh soughs–
drifting in fog, a flock of crows.

In this winter night a freight
train–itself a small winter night–streaks out onto the plain.
Its smoke ready to extinguish,
in an armspan infinitely,
the stars that revolve and languish.

On the frozen tops of boxcars
scurrying like a mouse, light flies,
the light of this winter night.

Above cities, up high
winter still steams up the sky.
But on the flashing track
blue frost brings racing back
the light of this jaundiced night.

In city workshops is where it’s made,
mass-produced pain’s cold steel blade,
by the light of this frigid night.

On the outskirts of town,
in streetlight like wet straw flung down,
off to the side
on the corner, a shivering coatful of woes:
a man, hunkered down like a pile of dirt,
but winter still steps on his toes…

Where a rusty-leafed tree
leans out of the dark,
like an owner
his property,
I measure the winter night 

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