Visiting ducks!

There is a view that the English start and end every conversation with exchanges about the weather. In these notes I try to avoid that. But given the weather experienced this week, starting with it, is inescapable. I have of course been badly torn; wearing one hat it has been a great relief to have so much rain, on the other hand, think what it has done to the Cricket World Cup! I wrote last week about balance – but I did not know how apt that thought would be for this week!

Despite the rain, activity on the farm did not grind to a halt, moreover the brook did stay within its banks so apart from puddles there was no flooding to manage or infect the pastures. Clearly little rolling was possible after Monday, but work could continue both on removing old fencing and erecting new fencing in its place. The fencers are likely not to come again for a while as now is the time for grass cutting and harvesting – weather and ground condition permitting of course.

Aside from the need to move both herds onto new fields, we had our first breech birth for some years. Assisted by three muscular men, the calf, a heifer, was safely delivered and both mother and calf are well. All this was made easier by the fact that Tim had registered the fact that the cow might be in trouble and she had been moved into the barn at once. Justification if it was needed, that time spent every day checking the stock is very important.

Sadly, the eye infection continues to move through the herd of young cattle despite our best efforts including homeopathy – currently there are six animals in the barn for treatment. Even more sadly we now have evidence that re-infection is possible.

As for the sheep, so far, so good! We still have no date for the shearer to come and it is not yet time for the lambs to have their second clostridial vaccination. After all this rain fly strike must be a possible threat.

On Thursday evening I was able to walk the dogs on a dry bright evening. Aside from the puddles in fields 1 and 8 – useful indicators of how much rain there has been, either over a very short period or a longer one – I was entranced by two sounds which stopped me in my tracks. From the main ditch which runs along the drive came the sound of fast-moving water as it tumbled over accumulated dead branches, and behind it, though quieter, the melancholy sound of a male cuckoo trying to find a mate. The puddles often attract ducks. Two flew off as I came past them, apparently earlier in the day there had been ten!


On Saturday it was the AGM of the Society and what a contrast it was in terms of the weather from our experience last year. This year the weather was very uncooperative – cold, grey, windy and with the sense rain might start falling at any moment. The meeting was well attended with an age range extending from a child in a pushchair to over eighty. The Directors were well represented, and the business dealt with efficiently. Questions from members ranged from the technical to the long-term vision – all of which were properly and satisfactorily addressed, and despite the chill, all members seemed very happy at the way things were going. Given the cold I had no trouble in keeping my contribution short!  …and I confess that at the first opportunity I retired to the warmth of the house and the pleasure of watching Australia playing Sri Lanka at cricket.

I am very happy to report that both the farm walk and drive were much enjoyed, and the walkers turned back in time to miss a torrential downpour. The cold buffet provided by our on-site cafe owner encouraged many conversations, and a universal view that all was very well. With nearly ten per cent of investors attending, good news indeed.

In many countries’ farmers fear the effect of hailstones on growing crops; at the moment the ether is full of emails from English farmers concerned that the ‘incessant rain’ may have made their hay fields in-harvestable.  Last year the problem was drought, now it is heavy rain! Just what we do not want given our likely need to buy in hay because of all the re-seeding.

Reith Lecture

A very brief follow up on the latest Reith lecture: A succinct and very clear explanation of the constitutional difference between the UK and almost every other state which operates a system of representative government – we live under a political not a legal constitution. The latter approach assumes an electorate who cannot be trusted – is that truly a democracy? I am not inclined to change my position that a political approach is the best, but the recent court decision essentially ruling any promise made by a politician while electioneering, as meaningless, has rocked me.


While starting to think about the Proms I would like to suggest Klaus Heymann, publisher of Naxos cd’s should be seen as doing for music what Sir Allen Lane did for books. Through Naxos I have discovered composers who, while they may have been feted in their time, are no longer seen as part of mainstream repertoire. I have for example been recently listening to Robert Fuch’s serenades most days – great stuff. Where Naxos goes, fortunately other companies follow.

Curiosity remains a constant in my life.  And as the name ‘Fuchs’ is slightly uncommon, indeed one can understand why many prefer to use its English translation Fox, I could not resist exploring whether there was any connection between the composer, Sir Vivian Fuchs(the polar explorer) and my wife’s German grandmother. Finding that the birth places were respectively Vienna, Jena and Fulda which are many miles apart I thought any relationship was improbable, but still curious, I looked to see how popular a name Fuchs is in Austria and Germany The answer was very clear – 11th most common name in Austria, 40+ most common in Germany. Clearly the three individuals were most unlikely to be related!

As I had always assumed Parsons to be a very common name, I clearly had to see if records showed that to be the case. In fact, it seems I was a long way off the mark. The records show Parsons is a surname from the south-west and a surname most frequently connected with agriculture. These two facts fit my family very accurately – records confirm my family were farming in Somerset in the 1730’s.

Church, books and of course music

I do actually try to be apolitical though no doubt often fail. A topic that fascinates me, requires venturing onto some very thin ice indeed. Like many of my generation, church attendance was a regular part of growing up. Over and above that, in school we laboriously worked our way through the Bible. Again, like many of my generation I was brought up with a questioning mindset. So, while I am deeply interested in religion, the interest is intellectual rather than belief based.

In recent days two apparently very interesting books have been published, one seeming, at a facile reading of reviews, no more than adding to the literature on how much modern practice in all religions rests not on the ‘original’ texts but on the interpretations placed on them by organised religion and group prejudice. I chose to get Karen Armstrong’s book which at a preliminary reading has a much more thoughtful and profound approach. Since it appears from reviews that John Barton’s book is more a re-tread of matters hardly new, I shall not bother with that, but for the record, the books I am referring to are ‘the Lost  Art of Scripture’ by Karen Armstrong and ‘The Bible: Its book and it’s faiths’ by John Barton. 

I almost certainly will come back to this reading, but will realise, given the topic, the need to approach them sensitively.

I try to be open to composer’s unknown to me, and recently have listened to music by the British composer Minna Keal. Is it simply the prejudice I have against minds simple enough to cling to Marxism after youth that caused me to be as unexcited by most of her works as those of Alan Bush or Cornelius Cardew?  Certainly, I shall not bother to listen to that particular CD again. On the other hand, her cello concerto I found most attractive.  I would like to think my reaction was about my dislike of dogma affecting art. 

Is it prejudice that makes English songs set to music such as Finzi’s setting of seven poems by Thomas Hardy affect me far less than settings by Mahler, Canteloube and Richard Strauss of German or French words? Or is or it simply that the words in these songs require as much attention as the music. With words I cannot understand I can of course concentrate on the blending of voice and accompaniment. There have been, indeed continue to be, attempts to sing in English, operas written in other languages but in my view it rarely works. For me, that this is, is because so many librettos are pretty trite. I also suspect our language is ill-suited to that genre.

I would like to think my lack of interest in Messiaen is of a different order. Listening to Le Merle Noir, I thought I preferred the sound of the blackbird that sings from the top of our telephone pole morning and evening even when the rain is pouring down. Here, at the moment, there are little birds everywhere as fledglings tentatively stretch their wings. A time of joy but also concern since these small creatures are easy prey for a sparrow hawk. I realise I should be beyond such sentimental thoughts, after all the life span for a wren, is a year, a blue tit perhaps two years, but…….

In this, what seems to me a time in politics both national and international when madness seems to prevail, survival requires tactics including laughter, tears, screams or just burying one’s head under the duvet.  I, fortunately, can ‘turn off’ either through my current obsession, the issue of Sarawak stamps in 1875 or, if the weather allows, watch cricket. There are few poems about stamp collecting (though the novel ‘Antigua, Penny, Puce by Robert Graves is a must read) but plenty about cricket so that is what I have gone for. Edward Dyson was an Australian and we all think we know what Australians think of cricket. His approach had some of the fervour of Bill Shankly, but he never lost his sense of perspective. I set out below the first verse in a poem he wrote at the time of a test match between Australia and the MCC in the 1930’s.

In politics there’s room for jest;
With frequent gibes are speeches met,
And measures which are of the best
Are themes for caustic humor yet.
E’en though the pulpiteer we fret
With sundry quiddities we fling,
We pray you never to forget
That cricket is a serious thing.’

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