Volunteers!

Having sadly accepted that Clement would be our only young European volunteer this year, we were very pleasantly surprised to be approached by a young French couple who had come to England before lock down in a motor home, with a view to spending a whole year in this country. On the basis that they accepted we could not be our normal very friendly hosts, they arrived on Monday evening after spending two months in a permaculture centre close to Plymouth, and their time there being up, needed to move. Plenty of small jobs will I am sure be found for them.

At this time of year, it is hard not to be distracted by the profusion of colours and sounds in the garden. Poppies, like the aquilegia, hybridise very readily.  So easily that singles and doubles can be found in a mass of colours; the roses are now in their first flush of colour, the syringa are briefly at their creamy whitish yellow best and the pyracantha is covered with bloom and from the mummering of innumerable bees is providing nectar in profusion.

On the farm we are in a relatively quiet period as far as our animals are concerned. That does not mean inaction. The flock have now moved across the farm track onto field 9, and the young stock, as well as the main herd have also been moved. For the ewes the next big event will be shearing which will take place at the end of June. The last three lambs from last year are soon to be found in our chest freezer, and this year’s youngsters look well. At the moment, perhaps because of the lack of rain, fly strike has not been seen.

The cattle give every appearance of being content. The young stock were very much enjoying being able to settle down in the ‘scrubby area’ that was once the long gallop, but that came to an end on Saturday when they were moved onto the field opposite the barn. We do of course have other areas in which sheep and or cattle can take refuge from the sun; in the field backing onto the house, the hedge has bifurcated into two lines some metres apart, offering welcome shade and shelter. Additionally, we have two spinney areas which, while they cannot be used by our stock, provide a marvellous refuge for wildlife of all kinds.

For Tim, aside from checking his beloved cattle, and rather less loved sheep, clearing out the barn full occupied him for most of the week. We are fortunate this year to have the use of Tieran’s tractor and his 12-ton capacity trailer. Our best estimate is that some 100 cubic metres of bedding or 150 tons weight has to be moved now. Totalling up for the year, we are now producing 350 cubic metres or over 500 tons, that can in due course be spread over the fields to improve fertility and organic material in the soil. The new heaps Tim has created will have the biodynamic preparations inserted as soon as possible and then just sit maturing for 12 months or so.

The last exercise this week was the second spaying of 500 (horn manure) over every field on the farm. 500 has to be sprayed in the late afternoon to evening.

Moves to obtain planning permission and the necessary finance to erect an additional barn area of some 400 square metres proceed slowly. The need is very real both in terms of animal welfare and storage. Thinking of finance, we have of course heard nothing in writing from the RPA as to where our appeal may or may not have got to… hardly surprising I suppose since we have a dysfunctional government that civil agencies continue to show similar problems.

I suppose many of you had gardens that also suffered damage from the late frosts of last week; add to that the continued drought and some trees and plants are obviously severely stressed. That of course does not seem to apply to the buttercups which have followed dandelions in most fields. A sighting of a deer does enable me to share a photo of that animal standing in a carpet of buttercups. Less happily we are seeing more rabbits than for years.

While ragwort is not yet showing, hemlock clearing is still a necessary weekly exercise, and Sacha and Romain found that was one of their first tasks. Working with Tim, Chris and Paul is made all the easier by their very good grasp of English. They have also been planting out tomatoes, maize and other sensitive plants, on top of regular watering. Something visitors, once we have them once more, will notice at once are the efforts made to tidy up the small triangle of land you pass as you enter the business park.

I referred last week to the garden being full of fledglings. This is additionally demonstrated by the rate the bird feeder empties. The first brood of moorhens are now no longer fluffy balls but merely smaller version of their parents. One excitement was seeing goldcrests feeding on the insects in our ornamental apricot tree. They are quite distinct from goldfinch’s, in size, colouring and staple diet.

On the home front, aside from watering and filling bird feeders, Boots has been sorting out a couple of ever deepening potholes on the drive near the house, while Milly has returned to us, hopefully pregnant.

Swimming in the sea

Periodically, suddenly one realises how much the world has changed. Last week, I think it was, there were two drownings off the coast of Cornwall. This was followed by all of us being told that there were no lifeguards on duty and people should not be going in the sea while this is the position. What a change has taken place over our lifetime.

As children, we lived by the sea and went swimming in almost all sea conditions. As parents, we spent many holidays by the sea and our children went in the water as a matter of course.

I suppose the difference between then and now was a greater understanding that the sea was potentially dangerous. Some of you may remember a Readers Digest guide which when describing beaches would comment on those where swimming could at times be potentially dangerous. In other words, we understood about tides, rip currents and undertow. Indeed, how could anyone who ever read ‘Moonfleet’ forget the drowning and its cause.

I suppose the simple reality is that the sea is no longer seen in people’s minds as dangerous, having for years now entered it knowing there were lifeguards around should they get into trouble. This shift in attitude is I suspect true for many other activities from sailing to cricket to driving.

Where do we come from

Writing as one who can, without pride, say that research confirms my ancestral roots are to be found only in Cornwall and England since the 1600’s, I feel dismayed and angry over this country’s approach  to immigration and immigrants. I write this having been particularly provoked by a BBC television programme centred on an East London hospital.

It beggars belief that we fail to recognise the contribution immigrants have made to this country, especially since most of us are immigrants, and take it back 12,000 years, all of us are immigrants. What seems even worse is that this push has amongst its leader’s 1st and 2nd generation immigrants – disgusting!

History

On a personal front, this week has been spent, when not infuriated by further evidence that our culture worships the ‘do as I say rather than do as I do’ view of life, largely reading historical novels, solid historical tomes from the 19th century to the 21st, and thinking not just about the specific issue which is where I started, but going on to think about the practice of history and historians.

I realise how fortunate I was not to be exposed to history teaching at secondary school, and though it formed part of my degree, no teaching was involved. How fortunate I was to come from a background where language, literature and history was part of everyday currency, and where curiosity was encouraged in every way, not least because one whole room was lined with books on three of the four walls.

In the early 1960’s, when no doubt I should have been reading texts on matters relating to my degree, I read instead writers like E H Carr, undismayed by his obvious blindness to the reality of Soviet Russia. His book ‘What is history’ eventually led to a repost from the then leading authors on Tudor England. Geoffrey Elton, whose book ‘The Practice of History’ was published towards the end of the sixties.

In today’s world, I believe that thought about the historian is as important as what historians may be illuminating or ignoring about the past. Historians, like us all, are products of our times, the world and culture we live in and, not least the personal attributes they bring to their writing.

The initial trigger to my thinking was a question as to whether the feudal system brought benefits to the ordinary Anglo- Saxons, who had had their lives changed by the arrival of the Normans. Turning to historians of the 19th and 20th Century left me fairly uncertain as what it was that was in place before the Normans. Turning to historians of the 21st century was more enlightening. For example I had not understood how important was the export of slaves to Ireland and Denmark, and that the ultimate destination of these poor captives – young women in the main, was to meet the insatiable demand of the Ottoman Empire for slaves. Moreover while it would be easy to see this activity as essentially led by Viking invaders, that fails to recognise that the merchants of Bristol and Kings Lynn profited greatly during this period, even if the trade had fallen away to a degree by the middle of the 11th century.

But it was the Normans, despite being of Viking origin, who put an end to this trade. The feudal system might have an underclass of perhaps ten percent of the population, defined as slaves, but slavery as a trade was finished… (And yes, I do know in 19th century rural England, men could offer their wife for sale, but I have expressed my views on the position of married women frequently).

All this took me in some weird and wonderful way back to memories of reading Arthur Bryant’s trilogy of books,  the first being written during the Second World War, about the Napoleonic wars, and this week, Robert Wiltons’ historical novel ‘Treasons Tide’ which paints a very different picture of the same period.

My reading also confirmed that that basic law of physics, that every force is balanced by an equal and opposite force, is particularly true when considering relations between the English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish. Of course, at different times the English acted in a terrible way, but it was not entirely one-sided. It was a Scottish army that King Charles the First led to fight against the English. During the Napoleonic and the Elizabethan periods, the Irish posed a constant threat to the English with their support for the catholic forces of Spain and France. Moreover, the balance of power was never that straightforward. Without the navy, as history has shown, England has always been a soft target.

Since we have been treated to birdsong all day and every day, I share with you parts of two poems written by one of my best loved poets, Walter de la Mare:

The robin’s whistled stave
Is tart as half-ripened fruit;
Wood-sooth from bower of leaves
The blackbirds’s flute;
And the thrush, and long tailed tit – 
Each hath its own apt tongue,
Shrill, harsh, or sweet.

And

Of all the birds that rove and sing,
Near dwellings made for men,
None is so nimble, feat and strimming
As Jenny Wren

With pin-point bill and tail a-cock,
So wildly shrill she cries,
The echoes on their roof-tree knock
And fill the skies.

Never was sweeter seraph hid
Within so small a house –
A tiny inch-long, ,eager, ardent
Feathered mouse.

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