“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”
Probably a grudging ‘could be worse’ is the best you can hope from any farmer when asked about the weather. Sadly, I have to join that refrain. The rain has been helpful as has been the odd burst of sunshine, but did we really have to have the Arctic wind and morning frosts? The plants need heat to benefit from the rain. And let’s be very direct, a weekend of warmish weather, has not been enough.
With that off my chest, I can admit that all has not been bad.
Inevitably there has been some of an adrenaline drop what with all being well with the cattle and a bank holiday for Ulula, but of course on a stock farm life goes on, so the animals had to be tended, the sheep looked after, and any spare time spent just maintaining the fabric. At least Chris has had help over and above wife and grandchildren from Leslie, as is always the case, when she can manage it. She has spent hours at the barn and in the field and this week Brendan gave us several days.
Lambing is not yet over, but all but a few have now lambed, all have been ‘tagged’ and happily there are few orphans.
Chris, with his prize-winning impression of a rabbit, was fortunate on one visit to see a slightly lame fox making its way past some sheep. They did turn to face the animal but that was all, though Chris got a splendid video of it. In fairness to the foxes, they do clear the ground by eating the placenta. Filming hares and deer, though there are many on the farm, is another matter.
Chris meets the fox!
Staying with the cattle, on Friday the suckler herd was released from the barn. To reach their destination they had to trot down the bridle path, then cross the field behind the barn in order to reach the first of the rented fields which had been prepared for their use. On reaching the ‘home’ field they, almost as one, took off at a tearing speed and rushed down the field and back again before spotting the opening into the rented fields. No doubt in a large field the drama would have been less but in these circumstances, it was quite a sight to see, in rural Worcestershire, such a large group of over fifty cattle made up of cows and calves and bringing up the rear moving in a slow, dignified and ponderous style the bull. In passing, remember how viscous stray strands of barbed wire are – I had to leave the scene to go back to get repairs at home. I missed seeing the young stock move onto the field by the road. Only some forty this time but I am sure they were, if anything, more lively – a normal event with young animals.
Field 4 has received deluxe treatment. Stones were collected, and then before the midweek rain, it was very heavily composted and additionally sprayed with a homemade nettle brew. Since we are hardly short of nettles or comfrey it seems daft not to use them. The real irony is that this was one of the first fields resown under HLS and looked good last year.
Each week we look out for the fencers, but it seems the shortage of fence posts, and it seems wire continues – as some might say – no doubt a cunning plan to undermine the French. But hey ho….
The house gardens are really starting to burst into life. The apple trees are just past bud burst and appear in pinkie white as well as deep red. While the grape hyacinths have all but decided their day is over, the lawns are full of white and yellow while in the bed by the house, the ‘grannies bonnets’ opening, and the peonies close behind. As a non-rabbit food eater, I do none the less, enjoy the pleasure fresh salad, out of the gardens, gives its eaters. But this frost almost every night really has been a damper.
Early in the week I read a newspaper article written by an Alex Fenton. He had, in clearing out his attic, discovered papers which revealed in past days, that like many another wealthy Scottish family, the family had owned plantations and the slaves to work them in the West Indies, and plantations in Ceylon which bought in indentured Tamil labour from India and in due course owned in Scotland ‘dark satanic mills’. He and his family appear truly mortified by this discovery.
Coming from a background which certainly has no back history like this, reading his article was not only interesting but challenging. I still remember a tearful sister coming across ancestors who had died in either the poorhouse or the workhouse or simply drowned. I confess I did find it difficult to fully share her emotions which, possibly explains why after reading this article I wondered which of these two ‘trades’ made this family feel most guilty and, frankly why.
In my mind I am not my father, let alone one of my grandfathers, and what they made of their lives is interesting but no more. Nor do I blame my ancestors for the life I have lived, though it would be absurd to deny the effect of having loving, caring, intelligent and successful parents.
Surely what really matters is to work to ensure we are part of a society that is not racist, or one where poverty is rampant, and where the rich do not just get richer and the poorer must get poorer.
And why do we British love to indulge in sackcloth and ashes? Our history is not unique, is no doubt in most ways no better or no worse than any other except that, in the 19th century eventually, an awareness arose as to the need to reform and in so doing led many parts of the world to act similarly.
Changing tack, my reading is still very light and largely confined to matters agricultural, but my companion in the sitting room has enjoyed(?) the first three relating to Bernie Gunther books by Philip Kerr and is now alternating between Obama’s autobiography and a book entitled 1759. After a reluctant start she rather enjoyed a Robert Harris novel. In my view he is one of our best writers. His three-volume story of Cicero was outstanding.
Inevitably I am listening to even more music. In fact, it could be said I am wallowing in box sets of long dead great pianists and violinists. We are so lucky to be able to access this material at around £2 a disc. So lucky also that there are experts out there at remastering old vinyl and tapes. Success with 78’s is more hit and miss. Understandable since issues of balance, clean sources and the need to use up to eight 78s to record a long piece of music brings its own problems with 78’s and with tapes, the further issue of flutter. This is very much in my mind currently because I bought a CD of Adolf Busch playing both the Brahms Double Concerto and his Violin Concerto. The first was frankly rubbish but, though in the Violin Concerto the orchestra was still very muddy, the sweetness of the violin made listening just about worthwhile.
As a total contrast we tuned in on Sunday night to the Young Musician of 2020 final. All three finalists chose compositions created within the last fifty years, and though I stuck it out, Anne withdrew before the first finalist had finished, and to be honest it was sheer determination that kept me listening. I could ignore the dubious Bonhomme gushing of the introducer, but my inability to feel any connection with the sounds being produced was a sad turn off. The performers were clearly gifted but their choice of compositions left me cold.
One the advantages of listening to music is that I can at the same time, watch through our sitting window the variety of birds to be seen and, even from time to time, sadly, the odd rabbit. This side garden is a mix of the formal and informal. Too much of course is lawn, but now at least the majority is left uncut for the wildflowers to return. Presently a common visitor is the blackbird. We see both sexes but something they have in common is a scurrying habit. The moorhens from our neighbours pond now visit with their chicks. The greater spotted woodpecker is a regular figure but his larger and frankly more dramatic looking cousin, the green woodpecker is here only sometimes. We know there is a pair nesting in the field adjacent to the house, but they are infrequent visitors to us except when the ants are all but ready to take wing.
Happily, we are seeing fewer magpies and jackdaws now the feeding cylinders stop heavy birds from access to the contents. The jackdaw, a smaller version of the northern hooded Crow seems to have replaced the starlings which clearly prefer to be on the fields. Although my distance vision is much improved in my left eye, I cannot identify the hordes of small birds which certainly include wrens, sparrows, dunnocks as well as blue and great tits.
On the eleventh Gert is coming as part of his survey of birds on the farm. Obviously, he did not want to start the survey before our summer migrants join us. Among the birds he will certainly see on the farm are the large number of goslings by the scrape! And while in that area I hope he enjoys the larks which once again seem happy to be here.
I have referred to our continued practice of not cutting every square inch of the lawns. We also are once again not cutting the verges to the drive. Untidy I know, but the other day I counted twelve different wildflowers, and the Ladies smock has spread greatly. Something to really celebrate! And just recently there was a national plea that all gardeners should adopt this approach as the common daisy is, it seems, becoming far less common.
My interest in looking to relate the past to the present does I know, open me to the charge of historicism, but I do not see myself in that light. After all, how could one not be affected by Karl Popper’s analytic destruction of that concept. But this concern extends, or perhaps was initiated by, the failure in school and university teaching, to recognise that subjects should not be isolated into separate glass cylinders, and no doubt, consequent on that, fail to see how so much of history, for example is affected by the weather, the geology and the nature of the landscape and not only human beings.
The past may affect the future but does not determine it.
A conversation at lunchtime about wars in the 17th century suddenly reminded me that, and I again referred to this last week, my not having any history teaching at secondary school. This was true, but when I think about it more carefully, I have to accept how much as children was available then but not today.
Reviewing mentally the children’s reading books of the pair of us, many kept both with the thought that our children might read them and an emotional difficulty in just throwing them away, forced me to recognise the vast difference between what middle class children from literate parents read and the children’s books of today. Leaving aside authors like Rosemary Sutcliffe, there were a host of writers like the Treece brothers who felt very happy about exploring history, especially from the point of view of ordinary people. Writers such as C H Marshall directly addressed history in books such as ‘Our Island History’.
Secondly our generation, as children had none of the distractions of today. The radio was important, and ‘Children’s Hour’ was rather different from what is available today. Books were a normal part of life and, if like me, health might mean much time spent in bed, reading became and stayed an indelible part of life even up to this moment. If your parents did not have a book you wanted to read, the local library had a children’s section almost as large as the adult section.
In fact, to be ridiculously frank, books are as important to me as alcohol is to others.
Finally, the language used at home and in ‘so-called’ children’s books made no concessions to readers in terms of either vocabulary or sentence construction. It is too easy to fail to have noticed how our language, spoken and written has changed. I know my writing probably illustrates this, but for me, it is too late to change. One thing that has not changed is of course the discrepancy between our speech and spelling. A question I will ask our French undergraduates is how much of their French primary education was taken up in both learning spelling and reading.
There have of course been many attempts to revise our spelling but to no avail. Even Americans, despite spelling changes made to show their independence, still have this disconnect. Whether the Norwegians were more successful when they gained their independence from Sweden in 1904(?) and deliberately changed their language, I know not.
Fretting last week that my notes were far too long as the word counter reached 3,000 words, I remembered (and perhaps sought comfort in the face of possible abuse at going on too long), that as undergraduate and graduate, I was expected to, on a weekly basis, provide essays of between 3 and 5,000 words. Indeed, as an undergraduate taking a compound degree, often two such essays a week. And as a graduate, each qualification required a 40,000-word paper with detailed references to thoughts contained within it. Perhaps the habit is now just too ingrained to be able to thwart it!
My theme in recent weeks, if that is not too grand a claim, is bound up in number of thoughts. The first is that every action, by either an individual or group, has consequences but that these are unpredictable; those good intentions operate in the same way and finally except in win/win situations, the outcomes are rarely positive.
In my last set of notes I was attempting to demonstrate how, in the 17th century, decisions made led to outcomes that today we might dislike, and can reasonably assume were not anticipated by the decision makers.
This week I had thought to try this approach with the 18th century but decided that instead I should elaborate on my concerns about our educational system.
For a start, learning seems always to have been based on a non-holistic view. I think matters became worse when instead of teachers coming to pupils, this was reversed. It was a sad mistake. From the student’s point of view the security of working in your own space was destroyed; physically students now had to carry around all the books needed for the day or have corridors blocked by rows of lockers. There were indeed many advantages for the teacher, but with his or her own departmental room or rooms came isolation from other subjects. Finally, to ensure teaching was no longer a vocation, capitulation to union leaders on the maximum hours in a year. Union leaders who I often saw, could not remember when they last actually taught.
When, a lifetime ago, I was responsible for maths teaching it struck me that if we were to get together with the physics teachers it might make more sense of the maths and prepare the students for the maths in physics they inevitably would need. No dice, we had to follow the curriculum.
I concede for certain subjects such as physics, chemistry, crafts and perhaps music, spatial separation was probably inevitable, but unless the curriculum was overcrowded by spurious options, each of those subjects had a context into which they might be sat – certainly a historical one. And thinking of music education, listening has its own importance and do we have to pretend there was no music making in the country?
It is surely in the humanities where the teacher ought to spread his or her wings a little. In English what novel does not give you scope for introducing a wider horizon. Take ‘Lorna Doone’ for example. By all means notice how our written language has changed over 150 years, but why not also spend time on the Frost Fairs which lasted from the fifteen hundred to 1814 or, sketch in the fairly tumultuous history of that time in the late 17th century or talk about a world in which Exmoor was created. What I would ask, in poetry especially, is that emotions do not allow over distortion about say the 1st World War, or dismissal of poets like Kipling, Masefield and Service.
In history, how can you go wrong. The Baron’s wars of the twelfth hundreds were not just about dates. Our heroes or villains were real people pushing the boundaries of representational government; what for example did the inhabitants of Evesham at that final battle feel; what of the future when, in this battle, for perhaps for the first time, the nobles were slaughtered and just who were these barons.
Geography offers an even more delicious treat whether thinking of the physical or regional. How about the explosion of Krakatoa; marvellous desolation of course but what about the varied people in the area including Dutch colonialists and British seamen whose numbers pale into insignificance against the loss of Indonesian life.
Applying massive self-discipline, I stop because I want to give prominence to a rather special person in my life and that of the family, Anne, who’s birthday it is today.
The poet Swift could be miraculous but, in this poem, he is looking back through the years that have passed and is happy with things as they are now.
This day, whate’er the Fates decree,
Shall still be kept with joy by me:
This day then let us not be told,
That you are sick, and I grown old;
Nor think on our approaching ills,
And talk of spectacles and pills.
To-morrow will be time enough
To hear such mortifying stuff.
Yet, since from reason may be brought
A better and more pleasing thought,
Which can, in spite of all decays,
Support a few remaining days:
From not the gravest of divines
Accept for once some serious lines.