We’re a farmer down!

We’re a farmer down!

“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”

After the ground, unprovoked, came up and attacked me, I was ably assisted to my chair, where we waited, painfully for all of us for different reasons, for the ambulance for 4 hours, and then a malicious, pernicious road continued the assault on me in the ambulance. 11 painful and noisy hours later I was in theatre for a partial hip replacement, using an epidural which meant I was free to talk to the many in the room with me.  With what felt like more countries represented in the room than the commonwealth contains I was, as you would expect, able to express my feelings on Dido Harding and Pritti Patel’s nonsense about who the NHS should employ. 

Let it be clear, hospital is not for sleeping.  

I would go so far as to say I love the NHS and what it represents, and I have met nothing but good intentions, but the pace of life here is slow to stationary, and the lack of visitors thanks to the dreaded Covid, and the lack of being able to talk to a doctor – for me, or the family – is challenging in the extreme. 

So, here are this week’s notes, and I am ably assisted by those still at the farm. 

I managed a trip around the farm early in the week, driving myself, which felt recklessly like good fun – but sadly the wind and the pollen left me out of action for two days afterwards, and leaving me in huge sunglasses that had the family debating whether I was doing an impression of Roy Orbison or Ray Charles. Myself, I was feeling more Buddy Holly. 

The weather this week has been another challenge – wind, a bit of rain, not much sun… and this may be the reason we have so far experienced a dearth of butterflies in the garden and across the farm.  

We discovered a huge bank of hemlock, which we are now despatching. It is important to not let the flowers go to seed. If we had been able to have more help of the farm earlier in the season these plants would have been spotted and dug up, but now the ground is too hard, so we are cutting them to the ground. In the midst of the hemlock, we found a Guineas Fowl nest. Once the hemlock is dealt with, we will be topping that field. 

Another calf arrived safely on Tuesday, and with the cow’s having been moved into one of the rented fields, where the grass was happily very high, we do hear the cow’s more than usual – the grass high enough to make the newer calves almost disappear. They will be moved again next week. We feel extremely grateful to have these rented fields while our rotation is so curtailed by the needs to adhere to the stewardship programme. We also were able to take several cows to Fordhall Farm as planned. 

After the cows, the ewes and lambs have been moved into the field to tidy up, including if like last year, the lambs eating the docks. When they are moved on, then the field will be topped to ensure that the docks and nettles flowers don’t go to seed. Before we could move the ewes and lambs, we had to get them into the barn to check their feet and give them a footbath. The Rams have also moved, into the triangle, and they too disappeared into long grass for several days. They were moved from the Ram’s field, which has now been topped.  

We enjoyed a noisy night when a duck and her ducklings got separated from each other near the house. The ducklings were in the children’s sand pit, and the mother was in the field. Since they were next to each other, it was hard to understand the issue, but the children enjoyed seeing the ducklings, so I won’t grumble about it… too much.  Many hours of the ducklings ‘pipping’, which according to Rosie is the official term, followed. Eventually we got all ducklings in the field, and we haven’t heard from them since. While trying to help them out, two foxes and a muntjac were spotted in the same field that morning. There were also reports of two Gnu and a Buffalo, but without photographic evidence, I am not inclined to believe them.  

A tiny ducking!

I had been preparing for the Soil Association and Red Tractor Inspection on Tuesday but look at the length I go to in order to miss the collation of the necessary paperwork. Not at all. I am extremely apologetic to Chris to leave him solely handling this task. It is a massive job for two, and one of the many good things about Chris and my working relationship is the division of our labours.  

Water

The current situation in Australia, California and the mid-West makes me, at least, wonder why no one ever was asked the question, why were these areas before the Europeans came, lightly inhabited. An obvious reason over and above a sense of superiority, is that climatic conditions may at the time of settlement have been favourable, and the number of settlers far fewer than are living there now.  

Not only are there many more people, but the growth in population took no account of the casual overuse of the key resource for human habitation – water. 

In passing, I cannot not mention what happened in Saskatchewan in the early twentieth century. Early settlers had arrived when winters were relatively mild. Towards the end of the first decade of the century, the area was hit by cold so intense animals frozen standing in their barns. Since Europeans knew best, it never occurred to the settlers to seek advice from the native inhabitants of the area. One result that might have been anticipated was that the settlers who were from warmer climes decamped westwards leaving the territory free for those who hailed from equally in hospitable lands. Incidentally here is another part of the world that without electricity could not support a significant population.  

Overuse of this key resource, water, for growing fruit and vegetables, and drinking for humans and stock, has another significant, but apparently unnoticed consequence. A key source of electrical power comes from electricity generated by hydroelectric installations. That relies on supply of rain continuing to exceed consumption. And all depends on climatic conditions not changing.  

The potential problems elsewhere were, for a significant period, concealed by the use of water contained in underlying aquifers. Once that source of water is eliminated, unless climatic conditions bring years of heavy rain, then what?  

Well Israel is an example of a state which has found a way of coping with a population far in numbers, greater than the climate allows. But these, like similar states, have access to sea water and can increase supplies by desalination, and by the increasingly controlled use of the water is does have.  

This of course is yet another demand on the supply of electricity. Neither way forward is available in the mid-West, who might have been supposed to remember the ‘dust bowl’ years.   

Population

One fact that really just cannot be ignored, however uncomfortable that may be, is the effect on population from numbers of a combination of factors.  

For centuries doctors relied on a hymn and a prayer and were probably less effective than herbalists. Mortality levels were horrendous, particularly at childbirth, for both mother and baby. Epidemics came and went, sometimes killing half the population, sometimes only a third. Bad winters in Northern Europe and crop failures depleted populations significantly, either by death or emigration.  Putting to one side the Irish Famine, which history puts down entirely to the wicked English, all northern continental countries and Scandinavia suffered similarly – from memory, Sweden lost half its population.  

But there are other causes of excessive population growth leading to areas of land entirely unsuitable being inhabited.  

At a trivial level it happens in this country when greedy developers build houses on flood plains.  

The situation in Bangladesh arises from a different problem. Reductions in mortality coming from, in part at least, good intentions by the colonial powers, sadly were in no way associated with a fall in birth rates.  

And finally, never to be forgotten, as population control mechanisms were, war, dirty air, dirty water, poor sanitation and hazardous occupations, the seas around the Cornish coast alone might see a thousand shipwrecks in a single year, mining for gold, copper, tin and coal was almost as lethal an occupation.  

And while I am being depressive, let us not forget it is not just the Californians, with their planting of the wrong trees, who are wrecking their environment and their use of water. Australia is an outstanding example of a state so intent on money, it has all but destroyed its ecosystem and, though it pains me to write it, that so, so respectable state, Canada has a record on environmental concerns as shaming.  

Effluent from paper mills both historically, and today is now joined by exploitation of the oil sands of Alberta.  

As I re read these words I cannot get out of my mind the following. The usual joke about sheep is that it is their ambition to end their days on their backs with their legs pointing to the skies. I have a feeling that there should be a similar joke about humans along the same lines. 

Historical fact or fiction 

The approach to history seems always to be changing. After a long period of historians interpreting history through the lens of Marxism, in recent years the approach has significantly altered. We have also seen the growth of historians who specialise in detailed examination of particular events and periods.  

Biographies of prominent individuals, real and mythical, have always been there. For many who study history at school it will seem all about dates and, if going on to take, ‘A’ levels, the studies will often be of specific periods.  

The built-in weakness in all approaches is, of course, over and above determining possible fact from fiction, in deciding what to include and what to set aside. Anne is currently readings books by Dr Mark Morris, one on the Normans and one on the Anglo-Saxons. The author is very careful at the start of both books to make clear the restrictions he has imposed upon himself – as of course he should. It is only historians with an axe to grind, or an ‘l’ to promote, who will do otherwise.  

In fairness to the historian, he or she, depending on the period studied, is either overwhelmed by, or, for example, in thinking about ‘The Dark Ages’, the lack of information. They also have to be aware that later historians may either have access to previously unavailable information or discover material they have relied on is flawed.  

If speculation is indulged in, it is a dangerous approach requiring much caveating. This is particularly true for archaeologists or interpreters of fossil remains as many have learnt to their personal, or followers, cost. 

Is there a solution for the innocent soul attempting to grasp the past? The only way forward I know is to be prepared to read widely to if you can find them, read translations from historians writing in other languages, and to learn as much as you can about the background of the author you are reading – and that means more than accepting the publisher’s blurb. Here Wikipedia and the internet can be useful. And finally, be sceptical, bearing in mind that ‘facts’ are as hard to pin down as the ‘truth’. 

Purely accidentally I discovered that 1832, known to us all as the year of the Great Reform Act, was also the year that cholera returned devastatingly to our shores. From other sources I know that in the First half of the 19th century there were three such epidemics. It may be that Britain escaped the first in 1811, but the second in 1832 hit London and Glasgow particularly badly. The last, in 1849, may or may not have killed royalty. But the 19th century is for another day.  

It has been in my mind for some time to share some thoughts on the 18th century since it was this period which did much to set the pattern for the next two centuries.  

One way of describing it, is as a period that started with a war, was marked by a war in the middle of the century, which might well be described as the first World war and concluded during a second World war. At school you may well have heard of the Austrian succession war, the seven-year war and certainly will have heard of the Napoleonic wars.  

Whether you registered the wider significance of these wars depended entirely on your teacher or textbook. After all, in that century there was probably no year which was conflict free. And this was the century which saw revolution in both America and France. Both caused in part by money.  

The French economy had been so severely damaged, conditions for the people had become intolerable, and the result was inevitable.  

Money also played a part in the American Revolution. The British government in an attempt to recoup some of the military cost of operations in North America attempted to raise taxes from the American colonists.  

The American case was weak, but of course feelings were running high, stoked by English radicals and, in addition, the colonial governments attempt’s to protect the native population, and in particular stop expansion westwards.  

There was another state which also saw its influence grow during this time and that was Prussia, and the consequences of that reached fruition in the creation of a nation called Germany, led by what not so many decades before had been an insignificant member of the nearly two hundred groups that had German in common as their language, but which excluded Austria out of the fear that in association with Bavaria, the balance of religious power would tilt towards Roman Catholicism. 

I realise I have totally failed to speak to how this period felt to individuals. The reason in simple and obvious for Anne and I – our only personal sources of direct memory did not seriously suffer. Yes, members of both our families died in the war, yes, I did have a great-uncle who lost his job in the early thirties and never worked again. Yes, we both had families whose experience of the period was different, but by and large, the ups and downs of the period were not seriously felt by either family.  

A grandfather of mine who fought in the trenches became very politicised, but actually, even before the war, he had turned his back on the world of his family. In a similar way, but I think for quite different reasons, Anne’s father, following his father, rejected the world of his ancestors. 

Apart from my one great uncle, and he was never destitute, neither of us can think of a close family member who ever struggled to find work or feed his family.  

Leaving aside Anne’s mother whose family moved to England before Nazification, her father and my father went to university, as would my mother if not for her father’s hostility to that idea. Mind you, my father’s family could not easily accept why he should want to waste his time in that way.  

The church was a feature in both our parents’ lives, as was the urge to give something back to the community.  

There are books in translation which leave in little doubt that on a personal level these were bad times for most, in most countries.  

At a national level there can be no doubt now as to the horrors enacted in the USSR; life in Germany over this period was worsened both by the fragile political world and the hyperinflation that resulted from the Wall Street crash and the calling in of absurd loans by American banks given to German companies; the Italians accepted fascism first; the French avoided that, but they like all European countries had been deeply scarred by war. Even the Americans suffered, whether from high unemployment or over exploitation of their environment. And in every country, every nation lived with the consequences of war deaths and the presence of large numbers of physically and mentally damaged ex-soldiers.  

It is too easy to be seduced by the actions of ‘flappers’, the musicals written by Wodehouse, or the scenes portrayed in films such as Cabaret, and Hollywood musical extravaganzas to overlook these hardships. 

Of course, not all was doom and gloom. There were medical and scientific advances. There was much great poetry, prose and music written. Technology built on knowledge gained in the war, as of course did medicine. The automobile and lorry began competing with the railways for business, and women suffered a blow as men returned from war and expected their jobs back, but at last in this country and elsewhere they at last got the vote.  

The desire for independence in the colonies grew stronger as did the feelings in the Dominions. In this country at least, attempts to promote anti-Semitism failed – neither fascism nor communism attracted significant numbers. And perhaps as importantly as anything here, social reform gained much needed impetus.  

Brexit 

Wednesday morning, I found myself reading a long article on Brexit.  

Knowing that many of you are great supports I apologise in advance for being negative, but given not only the effect on the family business, and the mass of incontrovertible evidence, I feel I must share this quote with you: 

“With the UK being the only major country that voted to break away from a deep economic and regulatory relationship with a huge neighbouring trading bloc, any mismatch in performance between expected UK performance and actual performance could reasonably be attributed to the Brexit vote to be led back. 

A number of these studies, using different baskets of comparison countries, showed that a post-referendum gap opened up in UK economic performance due to lower business investment and the impact of the sterling slump on household spending. 

And these studies pointed to Brexit damage of 1 to 2 percent of GDP, or between £20 billion and £40 billion, by the end of 2019. To put it in the terms preferred by the Vote Leave page during the referendum campaign, that represents a loss of between £400 million and £800 million a week” 

Thinking of those who happily peddled lies in the campaign, I offer this poem in case they might recognise the word conscience and see where what might have been applicable to them also, if they had taken a different path.  

On a clear conscience written by Charles the First I in1631  

Close thine eyes, and sleep secure: 
They soul is safe, thy body pure. 
He that guards thee, He that keeps, 
Never slumbers, never sleeps. 
A quiet conscience in the breast 
Has only peace, has only rest.  

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