4th June 2018

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En Garde !

I have taken up fencing today, I had little alternative. It was only a matter of time following the birth of the billy goat kids. This is not some form of self-defence, there is no cut and parry nor clever swordsmanship, this simply the need to fence the old lower meadow as somewhere for them to stay.  Goats mature sexually very young, as we know from experience, and I don’t want this to happen while the boys are living with their mother, aunty or sister. I need some good fences and distance between them.

One of the important things about fencing, as with many agricultural tasks, is having the right tools for the job. My wife believes the right tools for fencing are the business card of a professional fencer and telephone. It is true that the professionals with tractors and post drivers will do a better job and that you will end up with taut, plumb straight fences but you will have to pay them. Fencing, basic stock fencing at least, is not that difficult and it is quite enjoyable to do. There is quite a sense of achievement to look at the end of day’s work and to see that you have actually altered the geography of a place.

The correct tools you need are :-

  • DSC_3140.JPGCrowbar
  • Post Rammer
  • Fence tensioner
  • Fencing Tool

as well as stock fencing, post and staples.  The posts you will need for basic stock fencing are 5′ 6″ long, 3 1/2″ diameter, rough hewn posts. These are reasonably priced in most farmers’ marts. The staples are bought by the kilogram and 30mm (by 3.3mm) galvanised staples are your best bet.

Once you have decided where your fence is going to go then get all your tools, and enough of your materials to the start point. Then clear the line of your proposed fence with a brush cutter.  Try to keep to straight lines as far as practicable. I could not today as the edge of the meadow is a meandering river, so I needed to follow its curves.

DSC_3155.JPGFirstly use the crowbar to make a hole. This need not be too wide. It is best about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide – as the post goes down it will create its path and we want a tight fit. We don’t want to disturb more earth than necessary. While the width of the hole doesn’t matter the depth does. The hole should be at least 2 1/2 feet deep. This is where the strength comes from and it is wise to work get at least this depth.  Once you have the hole, roughly insert the fence post into place.

Now use the post rammer. This is one place where the right tool helps. You could use a sledgehammer for this task. That is, you could use a sledgehammer if your spouse has fingers to spare, an undoubting loyalty to you and no sense of fear whatsoever.  If you use a sledgehammer you need somebodyDSC_3153.JPG to hold the pole while you hammer it in. Or if you are really brave you can hole the pole while someone tries to hit it with a large metal hammer. If you use the post rammer you can work alone. Check after the first couple of strikes that you have the post vertical as if you try and correct later on it can ber very difficult. It you do manage to dislodge and re-align the fence post you will often leave that post wobbly which you do not want.

Next you need the fence tensioner. This is a long bar that can grip one of the horizontal wires on the fencing. You can then use it as a lever to pull the fence taught before hitting in the staples. It is important to get the fence as tight as you can or else it will sag and start to become a liability. A loose fence is poor at DSC_3157.JPGkeeping animals  in (or out, depending on what you want). You can put all your body weight against the long arm of the tensioner to get a good tension going and then, stand leaning against it, while you use  both hands to get the staples knocked. Or you can ask your spouse to keep the tension while you hammer. They should be happy to do this after you have told them you abandoned your plans with the sledgehammer !

When knocking in the staples don’t be too stingy with them. At least 4 for each post. Always one on the uppermost and one on the lowermost wires, and two (and preferably three) in between them. It is useful to hammer the staples in on the oblique, slightly slanted. DSC_3159.JPGIf you insert them vertically with the pins going in one directly above the other there is a tendency to create a fissure, or crack, in the fence post between them. Over time this widens and your staples will risk falling out.

This is another time when the correct tool will help you. A fencing tool is your best bet for this part of the job. Certainly you can use a hammer but you will also need pliers to bend wires and a bendy thingimmy to extract old or misplaced staples. You can also be sure that when you are standing holding the pole and fence in position  and holding the hammer you will actually need the bendy DSC_3160.JPGthingimmy, or if you have the pliers you will need the hammer. Having all of them in one tool is invaluable. I would also suggest getting a pair in bright colours. I regret buying my blue handled pair. You will spend an annoyingly long time looking in the grass for this tool. You have a better chance of seeing it if it is bright red or yellow – avoid black and green like the plague.

Once you have done all of this work you will be able to look back and admire your handiwork. There is now only one last thing you need to do. You can now tear up your gym membership card; if you manage this you never need to see the inside of a gym, or look at an exercise machine, let alone consider wearing lycra.

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Milking again.

Milking again.

After a long hiatus we have started milking again this week. Last year we gave our two nannies a break from milking as we felt they deserved a rest. This meant, for the first time for us, we had to arrange to get the them in kid so we could restart the milking process. Thankfully this did not require a lot of skills natural impulses and the billy goat managed all of the basics without any real intervention on our part. This week we have started to wean the kids away from their mother and to restart the daily milking cycle. I had forgotten how important this was to me.

I always feel that milking is like the heartbeat of the farm. Every day, come hell or high water, at the same times we go milking. Every other part of our day is organised around these times. As we only have a few animals we cannot justify the cost  of a milking machine. Therefore all our milking is down by hand and thus it is very rarely that we can go away  for more than 10 hours.  When I worked we were world travellers, crisscrossing the globe for business and pleasure, this is but a dim memory now.  Very infrequently, when we have friend who have been trained how to milk, we venture away for our annual holiday.  For our most recent holiday we went to hotel 8 miles away (just in case we had to get back in an emergency) for “dinner, bed and breakfast” having come across vouchers on the web. I have to say that the holiday was as enjoyable as any we have had and a great deal less stressful.

My favourite is the morning milking. This occurs between 5 and 6 am in the spring and summer, and thankfully a bit later in winter and autumn. At this time of day the world truly is a peace. The only noises are the birds wakening  and the animals calling for their feed. The rest of the world doesn’t seem to have roused and it feels like there is only me and the goats. Very rarely I might catch sight of our neighbour who has cattle on the other side of the valley as he goes on his early morning run to attend to them. It is too peaceful to do anything more than wave and nod.

The morning milking is quite quick. Sitting with your head against the flank of a goat listening to the rhythmic “whoosh whoosh” of the milk as it is pumped into the bucket is very relaxing. Once the milk is safely gathered I need to filter and bottle it. For this part of the procedure I have a daily podcast to keep my attention and I listen to the Bwletin Amaeth which is the short morning farmers’ program that keeps me up to date with agricultural issues and the weather. This is just long enough to keep my attention while I prepare the milk.

The evening milking is done as late as I can so as to try and keep the nanny from feeling overfull the following morning. It is the last task on the farm and I see it as the closing up aspect for the day. After collecting and preparing the milk I do a round of all the animal houses and make a quick head-count of the sheep. It is a reassuring and pleasant feeling to know that everyone is well and  where they are meant to be.

Perhaps the best thing about milking is that it means we are again much more self-reliant. As we always have eggs and milk in the house there is never a pressing reason to go shopping. You can always prepare something to eat no matter  how badly organised you have been. It used to annoy me when, in my previous life, I’d find we had no milk and would then ‘pop out’ to the supermarket which was open 24 hours. I’d go for milk but always come back with a bag of groceries as I’d be tempted by the 2 for 1 offers  or I’d buy the end of date items which always seemed to be a bargain I could not forego. Latterly our supermarket became more of a department store so going out for milk could mean returning with  trousers or a short as well. I should have been able to go and spend £1 but invariably I was gullible and came back spending over £10.

Goat’s milk is very versatile and can be used in many recipes but I feel the best thing to use if for (other than as milk) is to make yoghurt. There are few recipes as healthy as that for  natural yoghurt. The ingredients are :-

  • milk

and that’s it. I don’t understand why more people don’t make their own. All that is required is to bring the milk up to 195F (the temperature that it starts to boil) and stir it for a few moments. Then let it cool down to 110F, when it feels hot rather than tepid, and stir in a tablespoon of your last batch of yoghurt. Leave it somewhere warm overnight and voila  you have yoghurt. I leave it in the bottom of the oven after it has been used and is still warm but switched off. Once it is ready transfer it to the fridge. It is possible to add sugars and flavours but natural goats milk yoghurt really doesn’t benefit from this.

The only downside of milking that I can currently see is that I now have two young billy goats I don’t need. We’ll see if anyone else has a desire for them,  but if not I have plans that mean will need to start working in earnest next week.

 

 

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Far too many Y chromosomes in this picture

 

 

More burqa madness.

More burqa madness.

This week Denmark’s parliament voted to pass a law which effectively bans Muslim  women wearing either the Burqa or Niqab in public places. In this they have joined a number of other European countries in introducing such a ban ; France, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland have similar bans, or partial bans, in some areas. The reasons given for these bans, including the most recent one, is always the apparently sensible need to have an uncovered face during some interactions for security or clarity of communication. However, despite the protestations that these bans are not aimed at the Muslim populations particularly it is clear that this is not the case.

The Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen was quite clear that he though these aspects of religious observance by Muslims were not welcome in Denmark when, in 2010, he said

“the burqa and the niqab do not have their place in the Danish society. They symbolize a conception of the woman and of the humanity to which we are fundamentally opposed and that we want to fight in the Danish society,”

I also think it is unlikely that any undecided voters could have mistaken the intention behind the poster used by the Danish Peoples’ Party who supported a stronger version of the law, including prison sentences, which quite clearly has Muslim women in its sights :-

DegrUbdW0AAHbR1It is clear that, despite all the protestations that these laws and bans are in place to improve communication and safety and that they have no particular religion in mind, these laws all stem from a desire to make life difficult for Muslim women in these countries. It is disingenuous to say otherwise and to try and present them acts of a liberal society.

Across Europe there have been many changes to societies and these have included the effects of mass migration. Cultures which were previously Christian now find themselves largely secular and populations which were previously homogenous are now much more mixed. While there are aspects of these changes which are welcomed and beneficial there are also many aspects which people find disadvantageous and worrisome. This is particularly so to the elderly and the working class.

The elderly see the erosion of faith and religion in their culture and the growth of new, and strange, faiths. Often these religions appear hostile to each other. The well published wars raging in the middle-east and the importation of terrorism to European cities will cause, more than just the elderly, to become fearful. And in this regard the term islamophobia may be correct, they do fear the growth of  Islam, and are not reassured when they see the persecution of Christians in the Middle East or local police activity oin their capitals.

The working class believe mass migration has allowed their wages to be undercut and living standards to fall and made them fear for their and their families future. In times of stress they see their welfare states failing to meet the demands placed upon it and start to question whether it is being spread too thinly. Welfare states survive because we all feel “we are all  in it together”, it is the governmental form of our collective identity, and it operates best when people feel a sense of social cohesion. We all want the best for our neighbours as we can understand  them and their predicaments. However, as societies become increasingly diverse that cohesion is loosened and the willingness to share with those we don’t recognise as “like us” is reduced.

These groups, and others, think on the group level. They think about “them” not about the individual, not about their specific neighbour, not about A’ishah and Zarif and their kids next door. The more people know people from other cultures the less they fear them. Those who report the most hostility to strangers are those who have the least interactions with them. It is true to say that those living in the very diverse cities tend to have less xenophobic feelings to those living in small rural backwaters.

Day to day, first hand experience, does a great deal to counter prejudice and bigotry. Knowledge is the best antidote ignorance and the best source of knowledge is communication. Unfortunately communication in this particular area has been bvery poor. The major migration shifts were never discussed and now the problems people perceive, rightly or wrongly, are not discussed either. When attempts have been made to question aspects of migration which are seen to be adverse all too often the response has been to shut the debate down with cries that “You can’t say that. You are being racist“. While this does effectively shut down conversation it does not sort the problem. Those with concerns still have concerns but now know they are not allowed to discuss them.  They know that they are no longer seen as part of polite society.

Unable to discuss their concern they have to try new strategies. They switch from unacceptable concerns (“I’m worried about my job prospects”, “I worry there are not enough maternity beds”) to proxy concerns “I think it is terrible the way these womens’ faces are covered” which allows them to attack the group without appearing to do so. This is what is happening with these clothing bans, although with very little that obscures the true intention.

As an aside, a further danger of this refusal to discuss these concerns, is that it actually creates the problem that is feared.  If someone can’t discuss their worries, and feels they are defined as a racist for doing so, may come to think  “I’m as well hung for a sheep as a lamb” and start listening to those who wish to foment racial tensions and divides. Much of the success of Brexit, Trump, and the populist parties in Europe can be seen as a popular response to a ruling class which will not honestly debate concerns – they are then forced to listen.

I fear that this Danish ban, and the others preceding it, are signs of the tension that arises from problems with our social cohesion. The European Court of Human Rights  has allowed these bans as they (Denmark, Belgium, France) stating that it is reasonable to infringe the individual’s right or religious freedom for the sake of “living together” and “community values”. The hallmark of a tolerant society is that it people live together despite having different views of the world and different habits and behaviours. A tolerant society is one in which the minority is tolerated and not forced to bend to fit the majority’s wishes. The EHCR ruling flies in the face of basic Human Rights by supporting the idea that some individual human rights can be jettisoned for the benefit of the greater good. This approach is always fine when you are one of the majority. Those who support this strategy should consider their future. Their delight at banning the burqa might in hindsight seem misguided, if (although unlikely) 50 years from now the majority population were Islamic. Sometimes our mistakes are much clearer in retrospect.

This ban will also fail to do what we need. We need more integration and this only comes from communication. As we intermingle and interact with others we learn of each others beliefs and opinions. Through this we adopt and change, we integrate. Over time cultures live side by side and benefit equally from each other. I look at the many Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and other who are fully integrated members of my community. Certainly they practice a different religion but otherwise you could not tell them form any other member of our society. They are shopkeepers, doctors, plumbers, taxi drivers, neighbours, friends and , increasingly, family much more than they are Jews or Bhuddist or whatever.

These bans push us apart and cause us to see others as “them”. It increases the divides between us and increases the fears and worries that are there. If we really were worried about the woman’s role in Islam this is completely the wrong way to proceed. An observant woman is not going to abandon her faith just because of an ill-thought law.  This law may mean that the woman doesn’t venture out now in public places and be less influenced by aspects of our culture which promote female equality and liberation. It may keep her in the home, where she is much more so under the influence of her cultural leaders. If we really wish to help woman relinquish the burqa the way to do so is by showing that living a good and moral life without is entirely possible and discussing the issue. Unfortunately you are unlikely to discuss things with people who seem to be attacking you.

You can not compel someone into a religion.  Obedience is not observance. If we wish to see religious and moral beliefs change it will occur by example. By showing that an open culture is a successful culture, by showing that equality and religion and good bed-fellows, people may start to think. If your moral beliefs and religious ideals are superior to others then your life and actions will showcase them. You will become the example and encourage others to follow. Many people come to Europe because it is a liberal and tolerant culture. We must display that tolerance and openness if we want it to continue. This is especially important at times when we feel uncertain or afraid, it is when we are tested that our true metal is revealed. If we think freedom and religious expression are important we need to defend them. Not just for ourselves but also for others.

 

 

The loss of a friend.

The loss of a friend.

My relationship with one of my neighbours is broken and I am not sure how, or if, I can fix it. We have lived on adjacent properties for many years and had always had cordial relations until a few years ago when ‘Rammy’ died.

Rammy was our, not very imaginatively named,  Welsh Mountain Ram. He was the first ram we had and over his life we had grown very attached to him. Each autumn he paid attention to the ladies in our flock and ensure the following spring we had new lambs. He was protective of his harem but he was never belligerent with us. He would see off any dogs or strangers who came into his realm and could be quite impressive as his 80kg ran at full pelt towards a foe. However, with us, all we had to do was to make a pretend gun, by pointing two straight fingers at him, and say “bang bang” and he’s stop running and keep his distance. During the annual tasks of shearing or dosing he would give-in gracefully, after only a token fight, and I was always certain that had he been determined to escape my clutches he could have done so. In short he was a gentle giant of whom we were very fond.

Unfortunately one autumn there was a minor accident. Our neighbour left the gate to our sheep field open and the ram and some sheep left the field to wander the lanes. The neighbour noticed what he had done and was able to herd the sheep, who had not ventured far, back through the gate and into the field. He left the ram in the lane. He did not think to tell us about this and we only discovered that Rammy had gone on a walk in the early evening when we did the routine head count and noted him absent. We frantically started searching and our neighbour told us, in a blasé fashion, what had occurred and that Rammy was last seen heading down the lane towards town.

We found him fairly quickly. He had gone into an adjacent farm’s field and was content having found himself surrounded by about 200 ewes ready for mating. He must have felt that he had discovered paradise, everywhere he looked there were nubile and receptive ewes admiring him. We tried to lure him home but the prospect of a bucket of nuts was no match for the sea of pheromones and plaintive calls of the seductive ewes that surrounded him. It was dusk and darkness was falling rapidly. We contacted the farmer who owned the flock that he was visiting and told him of our dilemma. We agreed that it was too late to separate him tonight, as darkness had fallen,  but that we would meet at dawn the following day with his shepherd and both our sheepdogs to round up all the sheep and pull him out. The worry about our ram, and the embarrassment that we were causing a major task for our neighbour at a busy time of year, meant we had a fitful and sleepless night.

At dawn’s light we all met at the gate to the field. We could not see Rammy and we joked he might be sleeping off a night of unexpected passion. We entered the field with the dogs and started to prepare to gather everybody together. As we crested a hill, to gain a vantage point to plan our strategy, we saw in the distance a large white body. It was clear Rammy was lying dead. When we got closer there were marks on his face and bleeding which confirmed what had happened. He had entered a field where there were two large texel rams who were planned to service the ewes. When Rammy met these two he met his match and he had died in the fight with them.

This was all an unfortunate accident, there was no malice on anyone’s part. Leaving a gate open is an easy mistake. Failing to notify us  that the ram was out is perhaps more annoying as, had we known earlier, then we may have been able to catch him before he entered the neighbouring field and the outcome may have been very different. But it is still a minor fault. So these issues are hardly grounds for the relationship with my neighbour to have broken down. I could have made the same mistakes, I recognise this.

The problem I have is that he has never apologised for this event nor recognised how much a loss this was. I am sure he saw the ram as just another item of stock, annoying to be lost but easily replaced. He probably does not realise, as he does not keep animals, how attached one becomes to them. I don’t want restitution. In all honesty he was not worth a great deal of money, he was no pedigree star. I know we can’t turn back the clock but the lack of an apology is always in my mind whenever we meet.

We never discuss what happened, it never comes up in conversation. There is now an awkward silence on the matter. Hence, an apology will never be forthcoming. I fear that without an apology then I can’t then forgive. Without this pair of ‘apologising and forgiving’ I fear that I can’t forget and it is this memory that has broken our relationship.  But perhaps some things once broken can never truly be mended and there will always be some form of scar.

 

 

Looking at the floral display.

Looking at the floral display.

The unusually warm  weather continues and today much of the afternoon saw temperatures of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The promised thunderstorms have not travelled our way and it has stayed  hot and dry. This taxes my coping strategies; as a Scot living in Wales I have the full repertoire of skills to cope with cold and wet weather but I have never had much call for strategies for dealing with excessive heat or too little water. This is a novelty and I appear to be a slow learner, though at least this time I haven’t managed to burn myself. My only good recollections of sunny summers of my youth were the days afterwards when I could peel the dry burn skin off my body in strips. These were the says before anyone had heard of sun factors or creams. It was all part of the fun.

It was perhaps to seek refuge from the heat that I went into our town’s church. It was also because they had a floral display so that they might celebrate their 300 year anniversary. All the local chapels and churches had donated floral arrangements to decorate the stained glass windows. As I went in I was struck by the cool soothing atmosphere, the smells of the flowers and the sense of peace. I am not a regular churchgoer but I have been to a number of services in this Church and have found the minister and his sermons interesting. But there was something else today, something different to the atmosphere on a Sunday morning.

It realised was the liveliness and colours of the flowers juxtaposed with the quiet dark of the church that first caught my attention. Then on further  reflection I was aware of a greater sadness. As I looked around there were only a handful of elderly women who were managing the event. I also noted that when I have been to any of the chapels, who donated flowers, again it was the same handful of older women who made up the congregation. With the exception of the local Catholic church, where the congregation is larger and younger, it is the same stalwart band who keep the church and chapels running.

I am no spring chicken but when I attend services or events I am aware that I feel young, being about a decade or so under the average age. I also feel rather unusual in that I am male. There are male ministers but they are now few in number and  they have to cover a very wide parish containing a number of different churches. Looking at the flowers, especially in the window of remembrance, I saw how much work had been done. It brought to mind the other times the church put on events –  Easter, Christmas, Harvest Festival, and the like. These are basic events in our calendar – how will the church continue to do these things when age finally forces these members to stop?  I thought of the chain of events in the community over the past 300 years when the church was the focus of the town and realised that it is very unlikely that the church will be in a position to celebrate its fourth centenary.

I was not brought up in a religious household, though my parents came from non-conformist backgrounds they themselves did not believe, and they left me and my brother and sisters to form our own opinions and beliefs. My training has been scientific and I have always held that reason is the greatest human facility. However, I have also felt that largely I am Christian in my morality.  I have difficulties with faith and if there were such a thing I’d be a Christian Agnostic. I know this may reflect accident of birth, had I been born in a different culture I might view my moral decisions through the prism of Islam or Judaism. I have also been increasingly aware that when moral dilemmas confront me on issues such a euthanasia, abortion, racial bigotry, or greed, for example I have found that I nearly always ally myself with those who speak on behalf of the Christian Church. I have found that I am increasingly upset by simple utilitarian ethics which find the most convenient and expeditious solution, rather than to grapple with the moral problem.

This had already weighed heavily on my mind after the Irish referendum debate. I agree that no-one other than the woman can decide about her body and her baby – no doctor, no priest nor any government agent, and I also agree that there are times when to continue with the pregnancy would be clearly wrong (for the mother’s or child’s safety and wellbeing), and I also have seen  the terrible situations that women had been placed in Ireland (Such as the dreadful death of Savita Halappanavar) by the current regulations and thus think that there was little option but to repeal the eight amendment. However, this is still a difficult moral choice as it involved the legal rights of the unborn child and this is no minor matter however one looks at it. To alter these is a grave undertaking.

I was therefore unsettled when I saw the celebrations after the referendum results. Though this may be the right result it not a cause for celebration. Abortion is always, at best,  a necessary evil; every woman and man  would prefer to find some alternative path, but sometimes it is impossible. I am sure no woman makes the decision lightly but I found disquieting the celebrations in the media. I am sure that most of the celebrations were the joy of ending a successful campaign, and some may have been the pleasure in defeating a foe (the Roman Catholic Church in this case), I hope few were in anticipation of the changes this referendum will permit. I hope no-one was celebrating that we have reduced the rights of the unborn child or that we will see more abortions in the future.

This debate was one of the many dilemmas that always face us. When does human life start and when do we have our own human rights ?  In the past the church often lead the way on these issues. Currently we are unhappy with the moral guidance the church gave on many issues (sexuality, marriage, etc) and we tend to forget, as a society, when their advice was progressive (regarding racism, slavery, etc).Thus we increasingly ignore the church in these debates and as a consequence our churches are increasingly empty and silent. Instead of grappling difficult moral decisions and thinking about the principles involved we look to the easiest solution available to us.

In the future, without churches, where and how will these moral debates be  held. Thinking about morality, debating and critiquing it , improves our abilities to act morally. Avoiding the issues and getting by with pragmatic solutions will  lead to us seeing our moral skills atrophy. Increasingly we might not know what is the right thing to do we might only know what is the thing that pleases most people. We have gained a great deal  in our societies through reason and following the Enlightenment. However, we must be careful that we don’t jettison valuables  while clearing  space for the future. Somethings once we have lost them can never be recovered. Standing in the cool of the church looking at the flower a shiver of sadness passed through me.76579_polarr.jpg