Playing God

Playing God

We are rather apprehensively awaiting the villagers coming to the farm tonight. They are probably gathering their pitchforks and readying their torches to be lit as soon as darkness falls. They said it can’t be done and, more importantly, shouldn’t be done. But I fear that they have heard that we have been responsible for affronting the natural order, for playing God, and for creating a monster. (Well eleven monsters actually).

Due to a number of factors, but mainly the predation by foxes and the goshawk, we were left in an unusual situation with our ducks. We had one Aylsbury drake and three Muscovey hens. The drake was militantly amorous with the girls but we were of the opinion that their frequent, and violent, couplings would be fruitless.

Most domesticated ducks, the Aylesbury, Indian Runner, Pekin, or Rouen for example, are descended from the mallard (Anas Platyrhynchos) and these ducks can interbreed and create hybrids quite easily. The Muscovey (Cairina Moschata), on the other hand, is descended from a different root and thus interbreeding is much less frequent. So infrequent that our neighbours, experienced poultry keepers, were certain they would not mate successfully. However, our Aylesbury drake disagreed and has managed. Now two Muscovey hens have hatched out 10 ducklings. We are sure that the Aylsbury is the father as no other drakes, wild or domestic, have been available. It is likely that these mules will be infertile and it is difficult to determine what they will look like when mature (all ducklings look much the same).

Hopefully the cuteness of these little fellows will placate the villagers when they arrive and we, and our monsters(*), will be left in peace. On a slightly less cheerful note their cuteness matters less to me than their taste, but I better not let the angry mob hear that.

Dad, Mum and Offspring
Out for a stroll

(*) For obvious reasons we have decided to call these creatures Muscburys. This is much nicer than the official name of Mullard.

Proroguing Parliament : The shame of the left.

Proroguing Parliament : The shame of the left.

Where have the left gone. At a time when we really need an effective radical left-wing movement to protect the interests of the working class they are nowhere to be seen. There are anti-democratic forces trying to frustrate the outcome of the recent referendum in which the people of Britain voted against increased globalization and increasing power to the corporations. This should have been a first step on a path to create a better Britain, one in which corporate needs would be forced to play second fiddle to the communities needs. It should have been the time when a radical revision of our society and economy started. But the radicals are nowhere to be seen.

The likes of Owen Jones and Paul Mason who, prior to the referendum, clearly knew the dangers that the EU posed to working class communities, and the poor, now happily toe the party line. Jeremy Corbyn has spent three years trying to hide his true opinions in the hope that it will buy him time and power. Like their wealthy friends, the TV executives, the bankers, the business men, the celebrities, the judges and the well-off metropolitan middle class, they sing from the same hymn sheet and tell the people to get back in their box. They tell the working class that they are uneducated and don’t know what is good for them, and they should be thankful for the guidance of their betters. They smear them as elderly racists; ignoring their concerns about youth unemployment, wage levels, and a failing welfare state, claiming they are only concerned about skin colour. An opportunity to create a better, fairer, more open society is being squandered and thwarted by media ‘liberals’ and ‘lefties’ who don’t want to risk turning off the state support that supports their ventures. As long as their lifestyles are safe then to hell with the poor, the unemployed, the elderly and the marginalized .

We seem to be on the cusp of a constitutional crisis : one group want to thwart the will of the majority, in response, another group want to undermine our parliamentary democracy. There can be no happy outcome to this crisis. The flames of a populist revolt are being fanned by both sides but the right is in the position to seize the fire and use it. The previous ‘firebrands’ of the left are now acting as puppets trying to placate the mob and maintain the status quo, any authority they once had will soon evaporate leaving the right with less opposition. It is no wonder that we have witnessed the death of the major socialist parties across Europe, their unwillingness to defend labour against capital means they are largely an irrelevance. This may have been their time to rekindle their relevance but it seems that they have missed their opportunity.

In their place will be the right-wing and the nationalists. The blame for their success can squarely be placed at the door of the current left, they left the majority of us who voted for Brexit with only Boris Johnson to protect our interests – shame on you.

Finally, found my epitaph.

Mea Culpa! I should have posted this much earlier and I apologize for the delay. Two years ago I was felling some trees which were a mixture of larch, eucalyptus, oak and beech. During this time I learnt a life-lesson that I vowed I would pass on to anyone who would listen. I had hoped that once I have passed away that, in the future, someone would say “At least I was warned. I knew what to do” and I would be able to rest in peace knowing I had made an impact on the world.

Gym equipment

Today’s workout was aimed at the arms and back. It had simple gym equipment; a bow saw and a maul (It is not called an axe, it is a maul, or at least a sledge axe). My intention was to start taking this years felled wood and splitting it for storage. Three hours of this is a good workout in anyone’s book. This year we had mainly cedar, oak, ash (because we have some Ash Die Back disease) and beech. It was then I remembered – I had not warned people about the beech tree, I had failed in my duty to the world!

There is a lot to be said for beech as a firewood. It is a dense wood which has a lot of thermal energy stored within it and an excellent firewood when properly seasoned. The chart below shows some of the properties of woods when they are considered as sources of fuel :-

Name Million British Thermal Units/cordCoaling
potential(*)
Oak29.1Excellent
Beech27.5Excellent
Elm20Excellent
Ash24.2Good
Sycamore19.5Good
Cedar18.2Poor

Therefore, I was quite happy to have a large quantity of beech for next years stove and oven. All I have to do is to season it. Beech takes about 12 months to dry properly when it is split and stacked. Thankfully I remembered something that I had intended to tell the world and had forgotton – It is vital to split beech when it is green. Some woods split better when wet and others when they are dry. The firs split very easily when dry for example but most hardwoods split more easily when still wet.

Beech doesn’t like splitting even when it is green. It takes a lot of force, a lot of swearing and a lot of time to split beech. It will sorely tax your patience and really test your mettle. There will be times when you look at one of the rounds which has resisted your onslaught and you will think “stuff this for a game of soldiers, let’s move onto the cedar for a while“. But don’t be tempted , because if beech is difficult to split when green it becomes impossible once it has seasoned. Seasoned beech and eucalyptus are well-nigh indestructible. You will bring your maul down with all your might only to find it makes a minor dent, a loud bang and slips away jerking your hands leaving the log intact. These lumps of seasoned wood will take on the strength of rock and will drive you insane as you try to split them manually. It is best to bypass this stage and just buy, or rent, a hydraulic log-splitter.

This is the message I must leave for the world – Always split beech (and eucalyptus) shortly after felling; never, ever leave it until they it has dried. Remember this message, you will thank me one day.


(*) Coaling is the ability of a wood to form good slow burning coals which will last and is an excellent property  for use in wood-stoves

‘I saw a man’ by Owen Sheers

Owen Sheers is one of the best writers working in Britain at the moment. As a poet, dramatist, playwright and novelist he is at the top of his form. There are few who can match him as a story teller. He is certainly the equal of Ian McEwan and in this book he shows some clear similarities in style. Perhaps, unusually he is the first person to become the writer in residence for the Welsh Rugby Union. Though this is not inappropriate for a man who played scrum half for Gwent County and, when a student, captained the Oxford University Modern Pentathlon team.

But why am I spending so much time talking about the author. The reason is simple. I think you should read his books especially either his first one “Resistance” or his most recent novel, this one, “I Saw A Man”. It is difficult to review this novel without giving too much away and spoiling the book for a future reader and hence I have padded this review with some autobiography and the hope that this and his clear credentials might tempt people to try the book.

This book has a number of interwoven tales where the protagonists deal with the issues of loss, grief, guilt, accidental tragedy and the hopes for redemption. The book can be read as a thriller with a mystery revealed in the first few pages which is then followed by a tense ride as the sequence of events is uncovered. The links between events become clear and there is great satisfaction in their denouement. I, like many other reviewers, read this book in one sitting it is so captivating. The links may not seem obvious, between a drone operative in Creech Air force base in Nevada and a young girl falling down stairs in her London home for example, but they are never contrived or stretched.

However, much more impressive than being an effective taut thriller it is also a wonderfully well written book about grief and guilt. He manages to write in a manner that brings the characters and their domestic circumstances to life. We can imagine them and empathize with them. Importantly we can see, and understand, the mistakes the characters make and perhaps this is where the novel is at its best; it lets us see and consider our own tendencies to self-deception.

Young People and Sex

I enjoy listening to podcasts. They are a way of making otherwise humdrum routine activities enjoyable. Part of my exercise routine involves a boring bike ride which is only saved by being just the right length for a BBC radio drama. I need about three of these to get me through mucking out the goat shed’s tons of fetid manure.

I also use podcasts to help me with my Welsh language proficiency and am always on the lookout for new podcasts in Cymraeg to broaden my experience. Many of the podcasts I subscribe to have a decidedly agricultural bias to them. This results in vocabulary being skewed to the farmyard and animals; I’m pretty fluent in discussion varieties of diarrhoea in sheep and goats, but less articulate if the subject turns to politics, culture or the economy.

You can therefore imagine my pleasure when I found the podcast “Siarad Secs” (Talking Sex) on the BBC. A new Welsh language podcast on a totally different subject; miles away (hopefully) from sheep and the farmyard. However, I had not considered this fully. While I might enjoy sticking my toes into a new subject I had forgotten one of my pet peeves. I hate listening to young people talking about sex.

It is not that I am prudish. I’ll happily listen to others talking about sex, just not young smug people. People who have just exited puberty and discovered the joys of sex tend to think they have become, in their inept fumblings, masters of the subject overnight. I can appreciate that if you wanted to discuss how strong the sexual drive can be, or how inanely it can make us behave, or even the degree to which it can command our lives, then by all means chat with a young person – the more immature the better.

However, young people tend to be all lust and relatively little experience. We don’t take people just after passing their driving test and ask them to tell us at length about their views on driving. Though I have found that new drivers, like the newly sexually experienced, are overly keen to tell you of their skills and offer you their opinions. But we don’t encourage this or go out of our way to experience it. No-one’s heart jumps for joy when their young surgeon says “This will be the first time I’ve done this op“, we like our authorities to know more than us and to have had a modicum of experience.

It is not simply a matter of numbers; not simply how often, or in what permutations, someone has had sex. It is how experienced they are in the full range of our sexual lives. Those in the first flush of youth can tell us about the drives of the libido but will never understand the changes that happen later in life when libido flags. They will never understand how Sophocles felt he’d escaped a “savage monster” and George Melly felt “unchained from an idiot” when libido thankfully waned.

It also takes time and experience to learn the wisdom of the importance of sex other than as a recreational pursuit. Those searching for partners, or looking to establish families, are likely to offer fewer pearls of wisdom than those who have managed to establish long-term relationships and created stable families where the importance of sex for bonding and reproduction come to the fore. One needs to be older to know, if one is lucky enough, how to sustain a long term sexual relationship once the novelty has faded. Even more importantly, it takes time and consequently age, to know how to sustain love in a relationship when sexual life has changed with age and infirmity.

I’ll grit my teeth and persevere with the podcast . At least I know how to say “Sut i roi condom ar fanana“(*) if I ever need to and it does make a change from all the talk about the weather and mud. But I don’t think I’m ever going to truly enjoy listening to smug folk pat themselves on the back for talking about sex, it may be new and exciting for them but for the rest of us its a case of “been there, done that”.


(*) How to put a condom on a banana

A simple test for nationalists.

A simple test for nationalists.

Brexit has changed everything. This seemingly simple referendum on our membership of a trading club has had effects much larger than many had anticipated. These are not just simple economic effects, the strength of the Pound or the change in our GDP, but major political and social changes as well. Our ‘two party’, ‘First Past the Post” parliamentary system has creaked and groaned with the strain of trying to contain the effects. The two major parties have lost their support bases and also their raison d’etre and at the same time the public has witnessed just how tawdry and self-serving the whole mess has become.

However, perhaps the biggest change is that the possible dissolution of the United Kingdom itself no longer appears improbable. It looks increasingly likely that Scotland will vote to secede from the Union, Northern Ireland may consider that a way to remain in the E.U. is to reunite, and following shocks such as these the increasingly ‘indy-curious’ Wales may follow suite. As an opponent of Big Government I will be happy to see all, or any, of these changes. However, while I share the joy of the nationalists in recent events, I am still rather reluctant to consider myself a signed up nationalist.

Nations have been created over the great span of history. While it is true that they represent some common interests such as language, culture or even kinship the main motive force in their generation has been power and authority. Wars and revolts have been fought to draw lines on maps which define nations and state who controls what happens in certain patches of land. This was obvious when it was King against King but it is no less true when it is State against State. Nations are there to define the edges of power; to say who controls what happens where.

However, any boundaries which we create should not be based on power and authority they should be based on assistance and support. Our instincts are to live in communities not political structures or economies. People naturally find ways to band together to their mutual benefit and to share common interests and goals. Such groupings are natural and should be supported. If people of a certain language, or religion, or cultural practice want to voluntarily band together then, as long as they don’t infringe on others, they should be encouraged in their mutual venture. The smaller these communities are, the more democratic they are; as each individuals voice carries a greater weight. Further, as they are voluntary people can vote with their feet if they see changes in their chosen community which they can’t tolerate. Nations tend not to be voluntary. Entry to and exit from the nation tends to be controlled and nation states tend to enforce their view of the national culture on any dissenting members.

Whenever nationhood affords a smaller block for democratic organization this is usually a good thing. If nations seek to expand their areas of control this is universally bad. This is the question for nationalists. Does your vision of nationhood bring democracy closer to people, make the demos a smaller group, and reduce the power and authority that others have over people ? If it does, then your nationalism may be beneficial. Are you also happy that, once nationhood is established, the people may decide that an even smaller unit for self governance makes more sense (e.g. “North Wales”, “Y Fro Gymraeg”, “The Shetlands”, “Yorkshire”, “Gaeltacht”) ? If your answer is not ‘yes’ to this then you are missing the point; you are just redrawing lines on maps rather than expanding peoples’ freedom.

If your view of your nation is monolithic and you see it as something good in itself you are following a dangerous path. There will be the risks that you will enforce your views on the national culture, or tongue, or religion on all those who live in your newly defined patch. There is the danger that you will see yourself as better than others who have the misfortune not to live in your nation and, finally, there is the danger that you might think you have the right or duty to export your nation’s benefits to your neighbours whether they want them or not.

So the question for nationalists is easy. Do you want to take a big power structure and break it down into smaller pieces, or, do you want to take your small nation and make if bigger and stronger ?

If it is the former then go ahead and get on with it but remember once you have created a smaller national group there may be scope for further reductions (counties, cantons, districts) which you should also embrace.

If it is the latter, an urge for a stronger bigger nation, then stop ! Remember it was precisely this drive for power and expanded authority which lead you to want to fight for your nation in the first place. You needed to throw off the yoke of another’s power, don’t start fashioning another yoke for others.

It has been said that “Small is beautiful” and there is truth in this statement. In the age of globalization nations can be the smaller building blocks which allow us to build a better future, but sometimes nations themselves can be too large and need to be broken down into smaller, more beautiful communities. I remain a nationalist but only in as far as I am an anti-imperialist, anything more starts to become rather risky.

Absolution by Olaf Olafson

Absolution by Olaf Olafson

A book by Olaf Olafson about Pétur Péturson might be thought likely to be Nordic or Scandi Noir, but while this story is partially set in Iceland and Denmark its theme is international. This is the story of a life lived badly, the story of man who was materially successful but whose soul was lost.

I can say only a little in a book review, as to reveal too much would mar the experience for a future reader. Suffice to say it starts at the end of Pétur Péturson’s life. He has died wealthy and alone and left a manuscript detailing how a “little crime” in his youth has followed and burdened him throughout his life.

This aspect of the book is gripping. It reads like a thriller as we try to work out the crime, the victim and the motive. As he gradually reveals the history of his life we start to know what crimes he has committed and these are not only those that he confesses; in his braggadocio he reveals crimes that he does not recognize as his responsibility. As a non-believer he reports that he seeks no absolution and sees no need for atonement but his desire and need for both become apparent to the reader as the story progresses.

As we try to understand the nature of Pétur and his crime we become aware of a very black-hearted individual riven with jealousy, lust and anger and this is where the power of the novel lies. Although it concerns a lying, cheating, greedy man who is almost the epitome of a bastard, it is written in such a way that we can understand these feelings and even see part of ourselves in them. We may dislike Pétur, but we don’t hate him and by the end understand him a little and hopefully also may have gained a little insight to where some of our own less gallant emotions arise. It is all very well to read about heroes and heroines, but we also need to know where our faults lie and what may be making us poorer people than we could be.

Those of you who are without sin, and have no baser aspects of character that need addressing, can still enjoy this novel as a gripping mystery. There is much that will hold your attention through to the end, where even the last pages may surprise you.

A small change

A while back I realised that I was buying a certain daily newspaper solely because I liked the crossword. Over the years I have found the paper’s editorial stance had grown to annoy me but I stubbornly paid out 6 days a week just for the crossword despite this. I decided that this did not make economic sense and opted to buy a book of crosswords every few weeks and to vary the newspaper I bought so that I might get a broader ranger of opinions.

This plan worked regarding the reading material. I was surprised to find very good writers and journalists in papers and magazines I had not previously considered buying. But the plan did not work as an alternate source of crosswords.

I like to unwind at the end of a day with a crossword. This has to be difficult enough to challenge and take time but not so difficult as to frustrate and defeat. An aspect of doing crosswords is that repeated attempts means one learns the author’s clues and tricks. As I was a gadfly, flitting from paper to paper, I never learnt any one author’s style and could not enjoy a relaxing half hour with any one paper’s crossword.

This problem was confounded by the level of crosswords in the crossword magazines – these quickly become too easy, as one quickly means the rules, and then lose their appeal.

However, I found a way to circumvent this problem. As I was sitting doing a puzzle I noticed that I filled the grid in using block capitals. I have always done so and limited enquiries suggest others do the same. On a whim I decided to change to using lowercase, non-capitalized, letters. Instantly the problems became significantly harder – what s once irritatingly simple was now satisfyingly challenging.

I am sure that this will only be a temporary solution but it does work at the moment. I suggest you try it as a simple and free solution to crossword ennui. Don’t be constrained by block capitals surprise yourself with an exciting excursion into lower case.