The nights are drawing in.

It is now a week since the clocks went back an hour and I am gradually getting used to the new routines. The initial pleasure of that extra light in the morning has largely worn off to be replaced by the annoyance of the earlier darkness. Not only does night start an hour earlier it comes on much more quickly. No sooner have you noticed the gathering twilight than it is pitch black.

This alters the afternoon and evening routines as, regardless of what time it shows on the clock,  it is still vital to get the birds into their coups before darkness falls. If we miss this deadline then we can be pretty much assured we will lose some of the birds to foxes. We lose enough to the hawks, who are brazen and steal during the day, and we can’t afford to supply the fox population also. Having said this, if the birds had a choice they might prefer the fox to the hawk as their ultimate nemesis as the fox kills much more quickly and humanely.

Now, instead of a leisurely task in the early evening, strolling coup to coup and checking everybody is tucked in for the night, there is a hurried dash rushing everyone indoors before the darkness falls. We have our poultry scattered about the farm in half a dozen or so small coups. It would be less work to keep them all together in one larger shed and take a lot less time at night. However, this way seems a lot more natural for the birds and we are able to keep more cockerels. Each cockerel lives with his 8 to 10 wives on his patch. They rarely stray into enemy territory and there are relatively few fights. The hens like this more natural family set up and it is clear that the cockerel sees his role as the guard of his harem. He wards of intruders and guards the doors at night. The hens seem happier when he is about.

We prefer it not only because it is more natural but also because, this way, we can keep more cockerels on the farm. If we are honest, cockerels img_20181104_1646276595128874143955393.jpgare much prettier than chickens and exhibit a great deal more character. There is a surprising amount of pleasure that can be obtained from sitting, on a warm and dry afternoon, and watching the cockerels strut try and rule their roost. This system necessitates a bit more work for me in the daily opening and closing of the coups, but , it does repay itself in the pleasure I get from watching the small flocks of birds  having their adventures all over the farm yard rather than just in one field or barn. Anyway, with the birds seem to have adjusted to the changed clocks and, after a fashion, so have I.

A further adaptation, that I didn’t expect, was that I have had  to reschedule my daily exercise routine. Previously I would cycle in the afternoon. Before the nights started to draw in, it was a time when roads were quiet and there was a lull in the working day; it was an ideal time to go. With the shortened hours there is no afternoon lull and I don’t get my chance to cycle before the evening has started. Therefore, today  I decided to try cycling at night. After I had scoured the garage for an old bicycle lamp I powered up the lamp and my podcast player and headed out. This did not work out as successfully as I had anticipated. As you will see from the video below this lamp was not really up to the job. I pedaled in the gloom only avoiding accident because I knew the road. My fear for my safety was augmented by the scariness of the dark forest so I did at least  manage a good workout as my heart-rate certainly went up. My attempt to calm my fears by listening to the BBC’s “Moral Maze” debate on climate change did not entirely work. I think I’ll have to invest in a better lamp before I try  this again. But, at least I now know what I want Santa to bring me for Christmas.

I’m sure I wouldn’t like that anyway.

I am not yet sure if this is an advantage or a disadvantage of rural life. Out here in the wilds we have a lot less choice when it comes to entertainment. Basically there is less choice because there is a lot less on offer. There are no multiplex cinemas with five screens, with three showing times, 3D films and surround sound. At our local cinema there is one screen (some home plasma TVs are larger) and we used to have to stack the chairs after a show (but following some grant money this is no longer necessary). We feel blessed as within a mere 45 minutes drive we have the choice of two cinemas. These will not be showing the latest releases, as they can’t compete with the cost that entails, but they will be showing fairly recent films interspersed with some more eclectic choices (and some live-screened events).

We have two theatres, open occasionally, within an hour’s drive which tend to show local productions or the occasional Arts Council funded project. We have a handful of restaurants and pubs locally. If we want more than this then we need to plan, as it is going to entail considerable travel, quite a bit of expense, and possibly an over-night stay.

We therefore have some choice; not a great deal, but not none. Sometimes I feel disadvantaged when I watch the trailers for new films, or advertisements for hit shows and concerts, on the television as I know they are not going to be available to me. My choice won’t include them. My choice will be the smaller range offered by our local providers and whatever the community groups have arranged locally.

I have family who live in central London and have an unimaginable range of choice of an evening. There choices are difficult – “Shall we go to the opera, or the theatre, or that jazz club, or the rock show in the O2 centre ? Or shall we just see that exhibition and go for a meal ? Should we have Indian, or Malaysian, I really like Armenian food, though there is also that lovely Lebanese restaurant. You know the one we went to when Korean restaurant was fully booked ?”. I don’t have this problem, thankfully. Our decision is more often “Shall we go to that concert, or not ?

The advantages of choice are clear. We all like to make decisions to try and choose options which are best for our own personal tastes.  Whether it be what we eat, what books we read, what clothes we wear, where we live, what music we listen to – we like to make the decisions ourselves and have a range of options while we do so. If all our needs and pleasures were adequately met, but we did not do the choosing, we would feel our lives empty and unfulfilled. We need to choose to show ourselves that we are alive. The worst aspect of prison life is the loss of autonomy and control, which is just another way of saying the loss of choice. So, out here in the sticks, we are quite disadvantaged by the lack of choices we have in terms of entertainment. But I am not sure that this is entirely a disadvantage.

I am not sure that more choice would actually help me a great deal. I am a ditherer and I worry I wouldn’t go out as much if I had too wide a choice. I could get paralyzed with indecision. I do feel jealous at times, but only occasionally. I am very, very good at cognitive dissonance and convincing myself I am happy with what I have. I am better than Aesop’s fox when it comes to knowing that grape’s are sour. I don’t need the full range of options I’ll be happy with something – I don’t need larks’ tongues in aspic, I’ll make do quite happily with corned beef hash. So I feel that, while I like choice, I only want a certain amount; enough that I have to choose between things, between things that are different enough to make it worthwhile choosing, and not from too many choices (So that I don’t spend the evening bored and annoyed, wishing I’d chosen the other option which would clearly have been better than that which I have now). From a smaller range of choices I select faster and more definitively. I feel more confident in my choice and, I think, less likely to have feelings of regret that I opted for the wrong thing.

But there is one other aspect of our reduced choices that I feel may be an advantage. When there is a large menu of options it is likely that you will find something that you know is to your taste.  The choices here are often much more limited and reduced to “this thing” or “nothing”. This means often you opt for “this thing” not knowing whether it will be to your taste or not. So, paradoxically, because of reduced choices you end up making more adventurous decisions.

This was my choice tonight. I like jazz fusion, progressive rock, classical, and folk music. I have fairly catholic tastes. But my choice this evening was “Sacred choral music” or “nothing”. I opted for the ‘sacred choral music’ and went out to a church in a nearby town to hear a choir who had traveled from Russia to perform in country churches and halls throughout Wales. This was my first time at such a concert. If I had been given more choice, for example were a Zappa tribute band playing, then I would not have gone to listen to Voskresenije Choir of St Petersburg on their Ressurection tour.

This is how I found myself in a local church on a weekend night listening to an 8 piece Russian choir. the voices of the four men and four women were excellent, all soloists in their own right but coming together to make something that transcended the individual voices. It was fascinating to hear the differences between the male and female voices. The sensations evoked by both, though different, were equally powerful and together they managed to make something separate and even better The evening was split into a first half of sacred music and, after the interval, a second half of russian folk music. All of it was excellent but, surprisingly and against my expectations, I prefered the sacred music to the rest. Perhaps it was the acoustics and atmosphere of the church, or perhaps it was the smell of the traces of incense which heightened the impact of the music, I’ll never be sure. However, I know that if I had been offered more choices then I probably would not have chosen this evening and I would have missed out. I would have chosen something closer to my usual tastes and continued with my narrowed experience. As I told my children when introducing them to brocolli “how do you know you don’t like it, if you’ve never tried it ?” They discovered the joys of brocolli by not having much of a chouce either,

 

 

No icicles yet, unfortunately.

No icicles yet, unfortunately.

Strangely I found myself reciting Shakespeare while I fed the chickens and milked the goat this morning. I was happily reminded of this piece as I broke the ice that had formed overnight on the water trough.

When icicles hang by the wall,
and Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
and Tom bears logs into the hall,
and milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipped, and ways be foul,
the nightly sings the staring Owl,
  To-whoo;
To-whit, to-whoo, a merry note,
while greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

There is very little Shakespeare that I can remember from my schooldays, even less if I limit myself to verses I can recite from memory. But I am still able to recall the first verse of this poem from ‘Love’s labour’s Lost’. I think it spoke to me in those days before central heating and supermarket shopping. Waking to the ferns of ice on the bedroom windows, puffing to see the mist of your breath, fighting with your brother to stand in front of the fan heater while dressing and finding it impossible to pour the milk over your cereal as the cream had frozen and was pushed out of the top of the bottle. I think I first met this poem on a cold morning in primary school and suddenly understood the authors description of blood being ‘nipped‘, needing to ‘blow your nail‘ and later “Marian’s nose looks red and raw“. I thought then, Shakespeare knew winters as I knew winters  and they hadn’t changed much.

The last few morning have been cold. Cold enough to freeze and cold enough to be uncomfortable without gloves. There has been heavy frost but it has not yet been cold enough for icicles. It is nice to get back indoors having done the animals and to stand by the range to warm up. I am so relieved to see this cold weather, I had started to give up hope of getting a good cold spell again.  It is difficult to express how happy I am that the weather has turned. I was so happy that it had me reciting poetry to the goat (She thought is was excellen!)

Though the cold is uncomfortable it is a vital part of the season. Each season has its appropriate weather and the cyclical changes we see are the base on which we organise all our agricultural activities. What we grow, where we grow and when we grow it all depends on the seasonal cycles.  This includes the colds of autumn and winter. This change is very bit as vital as the warmth that starts in spring. The temperature changes  lets the trees know to prepare for autumn. The produce of many plants is produced when the drop in temperature warns the plant of oncoming winter. Further, and very importantly, increasing cold puts an end to the life cycle of a number of bugs.

One of these bugs which is killed is the blowfly. These are the greenbottles, blackbottles and bluebottles  which we commonly see through the summer. (The name ‘bottle’ in this case refers to their being ‘bot flies’, and a “bot” is a maggot). These love warm damp weather and proliferate in this. The problem associated with them is that they lay their eggs in the fleece of sheep, these hatch as maggots, which then eat the animal and lay more eggs, which then go on the repeat the cycle. An animal with this is termed “fly struck”. It is a serious, and sometimes, fatal condition. The greenbottles are the primary culprit in this condition, bluebottles only affect animals already struck.

A knowledge of the seasons allows us to prepare for this and to dip or spray our animals with insecticides to protect them from flies during the summer months. But I and many of my neighbours have been caught out this year. Normally our regime works by protecting the animal  until the cold wintry months start when the flies have died or are dormant. But this year our disrupted seasons have witnessed unseasonably warm weather right up until to November. This has been associated with damp conditions and the ideal scenario for fly strike. So I and others have found animals  attacked by maggots and have had to re-dose animals with insecticides much later in the year than ever before.

We have been warned that, as a consequence of global warming, we would see changes to our seasons. Namely, that in the UK, things would be warmer and wetter. We now see that this warning was accurate In the spring we had droughts, in the summer the sun scorched the fields, hay has become scarce and its price risen, and in late autumn sheep are being troubled by flies that should have passed. These small changes are starting to wreak large and damaging effects. Obviously we will try and deal with these by adapting to them but it is also important that we try and stop them worsening.

Although there may be arguments about what underpins these changes and how much is man-made, the simple fact is that we can only change the things we can change. We can only pull the levers that we have. So it does not matter how we got into this mess it can only be man-made actions that might get us out of it. Unless we patiently wait for a miracle and I don’t think our present behaviour would suggest we deserve one of those.

Now over half of the world’s population live in urban areas where issues such as food production, warmth and shelter  are issues related to markets and services rather than nature. This means over half of us will not see the very real changes that are happening to our world. If the changes are seen then the significance of them might be missed. The failure of the cold weather to come and kill greenbottles might not be seen as a problem. It might even be thought of a bonus. But anyone who has seen a animal eaten alive by maggots knows otherwise and that this is a very, very bad omen indeed.

 

 

The Reader on the 6.27

It seems I am out of step with the world. All of France, every reviewer in the United Kingdom, and each and every member of my 9781447276494The Reader on the 6-27book-club thought that “The Reader on the 6.27” was delightful, except for me. This small novella, by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent has won plaudits worldwide and has been successful in many different countries. It is likely to be turned into a film and I can see that this, if done successfully, could be similar to the Gallic hit “Amelie”. A similar tale of quirky characters making their way in a world that fails to understand them.

It is not that I disliked this book. It is rather too slight to actively dislike. It is a short tale of a sad lonely man working in a book pulping factory with a number of rather fantastic acquaintances (For example the security guard who only speaks in alexandrines – verses of six iambic feet). Our protagonist reads out loud random pages he has kept, after cleaning the pulping machine, while on the train to work, to the apparent delight of his fellow commuters (Presumably those not wise enough to have headphones). Once, while on the train, he comes across a memory stick with the writings of another loner, a girl who works as a lavatory attendant, and falls in love with her. After searching, and a period of what some might call ‘stalking’, they make contact and in the tradition of all Fairy Tales ‘they all lived ….. …. …….“(I have blanked out some words so as not to give away the ending).

The writing is descriptive but the characters lack any depth. They are chimera created to tell us something about literature, books and reading rather than descriptions of possible people. Their quirkiness is too overdrawn and starts to grate after a while. It was rather like eating a “French Fancy“, or petit four;  fancya single bite it is sweet and pleasant enough, but any larger and it would become nauseating.Similarly the symbolism is rather heavily applied and we are never allowed to discover things for ourselves as the authors opinion is blatantly obvious with no room for doubt or discussion. But it is a short novel and these are minor gripes, it is all over quite quickly.

Where I seem to be discordant with the rest of the world is that I sense a seam of supercilious, misanthropy running through the text. All the characters who are not saved by a love of literature are guzzling or belching (co-workers), rutting or wanking (speed daters), or farting or shitting (toilet customers). Those who people the world outside the lives of the two autistic main characters would make anyone lock their doors and live alone.

I think this is perhaps part of the reason for its success. It is often touted as the “perfect book club book” and this is correct. It is a book which says : we are those who love books, we are often sad and alone as the barbarians outside do not recognise our sensitivities, we are not troubled by the bodily desires of the common herd, we are above all of that.

I can understand that it possibly is a case of casting pearls before swine, and hoi polloi like myself can’t suspend our disbelief adequately to engage with the novel. Perhaps I am just not sensitive enough to enjoy it. I can be considered as the large oaf sitting with a delicate little book, my big calloused hands having difficulty with the delicate pages. If there is an image of me with this book it would be the Abdominable Snow Rabbit petting Daffy Duck. So think of me as the Abdominal Snow Rabbit and take my advice on this book with this thought in mind. It is quite likely you will enjoy it, the rest of the world did, and you are almost certainly more cultured and sensitive than I am.

2-stars-out-of-5

 

 

 

A difficult conversation.

A difficult conversation.

I had a difficult conversation with my neighbour this morning. Each day I, and my neighbours, take our constitutionals with our dogs around the lanes of our valley. It is rare not to meet someone and usually the walk ends with a handful of folk and a reasonably sized pack of dogs doing the circuit. My immediate neighbour, and his two terriers, are my most frequent companion and my reliable source of local news. He has been very ill over the last few years and had become significantly disabled. However, fortunately he discovered the idea of a mobility scooter and his life has been transformed.

On his own he is able to walk, perhaps, 20 yards on a flat surface and over the past years he had to give up many of the activities he enjoyed. Now, with his scooter he walks the dogs daily again, visits friends, post letters, and the many other activities which allow him to have an independent life. But I have to confess that, at one level, it was his mobility scooter which made the conversation difficult this morning.

On his scooter there is a little dial. This dial can be turned from pointing at an icon of a tortoise through to a picture of a running hare. I think this dial is probably stuck solid through lack of use as he never switches it from the dashing hare. I believe he hates the idea that he might hold people up or slow down their walk. Unfortunately, this means our walks take the form of me jogging and running trying to keep up while he zips along with ease. To a passer-by I am sure it looks as if he is being chased by an elderly, wheezing asthmatic, but safely evading their clutches.

I have asked him the speed that the ‘hare’ setting represents as a hint that perhaps this was a little too fast (As prior hints by wheezing, stumbling and falling behind were obviously too subtle). It seems at this setting we can manage a steady pace between 5 and 6 miles per hour. This is the pace that marks the change from jogging to running and it seems that this is good estimate of our progress. So our conversation was difficult: my replies obscured by wheezy breathing; his replies lost on the wind as he flew on.

However, this was not the main reason the conversation was difficult. The real difficulty came with the content of his news. He, and his wife, have been keen Rotarians all their adult life and done an enormous amount of charitable works. He sadly informed me that his, and possibly the other, branch of Rotary in our area might have to close down. We are unusual in our small town that we have two branches of this charity. It relates back to the great schism a decade or two ago. Arguments about the membership of women, and difficulties relating to important players personalities, split the Rotary into two groups.

Both groups were successful for a while but in the last years their membership has risen in age and fallen in numbers. Insufficient people attend to justify two groups continuing and if they merge back it is possible that there may not be enough interested people to even keep one branch functioning. As we talked about this it became clear that this type of charitable work is often maintained by older people. Younger people don’t seem to have the interest or enthusiasm to take part in this type of charitable activity. As members die there are not new recruits waiting in the wings to take their place.

This would not be a terrible situation were it simply reflecting a change in practice and new styles of charitable works were being brought forward by a younger population. This is not happening, we seem to be losing the interest in charity. Although charitable donations have increased, the number of people giving is less and fewer people report active involvement in any form of charity. I fear that some of this may be an unintended adverse effect from the larger welfare state we now enjoy. We pay our taxes and expect the state in return to look after us in our periods of misfortune. Ideas of self reliance and prudence for the future are less fashionable now.

Charity is a virtue, possibly the greatest virtue. But often now charity is seen a a poor or bad thing, something to be avoided. Public opinion often complains if charities provide a service rather than the state. The poor and the misfortunate will always be with us and we will always need to be able to do what we can to help our fellow men and women when they fall on hard times. The state will never cover every eventuality and nor should it.

If we don’t get the opportunity to undertake charitable actions we miss out on one of the most important aspects of being human. To knowingly and deliberately help, or forgo something, to help our fellow is what marks us as human. It is also, in most psychological research, the most potent source of our happiness. Material things can only give brief and transitory pleasure, while helping others does bring lasting happiness. It is in our nature. This may help explain the paradox that while the material wealth of the population has risen year on year unfortunately our happiness has not. Indeed, as we have become materially wealthier more of use are falling prey to depression and sadness.

It was difficult to hear about the possible loss of these local social groups. It sounded like a further sign that we are continuing on a path which distances us from our neighbours and making us less involved particularly when times are hard. No amount of money, no amount of taxation, can have the same effect of a helping hand from a friendly neighbour and we should be wary of seeing comfort as a substitute for happiness.

img_20181031_1102364544023414742620165.jpg
He is probably just around the corner

 

Unresponsive

I spent another afternoon “On Call” today as a Community First Responder. I am either jinxed or blessed as today, like the three times before, no-one called and I got no chance to try out my newly aquired skills. I spent a week in the ambulance centre last month updating my practical skills in emergemcy situations and had spent some months before that on-line and in the classroom getting my general knowledge brought to current standards. At the start of each ‘on call’ session I checked my kit to make sure it is all present and ready . The defibrillator, the oxygen cylinder, airways and masks, the tourniquets and bandages; it was all there pristine in its packs at the start of my session ready for use, and it was still there virginal and unused at the end of my on call. As I said, in some ways I feel jinxed as each time I have not had a chance to use the kit and test my skills. I did get to check that I know how to log-on to the emergency response system but have not has a chance to check I know what to do when I get the call to respond. However, I also feel blessed as my inactivity thankfully means nobody actually needs my help. Nobody has had to call the emergency services because of accident or illness and I have to think that this is good news for my neighbours.

It is an unusual feeling being “on call“. It reminds me of when I was in work. There is all the excitement of waiting for the alarm to ring. The hours of mental preparation of what to do when it does. Checking the alarm to check that it is still working and its silence is not a sign that it has broken and the rereading the text books to make sure that the information in my head is accurate and not a figment of my imagination. All these emotions are generally pleasant but there is also a background fear that accompanies them. The fear that one will be called to something beyound my abilities, or called to deal with something with which I have no experience. In sum, just the fear of finding that you fail somebody in a time of need. That when they needed help, and called you, were found wanting. I was surprised to find these memories coming back.

I recalled with pleasure the recollections of emergency sessions when I was a young medic. The rush of high intensity work and the pleasure of managing to deal with a crisis and pull someone back from the edge. Working against the clock, in a team that was functioning well, is one of the greatest pleasaures there is. Even on occasions when illness ot accident prevailed, as long as you and your team pushed everything to the limit and gave every chance to the patient, the sadness could be tempered by the knowledge that everything possible was done. I could understand why emergency medicine gave its practitioners such rewards. My skill set was not well matched to A&E (I have never been very dextrous) and I moved into psychological medicine but still enjoyed my emergency sessions even if these were less hands on.

But although I recalled “the buzz” I also recalled the “dread“. In my latter years working, and partially one of the reasons why I retired, I came to dread being on call. Over the decades the general drift of mental health services had lead to a general over-reach. Rather then being limited to mental illnees, mental health services had suggested that they could answer many personal and social problems. This increasingly lead to crises, which were largely social in nature, being presented to mental health services for resolution. Distress that arose from poverty, or spousal abuse, violence or drug abuse was presented to the emergency doctor for solution. While we did what we could, there was always the awareness that there was little we could do. There was also the recognition that others, a social worker or policeman, may have been able to help more and the bigger fear that sometimes we were making things worse. Pretending the problem was depression rather than the poverty or poor housing never seemed helpful. Suggesting that the battered wife had mental health issues didn’t empower her in her marital problems and possibly weakened her position. The recognition that you would face crises, you were not equipped to solve, lead to this growing feeling dread when on call came around.

I encountered a little bit of that feeling of dread again today. However, this in itself was valuable as it reminded me why I retired and made me happier with my lot.

No longer unexamined.

IMG_20181029_094342.jpg
Cader Idris

I have decided to try and post every day. This will have a number of consequences. The quality of the posts on average will fall. If I post on days when I have been vacuous and my day has been empty then there may be little more than a photograph and a few words (Such as today). If nothing has angered, cheered or aroused me then the content will be rather sparse. A further consequence may be that, the content there is may be more often concerned with sheep, goats and the movement of timber and dung as these seem to be the mainstay of my life. A personal consequence of this will be that I will have a record of my quotidian activities. This may not be riveting to anyone else, but as I age might become increasingly interesting to me if for nothing other than reminiscence.

In essence, I  intend to use this blog as my journal. When I have kept a journal before I have usually abandoned the project after a few weeks as I have found myself becoming increasingly self-indulgent. The absence of any reader seems to have encourage me to see myself in a good light and I never truly criticize my own thoughts. Though I feel I am, to a degree, anonymous when I write here there is still the possibility of being read and criticized and this will force a degree of inspection of my words. Simply documenting my thoughts is not examining them, hopefully making them public will force me to consider them a little more carefully.

Socrates felt that the “unexamined life is not worth living” (ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ). However,  any examination must surely be more than simply recording one’s ideas, errors, prejudices, hopes and the like, alone and uncontested. It is easy to examine others, it is incredibly hard to examine oneself. I think we need a sounding board to do this and people who are not friends and family are more likely to help in this endeavour. They have no shared history that they can use to excuse our failings, no reasons to give us an easy passage and no vested interest in keeping us happy. Many people complain about the relative anonymity of the internet but in this regard I feel it may be helpful.

To start off this new project let’s document today’s  banal occurences. My day today has been largely unremarkable. I pared hooves and shifted logs and decided to move my paper journal online. I continued reading my novel “Gwylliaid Glendwr” and downloaded a copy of Seneca’s “On the shortness of life” to start after I finish “Unauthorized Freud“. In between, the dogs and I took our walks in the increasingly cold air and remained impressed by the colours that autumn has brought to the trees. An unremarkable day but surprisingly a pleasant one.