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,

 

 

Turn, Turn, Turn.

It was really rather unsettling. The coincidence seemed too unlikely to be simply chance. I was clearing a path between the house and the lower meadow where the goats graze. To make the rather monotonous work a little more enjoyable I was wearing headphones and listening to a random mix of the music I stored on my phone. I was enjoying listening to old favourites and realising that, if I was not careful, I could be mistaken for an old hippy. As I worked in the dark undergrowth The Byrds’ version of “Turn, Turn, Turn” was chosen. This Pete Seager song is one of my favourites, it was on his “The Bitter and the Sweet” LP and this is perhaps why enjoy it so. It is bitter-sweet. There is a deep melancholy in the music, but it is balanced by equally strong feelings of hope. There must be death if we are going to be able to have births, like the seasons, life is a circle, and everything has its appropriate time. The lyrics are directly from the Bible and the only words Pete Seager added were the final “It’s not too late” and the three words “turn, turn, turn”.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Like many people I feel that the opening guitar work evokes thoughts of 1968 and the Summer of Love, Woodstock and the Hippy movement. But in addition, I always think of this as the farmer, or smallholders, song. I know that the guidance is suitable for everyone (we all need to know that our lives will change, that we will grow up, have children, grow old and then die) but I feel that it is resonates especially strongly with those who work on the land where these seasons are even more obvious.

So what was the coincidence that happened with this song that caught me unawares? Just after the song had started I was clearing below a very bushy aralia shrub. As I cleared the brambles and nettles a small clump of white caught my eye. It was a small patch of cyclamen, shining brightly now the sun could penetrate the gloom below the bushes. It was cyclamen, coum f. albissimum (Ashwood Snowflake) to be more precise, and its name should help explain the reason for my surprise. This cyclamen is named because of its white colour but also due to its flowering season. Usually this plant flowers in mid- to late-winter, from January to March. It really is not the right season to catch sight of its delicate flowers. Here was another reminder this year that we are clearly messing up our seasons. We have had heat and drought such as we have not seem for two generations, the hay crops have failed to grow as there has been inadequate rain (In North Wales!), insects which should have died in the winter survived through and plants that we never expect to flower in this region start to show their colours. I was aware we had some large spiky evergreens as they attacked me each day as I tried to get past them on the way to the greenhouse or chicken sheds. I was in two minds as to whether I should trim these or root them out. I knew the goats liked the leaves but could see no other reason to keep them, particularly as they regularly stabbed at my legs. Then suddenly this year, never seen in this garden for at least a generation, they suddenly bloomed revealing themselves as Adam’s Needle (Yucca Filamentosa). This is a plant that like a dry soil and open sun, things that should be scarce in this reason.

The song is correct; “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose”. Our agriculture and lives depend on this working together of the seasons and the knowledge of man. But now it seems we have potentially damaged our seasons and our usual skills can’t just be applied as before. When I saw this little white flower, peeking out 6 months early, and listening to The Byrds, the melancholy of the song was suddenly amplified. Perhaps it is too late, maybe we have damaged the gifts we were given, perhaps our season is drawing to a close. But, then again, perhaps, hopefully Pete Seager’s words will hold true :-

“It’s not too late.”


Shaving carrots

Shaving carrots

I really was at a loss as how best approach the Daily Prompt today. My musical tastes tend to brand me a crank and there were few songs that I felt I could share without seriously damaging my reputation. I had spent much of the morning mulling over this problem when the solution came to me through the airwaves. I was sitting shaving carrots when the 10cc hit from 1976, “The things we do for love came on the air. This was the first hit that 10cc had made since Godley and Crème had left the band and it transported me back to my days as a student and the misery that was my romantic life at that time. But perhaps I should stick to the point and explain why I was shaving carrots !

Spring is our busiest season, the world starts to come alive after the winter hibernation and the new lives start to appear on the smallholding. We have had a very successful year with our ewes and lambs and our goats are also proving to be fecund as well. It is during this season that I often find myself thinking about vegetarians. I can understand many of the moral arguments for vegetarianism and also think that in terms of  efficiency, and from a green perspective, there are probably good reasons to support their decision (Although, in temperate climates, there may be a case for sustainable meat). But in their focus on the end of the animals life I fear that they fail to understand those of us who work with animals and develop warm and strong affectionate bonds with them.

During spring I will work harder than at any other time. Like any anxious parent I will be up many times a night, leaving my warm bed, to walk in the small hours (and usually the rain) to the barn to feed a weak lamb or to tend to a distressed ewe. The feed requirement of the animals is obviously much higher at this time of year, but the natural pasture for grazing has not yet arrived, so there are regular foraging and feeding expeditions. Conscious of the dangers of birth and the problems that can accompany delivery we need to check the animals round the clock, regardless of what other calls may be made on our time.

But this is also the best time. To see the new lambs at their mothers’ feet, or to watch them gambolling in the field, is a pleasure that little can surpass. The sense of achievement, and relief, when assisting successfully with a difficult birth is hard to explain but is one of the great pleasures one can experience.  Although dumb, animals do show their appreciation, and over the years they have clearly learnt to trust us. On occasion, when we lose a lamb, there is obviously the sadness which accompanies this but overall the emotional bonds that form between man and animal are felt best at this time of year and it is the reason to continue with this endeavour. To focus on the last minutes and to ignore all of the animals life misses the main point of animal husbandry.

It was an aspect of goat husbandry which chimed with me when I heard 10cc’s song. Our nanny goat gave birth to twins who were delivered awkwardly. The twins are doing fine and growing well. They did have a period when they would only nurse from one of their mother’s teats which left her lopsided and uncomfortable. This necessitated a 3 a.m. milking for a short period to balance her up, and avoid the risk of mastitis, until the kids improved their table manners. The nanny lost a lot of weight after the pregnancy and in addition to advice from the vet we are trying to build her up. We have bough her fancy ryegrass haylage, at which she has haughtily nibbled, but her favourite foods are banana skins and carrots. Unfortunately she does not like carrots whole or chopped, I think that there is too much chewing involved, she likes carrot peelings. That is the way she first encountered them when she was given the vegetable peelings from the kitchen. So now we buy 20kg sacks of carrots and peel them in 5kg batches. It is why I sit at the coffee break shaving carrots for my nanny goat. My wife complains that she does not get this degree of attention lavished upon her – but the goat needs building up – the things we do for love !

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Snack Music

Snack Music

A few years ago I was diagnosed as having Type II Diabetes. It was quite a shock as I hadn’t felt unwell and had not realised just how bad my diet was.  In the first year I used a low carb/high fat diet to get my weight normal and to be able to stop taking medication. Since then I have paid better attention to my diet and started to exercise regularly, I have stayed off medication, my blood pressure and lipid levels  are better than when I was a younger man and I am fitter. I also feel fitter and stronger.

When I look back to see what I had done wrong to end up in this state, it was clear that snack food had been my downfall. Looking back it was obvious quick, easy to eat, high carbohydrate treats had taken over my diet.  Snacks had done it; a sandwich, a cake, a pie, a biscuit, a sausage roll .. there were many ways I could snack instead of eating regularly. I had developed a bad habit of eating easy food with a quick reward. There was no need for preparation, little need for thought, just eat and go.

Over the years this had done considerable damage to my body. I was three stones overweight, no amount of leaving my shirt outside my trousers could hide my belly, I could not run, and eventually my body started to fail. Fortunately I started to have to get up at night to pee and thinking I might have the other old man’s friend (prostate problems) I saw the doctor who, alarmed at the high levels of my blood sugar, started medication immediately.

I use the word “fortunately” as I am glad I found out the damage I was doing to myself before discovering it, too late,  after a heart attack, an amputated foot or after going blind. I have turned some things around and hopefully reduced my risks somewhat. But I was clear that snacks had been my downfall, they had messed up my diet and consequently messed up me.

However, recently I have been trying to learn from my mistakes. If I did this much damage unwittingly, what other damage might I be doing ? Are there other dangerous snacks I have been overeating ?

I realised that in cultural terms I was wreaking similar damage in other areas by snacking. I decided to tackle these problems also before they started to cause problems or disability. I have started first with music. I was aware that over the years I have started to prefer small, easily digestible pieces of music; pieces of music that require little thought or attention and which catch you quickly and satisfy instantly. I prefered the snacks of the musicalworld.

I had been led to this by the mp3 and the download. Rather than listen to a concert or an LP I would listen to a single track. Instead of listening to the whole opera I’d listen to the popular aria made famous recently by its use in an advertisment. I noted that my musical tastes have been coarsened and  are now much more reliant of rhythm and beat – the quick hit, the ‘carbs’ of the music world. I noticed also that often I was guided to music by the accompanying video which makes the emotional impact much more effective while, at the same time, taking away the need to think and consider. I think it is no surpise that the videos are becoming more important as it is not really the music that is being sold now. It is the quick snack, the fast food of the music world, rather than a balanced healthy diet.

I’m starting to see results. This morning was improved by listening to “A night on bald Mountain” and last night was spent in the company of the Dance Macabre  of Camille Saint-Saens. This has been much better for my health and soul than my previous diet and hopefully, over time, I’ll see similar amounts of improvement. Certainly I feel better and I am also much more aware of what I consume musically and that, in itself, is not a bad thing.


Night on Bald Mountain

Dance Macabre


via Daily Prompt: Snack