February 2013

With compliements ©National Trust Images/Don Bishop

So far 2013 has been a bit tumultuous weather wise with its mixture of rain, snow and flooding. However it is still the middle of winter and to be expected to some degree. I cannot help but feel the country closes down all to easily during adverse weather conditions with schools, trains and other transport rapidly grinding to a halt. In many countries where snow is an expected norm they simply carry on. It will be interesting to see if a recent court judgement making airlines liable for sizeable financial compensation for delays due to adverse weather will have an effect in reducing airport flight cancellations.

Parts of the Somerset Levels near where I live have now been under water for many months. To the farmers that own the land this could mean complete financial ruin. There is often a misconception that farmers are all wealthy but for the vast majority this would be untrue. Whether they be livestock or arable farmers, it takes a special breed of person to often borrow large sums of money to buy a farm and then work all hours of the day, and often the night, and then gamble the elements will prove favourable to their crops or livestock during the forthcoming year. If a farmer makes a profit he will pay tax on it. However if they makes a loss instead, there is no form of recompense on their loss.

Whatever our occupations, most people would not be happy in being told their pay was to be drastically reduced but that is the situation many farmers face on a year by year basis. Why do they do it? Well most farmers will tell you it’s a way of life that’s in the blood and they enjoy being in charge of their own business. It’s fortunate for the majority of us there are such people for without them the alternative would be mass starvation. Perhaps the Government should consider creating a special award for farmers in recognition of their services.

October 2012

As Summer gently slips into Autumn and leaves turn a deeper shade of red each day, it is to me a sign the October has arrived. I find October something of a strange month, something of a transitional month like March in reverse. Weather-wise, October can greatly vary from year to year, sometimes warm with lengthening shadows, other times wet and windy with storms. October is a time when holidays have become distant pleasant memories, Harvest Festivals are done and dusted, the long break of the Silly Season is also over. All these are recent events now finished to be replaced by the daily bombardment of political speeches, often full of empty rhetoric and equally empty promises as the trade union and political party conference season gets underway. Politician after politician will stand on rostrums throughout the country offering yet another all curing panacea to whatever they perceive ails the country, before once more disappearing into relative obscurity.

Slightly unusually this year both the Olympics and Paralympics have played part in disrupting many peoples normal schedules. I was six years old when they last took place in this country and I suspect it will be many, many years before they ever return. We can now only wait and see as the hyperbole dies away, if all the promises made about “The Olympic Legacy” come to fruition.

To me October also allows one to reflect on recent history and certainly weather has played an important part in all our lives. Rain, rain, rain I think is what most of us will remember. Rain seemingly non-stop since May. It is hard to believe prior to then, all the pundits of doom were talking about severe water shortages and rationing.

The weather pattern this year seems to have followed a similar trend to the previous two. A short unseasonal hot spell in Spring or earlier, followed by prolonged rain and bad weather for the remainder of the Summer. It’s almost like the seasons have started to shift round their allotted time slot in the calendar. Flooding has badly effected most counties in one way or another in the previous few months. Crops have been ruined or completely lost. In Somerset where I live, the cider industry is badly effected with yields in the apple crop down by about two-thirds. It is inevitable that the forces of supply and demand will mean dearer prices for food. What I always notice is how once prices have risen, how slowly the fall, if at all, once the supply situation improves.

No doubt the pundits will be out in force blaming everything on global warming. Politicians will probably quickly get on the band-waggon as an excuse for introducing even more “greener than before” taxes. In the meantime rather than accept that mother nature normally does remarkably well in regularising weather patterns, those that think somehow mankind has a divine right to control global weather, emerge in force as if somehow they now have a licence to do so. The latest serious theory I have heard put forward is to capture a large asteroid, pulverise it to dust, (I assume with an atomic explosion), and then let the resultant dust cloud envelop the earth to act as a heat shield.

When I picked myself off the floor from laughing at this serious proposal, I could not help but recall how often mankind’s previous attempts to dabble in the environment and ecology resulted in bigger problems than originally existed. In Australia for instance, numbers of invasive creatures, fungi, diseases and parasites have either been introduced into the country or arrived by other means. Although the living or growing habits of creatures or species are often well understood in their own native environment, in new surroundings with a lack of natural predators, often things do not go to plan. Consequently some of the problems Australia now faces include, Invasive bees, tramp ants, citrus canker and so on. Even here in Somerset, man is attempting to disrupt nature with a highly emotive badger cull on the grounds of eradicating T.B.. I still recall the disastrous effects of Myxomatosis in the UK in the 1950’s. The disease was first artificially introduced in France in 1952. Within one year it had spread throughout Europe including the UK and by 1955, 95% of UK rabbits were dead.

It’s strange how October can conjure up all these thoughts and memories.

August 2012

Olympic TorchFor me the last few weeks have been busy but at the same time sad following the deaths of both a sister-in-law and a good friend who was best man at my wedding. I wanted to be at both funerals but by unfortunate coincidence, I was faced with a dilemma as both were on the same day and time in different parts of the country and each a lengthy journey. In the end I decided family must come first. Even though I am certain I made the right choice it still leaves one with a feeling of remorse. I am certain that feeling would have still been present whatever decision I made.

Apart from a brief spell of sunshine the almost daily rain showers have paid havoc with the garden. The constant warmth and moisture have provided ideal growing conditions for grass and with three and a bit large lawns, keeping them trim is proving to be something of a military planning operation. With one eye on the weather and constant testing the grass for wetness hoping for the lawns to be dry enough to cut before the next shower arrives. I suspect most gardeners are facing similar problems at the moment. It is hard to believe that only a few short months ago, dire predictions of drought were being talked about.

The Olympics are still in full swing as I write and much of the country is in a form of self-imposed purdah as we follow the countries and athlete’s fortunes. I must say I have been very impressed with Team GB not because I am English but because they have trained and excelled so well. They thoroughly deserve the honours they are winning. I have no doubt the next time I phone my Australian brother-in-law, there is likely to be some friendly banter about our respective countries position in the Olympic medal table.

I certainly found the opening event of the Olympics enjoyable. A great deal of wisdom was exercised in not trying to copy Beijing. With chimney stacks erupting out of the ground I found myself at the time wondering how on earth they did that. I found Kenneth Branagh instantly recognisable as Isambard Kingdom Brunel but I understand other countries not so steeped in the UK’s history initially faced some difficulty understanding who he was. I did have a good chuckle the next day when I read some US T.V. stations initially thought he was Abraham Lincoln.

The past month has also been the season for weekend barbeques enjoyed in the company of friends. Not a week seems to pass where the smell of meat being barbequed is wafting across our or friends gardens. I am pleased to say this delightful process is likely to continue through August.

May 2011

Although the date of the first day of Summer varies depending whether you are a meteorologist or not, for many people including myself, the 1st May is traditionally the welcome beginning of the long summer months. In not so olden times the arrival of the Summer was celebrated throughout the country with dancing around the maypole, which is considered to be something of a fertility symbol, as well as other outdoor fetes and galas. Not many locations retain the traditional maypole but a scattering of them still exist.

May normally signals the end of the football season to be replaced with the sound of leather on willow otherwise known as the cricket season. I am not a football fan myself but cricket is something I really enjoy. To non-cricket playing countries it must seem a strange sport with seemingly difficult rules to understand. Those that are more accustomed to games packed with 90 minutes of fast and furious action, a much longer game lasting three, or even five days if it is a test match, must seem very slow indeed. It is however a game of both skill and tactics where enjoyment lasts much, much longer.

So far since the arrival of a summer like spring, the weather has held good. It does seem however that whatever the British weather there is always one group or another that will complain. It’s either too hot or cold, too dry or wet and so on. At the moment it is those worried about possible drought caused by the lack or rain but I find that Mother Nature always seems to find ways of balancing things out.

The past few days in Britain has seen a round of street parties, barbecues and other celebrations due the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, now entitled the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Such events are not everyday happenings and the ceremonials were stunning to watch. I for one wish them a long and happy marriage. My guess is that Kate will now be popularly known to most people as Princess Kate whether protocol allows for it or not. I do find it sad that the rat pack which collectively go under the name of paparazzi seem determined to track them down on their honeymoon wherever and whenever that may be. I cannot help but feel how most of us would deeply resent hundreds of baying photographers camped on our doorstep during our honeymoon. I wonder how those photographers would also feel if the same happened to them?

It’s a pity there seems to no longer be any common boundary of decency between natural public interest and the invasion of privacy by the paparazzi in what can only be seen as their prey or victims. One has only to witness recent scenes of this faceless baying mob constantly hounding people like Lindsay Lohan, just waiting for her to pass wind in public before screaming probation violation that fills one with disgust. It was the same faceless rat pack that Princess Diana was trying to escape when her car crashed. It may be difficult but perhaps there should be laws to restore a balance of decency.

My property overlooks fields currently full of sheep. I find it quite amusing to see the antics of the new-born lambs. For about their first ten days of life they tend to cling close to their mothers. As they gain more confidence in their surroundings, the lambs tend to form gangs which then go racing around the fields. Although the lambs tend to all look the same, it is a common sight to see sheep nudge away a lamb which is not their own as they mistakenly try to suckle from her. The large flock of sheep are also constantly on the move with each sheep following the one in front. It is not that the flock are going anywhere in particular, it just seems that one follows the other so they are not left out. Perhaps they have copied the habit from watching mankind.

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