Monday, 19 February 2018

Don't they look lovely!

I was recently at a recital where five sopranos were performing, taking in turns to perform cabaret songs, accompanied by a chap on the piano.  At the beginning, the organiser got up to introduce the evening, and said, of the sopranos "don't they look lovely".

He was not wrong.  They were kitted out in lovely dresses, and were smart, just as one would expect a professional to dress at a classical recital.

Two weeks later, at another recital, this time, a cycle of Britten songs, there were four tenors/baritones, and a male hornist there.  The organiser got up and introduced the evening, but said nothing about their appearance.

The men were kitted out in smart black suits, with plain blue shirts (no tie).  They were all very smart, just as one would expect a professional to dress at a classical recital.

Now, if the organiser had said of the men "don't they look lovely" that would have seemed a little odd.  Smart might have been a more appropriate adjective, but, generally, we don't think it appropriate to comment on the appearance of men, unless there is something particularly unusual or striking.

So why is it acceptable to comment on the appearance of women?  Why did the sopranos look lovely, and why was it OK to say so?  Why did a former boss of mine used to describe men as "a good chap" or "a hard worker" and women as "a lovely girl" or "and pretty girl".  Why is such attention paid to the outfits Theresa May wears?

I want to point out that the organiser of these concerts is known to me.  He is a good man, and deeply committed to equality and inclusivity.  But I think his words, which meant no harm, betray something deeper down, even in those who strive for fairness.  The fact that I would have found it jarring if he had said "don't the boys look lovely" but found it less jarring that he said this about the women betrays that I have been accustomed to these societal norms.

I want to think more about this.  Using things said to women and transferring them to men often shows how inappropriate we are in the way we address women and their appearance.  This video shows the ridiculous way we portray women:

Lastly.  A girl is a young female child.  And older female is a woman.  She might be a young woman or an old woman.  But not a girl.

Sunday, 18 February 2018


I have always loved Frasier.  I came across it a couple of years into its run.  Straightaway, I recognised that this was no foolish American sitcom, such as was being shown during the nineties here in the UK.  It was clever, and it was humane.  Frasier's pomposity, his humanity, his rivalry with his brother Niles.  Niles' absent wife, and lines about his various therapy groups.  The unrequited love of Niles for Daphne, obvious to all except her.  Ros, a confident woman (at a time there were no confident women on TV).  Martin, the poor father, bewildered by his sons, yet loving them.  There were farces, yet a continuing story.  I was close to tears at the last episode.

It is on Channel 4 daily in the morning, and I often tune in, even though I have the full series on DVD.  John Mahoney, who plays Martin, died recently, and I found this splendid article that shows the central place Martin occupies in Frasier.  It really is very good.  Do read it.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Living Former Presidents of the USA and their wives

Today in 1945, George H W Bush married Barbara Pierce.  Today, they are still alive, and celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary.  What other Presidents and wives are alive?

The most recent ex-President, and the latest American leader of the Free World, Barack Obama and his wife Michelle are both still alive.  They married in in 1992, and had their silver wedding on 3rd October just gone.

George W Bush, son of George H W Bush, is still alive together with his wife Laura, whom he married in 1977.  They celebrated their ruby wedding a few weeks back on 5th November.

Bill Clinton is also still alive, together with his rather more famous wife Hillary, who ran for President in 2016, winning the popular vote.  They married in 1975.

His predecessor, George H W Bush, and his wife Barbara, are, as I said above, still alive.

Before him came Ronald Reagan who died in 2004, and his second wife, Nancy, who died in 2016.

His predecessor, Jimmy Carter, is still alive, 37 years after being President, which is a record.  His wife Rosalynn is also alive, and they married in July 1946.

There are no other former Presidents or First Ladies alive.  Ivana Trump, and Maria Trump, former wives of the incumbent Donald Trump are still alive.

This minute

A minute is a short period of time.  But one minute can change your life.  In one minute, you can be told you are dying by a doctor.  In one minute, you discover you are going to be a parent.  In one minute a phone rings and you hear someone you love has died.  In one minute someone says "I love you" and it makes you the happiest person alive for that minute.  In one minute you find out that a friend has been false, and is no friend at all.  In one minute you get the exam results which change the future direction of your life.  In one minute your car veers off the road into a tree.

Every minute is important.  Every minute marks the boundary between what has been and what will be.  Yet most minutes pass by without note, and are never remembered.  Each minute lasts for sixty seconds.  Yet some rush by, and others pass with a painful throbbing countdown.  Some minutes mark boundaries, and those boundaries mark the chapters of the book of our lives. 

What are you doing this minute?

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Living Ex-Kings

King Michael I of Romania, who became king of Romania 90 years ago, and played a significant part in switching Romania from the Nazis to the Allied party in the Second World War, died this week aged 96.  He was a close relation of Prince Philip, and more distantly related to the Queen.  Together with Simeon II of Bulgaria, and the Dalai Lama, he was one of the last heads of state from the Second World War.

There are now only two monarchs left alive from the former monarchies of Europe:

  • Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria, who was, extraordinarily, elected as Prime Minister of Bulgaria in 2001.  He served as Simeon Sxe-Coburg-Gotha, being of the same line as our own royals.  He was Tsar from 1943, being deposed aged nine in 1946.
  • Constantine II of Greece, who was deposed in 1973.  He won a gold medal in sailing at the 1960 Olympics.

There are, of course, some former monarchs in Europe who abdicated: Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, Albert II of Belgium, Beatrix of the Netherlands, Juan Carlos of Spain, and Pope Ex-Benedict.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Honduras General Election

On Sunday 26th November, there will be a general election in Honduras.  For the first time ever, the incumbent President is standing - the constitution in Honduras limits presidents to single terms only.  Last year, the current president, Juan Orlando Hernandez of the right-wing National Party won a court hearing to allow him to stand again for the party-s leadership.  Those who campaign to reform the election law can lose their citizenship in Honduras, and, not surprisingly, the opposition parties say that his standing for re-election is unconstitutional.

Honduras is famously corrupt, and an anti-corruption party, Opposition Alliance Against Dictatorship  (PAC) was formed by popular TV presenter Salvador Nasralla.  This party has joined up with the main opposition left-wing Libre Party, and the smaller left-wing Innovation and Unity Party (PINU) to contest the election under the leadership of Mr Nasralla.

Polls suggest a closer election than that of 2013, but with Mr Hernandez still the favourite to win.

Friday, 3 November 2017

The Man On The Train - Part The Second

At Brockenhurst, the lady with the crutches got off, and a fair few passengers joined the nearly empty train.  A couple, in their early twenties, got on the train, and sat in the table opposite Keith.  He was tall and thin and had a backpack on.  She did too, and was wearing a woolly scarf, although it had not been a cold day.  I had my headphones on and was listening to some Preisner, so could not hear what was being said, but Keith was holding his chest, the young man was looking alarmed, and the young lady was looking disgusted.  The guard came along again and sat on the table opposite Keith and spoke to him.  I paused my music, and heard him offer to get help at Southampton Central, the next stop.  Keith said he felt quite unwell, but wanted to press on for London, and could always go to St Thomas’ Hospital where they knew him well, as he had had two heart attacks, and they had treated him there. 
The young girl got up and tugged at the man, and they trundled off to a different carriage.

At Southampton Central, a busy station, a lot of people got on the train, so that every table or row of seats was now occupied.  A rather rowdy looking group of young men, came on and sat in the table by Keith.  They had beer, and I was fearful lest there was going to be a particularly noisy outburst on the way home.  I hastily tuned into some rather lounder Beethoven to drown out any potential noises.
“Where are you boys off to?” asked Keith.
“We are going up to London for a party.  But we are starting now” answered one.  Keith gripped his chest,
“I am having some chest pains.  I have had two heart attacks, you know.”
The boys looked alarmed.
“Shall I get the guard for you?”
“No, he knows.  I am pressing on for London.”
“Perhaps a drink would help.  I have some lemonade – it will be sweet, and that is good for you, and we have some ice.  The cold on your chest might help”.  They poured out some lemonade, and one of the lads offered him a packet of crisps, while another one produced a Mars bar.  Keith sat happily nibbling and sipping away, and I marvelled at the kindness of these rowdy boys, whom I had regarded so balefully when they first boarded the train.  They were chatting away very kindly, and Keith looked very happy.

The train was on diversion, so ran down through Fareham and Havant before heading up the line to Guidlford.  We stopped at Haslemere for about ten minutes – on the platform, but not as a station call.  Keith expressed concern that the delay could be dangerous if he was taken ill before we reached Waterloo, and accepted a small beer from the group of young men, reminding them that a little beer was good for the digestion and the heart.  I was engrossed in my book, and it was dark, so I had nothing to look at outside the window.  The journey seemed quite slow, and I read without paying much attention to proceedings, until we called at Surbiton.

I was rather irked to be calling at Surbiton.  Why would an express train from Weymouth stop at such an insignificant commuter station?  Surbiton is a busy station normally, but I did not consider it necessary for express trains to stop there.  I was musing this when the carriage broke out in song!  Keith and the lads were singing:
“One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock
Five, six, seven o’clock, eight o’clock rock….”
This all looked very merry, and the initial looks of concern and annoyance from all in the carriage, distracted as they were from their laptops, kindles, ‘phones and books, soon turned to the knowing shared smile that English folk have, which is used to declare
“I am a little bit annoyed at these proceedings, but I cannot help finding it mildly amusing in a patronising way, and am most anxious that it be not thought that I have a poor sense of humour”.

By the time we reached Clapham Junction, Keith was inviting us all to “twist again, like we did last summer” while the bemused lads, who clearly did not know that song, looked on and cheered.  Keith was in very lively form, and seemed to have recovered quite well from his malaise of earlier.  It was late as we approached Waterloo, and I was tired.  Part of me wanted to see what happened as they all alighted – would Keith try to go with the lads?  But I hastened to alight and make a swift journey to the tube, surmising I would be home in time to watch an episode of a serial I was following on DVD. 

I suppose Keith may well have felt uncomfortable and out of breath at the start of his journey, but, given the guard’s familiarity with him, and his recovery after being offered most unsuitable drinks, I suspect he was more concerned to have company.  I still feel a little mean in having spurned his efforts, especially given the better example of the young lads who had boarded at Southampton Central, but I suspect he had a much better time in their company than either he, or I, would have suffered in mine.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

500th Anniversary of the Reformation

On Wednesday 31st October 1517, a lowly monk, Martin Luther, trundled up to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and nailed a document detailing 95 Theses, or more properly A Disputation on the Power of Indulgences, to the door, and started off the series of religious, social, and political revolutions now known as the Reformation.  Let us ignore the fact that he may not have nailed them to the door, if he did it may not have been on that date, and that he was a professor of moral theology, and that he almost certainly did not envisage or intend such a revolution.  The fact is that the Reformation is enormously important in theological, social, and political terms, and its effects are felt even today.

The Reformation is seen in all sorts of ways.  Some see it as the glorious rediscovery of gospel truths, long smothered by a corrupt Catholic Church, a new Gospel Age after the darkness of the Middle Ages.  Others see it as a consequence and fulfilment of the Renaissance, with the shackles of Christendom thrown off, and as a precursor to the Enlightenment.  For others it is a social revolution, where the people can take hold of their own destiny, no longer subject to the hierarchies of church and state.  Others see a political movement afoot, where states formed new leagues and hegemonies, and the increasing dominance of Protestant northern Europe against the old powers of southern Europe, bolstering trade with a new ethic of work, and where kings and dukes controlled religion themselves, rather than Rome.  Others yet see it as the splintering of Christianity, with new groups and sects setting up, splitting the church, and causing wars and community breakdown that exists to this day.

There is some truth in all of these.  But for me, the single most important aspect of the Reformation is that it asserted the truth that the state of a soul is not a matter for the church, but a matter between man and God.  This is illustrated well in the matter of indulgences, the issue which sparked the Reformation.  The Catholic Church differentiates between mortal sin, worthy of eternal punishment, which can only be dealt with through penance, and venial sin, which must be punished for the purification of the soul, normally in Purgatory.  Indulgences[1] were a way of lessening the punishment of these venial sins.  Put simply, indulgences can purchase additional purification from these sins, lessening the time spent in Purgatory.  These can be purchased by good deeds, or by pledging money to the church, especially for dedicating new churches.  St Peters in the Vatican was built from the proceeds of Indulgences.  Indulgences could also be purchased for souls of the dead.  Needless to say, a huge and corrupt trade in indulgences grew up, and was the subject of much criticism towards the end of the Middle Ages.  There was a verse “As soon as the money in the coffer rings, that soul from purgatory’s fire springs”.

The whole issue is that the Catholic Church had effectively set themselves up as gate-keepers of the faith, and were deciding who was, and who was not, “in”, and was selling places in heaven.  The Reformation’s assertion that justification[2] was based on faith, not works, removed any man from being able to be the keeper of another man’s soul.  Gone is “Christendom” where the church ceases to be the worshipping community of Christians, and becomes a power in its own right.  Gone are the rights of priests to stand between humanity and God.  Gone is the sale of salvation.

The Reformation has had ill effects – there have been centuries of religious wars in Europe, the effects of which still rumble on in Northern Ireland.  From Calvin’s Geneva, through the 1662 Act of Uniformity, through to the over-reaching political aspirations of various Christian groups in the USA today, many reformed churches have hankered after the old powers of Christendom, and the desire to include and exclude at will.  Many reformed churches have abandoned good works altogether, failing to understand the biblical injunction that “faith without works is dead”. 

Yet for all this, the Reformation is something to be celebrated.  Today, we are permitted to read the Bible and can read it in our own language.  No man or institution holds the keys of heaven, and can lock us in or out.  The claims of the gospel are held out to us, and we may each respond without permission or payment.  No longer is truth the property of any man.  Truly, things have been re-formed!

[1] There was a Very Good sermon at my church on Luther and indulgences on 22nd October.  I shall provide a link when it is available.
[2] Being made “right with God”

Sunday, 29 October 2017

The Man on the Train

As the part of the train starting in Bournemouth pulled up, I went well up to the front, and waited by a door; it was my intention to travel in the quiet carriage, a very necessary precaution on such a long journey.  A little man approached and stood close by to me.  I inspected him out of the corner of my eye – he was a short fairly plump man, smartly dressed in a green tweed jacket and trousers with a lambswool brown jumper, check shirt, and tie.  He had little hair, being completely bald on the top of his head, but with short dark hair, with a short curl around the back and sides.  He was, I guess, in his mid to late fifties, and had a slight twinkle in his eye, rather reminding me of a short and plump version of Christopher Lillicrap.  I rather liked him, in the distant way necessary for those one meets on journeys.  He looked at his watch and tutted and then looked meaningfully at me.  It was exactly the time the train was due to depart. 
“Oh,” I said, “they won’t open the doors until the other part of the train arrives from Bournemouth.  I think it is running a minute or two late.  Once it gets here, they will attach it and let us on”.
“I am going to London,”he answered “Where are you going?”  I was slightly taken aback by the directness of the question. 
“London as well.”  I replied slightly curtly in order to convey a reluctance to converse, while still being polite.
“Do you live there?  I do.  I just came down for the day.  I went to Boscombe.  I walked there.  It seemed nice in parts, but I think I like Bournemouth better.  What are you doing for Christmas?”  Here was a rather dangerous question.  Clearly this man was rather eccentric, and I could see I would have difficulty in avoiding him.
“I have not really thought about it yet”, I answered rather untruthfully.
“I am coming down here.  I like it here.  It will be nicer than London.  I like the idea of having Christmas at the coast, and I have never had the opportunity to do it.  I have been thinking about it all year, and finally decided to do it.  I do hope it is the right thing.”  He stopped talking and clutched the right lower side of his chest.
“Are you alright?”
“I am having some chest pains.  I have had two heart attacks you know.”
“Oh, I should think it is not a heart attack.  It is the wrong side of the chest.  Perhaps you suffer from angina, or have you overdone it today?”  I felt mildly alarmed, but it seemed that there was nothing majorly wrong.  The other part of the train approached the platform. 
“Oh yes, I get angina sometimes.  And I did rush here from the beach to get the train.  I think I was too fast.  That must be it.”
“Do you have some tablets or spray for your angina?”
“I have GTN spray for under my tongue, but that never helps.  I will just have to get by and hope it is nothing major.”
“Well, maybe you should use the spray, as it might help.  Perhaps it would be good to sit down and rest and see how you are before you get the next train.”  I felt fairly sure there was nothing wrong with him, but was vaguely worried, and, I am ashamed to say, more worried at the prospect of having this man talk to me on a two hour forty five minute journey.  As the trains coupled with a jolt, I was wondering if I would be able to put my headphones on in an effort to dissuade him.  The train doors opened, and I stepped back and gestured for him to get on first.
He got on and started to make for the right.
“Which way are you going?” he asked.  I hastily turned to the carriage on my left (not my first choice!) and answered
“I was going this way.”  To my horror, he turned and followed.  I hastened into the carriage and took a seat in an airline arrangement further up the carriage.  He stopped and sat at a table setting about four rows away.  This was excellent – we would not be able to talk (and I put my unwanted headphones on to ensure this was the case), but I could see him, and hasten to his aid if he did appear to take ill.  Furthermore, a woman with a crutch came and sat on the table opposite him.
Feeling vaguely guilty lest he really was ill, and also for rebuffing his attempts to be friendly, I managed to find some music I felt in the mood for (Elgar’s Music Makers) and turned to the book I had started reading – A Room With a View.  The irony of reading this book at that time was not lost on my, and I felt myself wondering how Miss Bartlett would have dealt with such a passenger.  I could see him chatting to the woman quite a bit, and pitied her a little. 
The train was fairly quiet.  A rather prim young woman, who had hugged a man who looked like her father had got on with a small vanity case of the sort I thought had vanished decades ago.  She opened it and took out a make-up case, and began liberally applying make-up.  The man and woman were chatting as the guard came along, and I paused my music to hear what was happening.
“This man is having chest pains”.  The guard stopped and sat down.
“I remember you – you were taken ill on the train near Basingstoke” he said.  I realised that perhaps this man was a repeat offender.  He sat there holding his chest.
“I have some tea in my flask.  Would you like some?”  The woman took a flask out.
The guard asked the man if he wanted him to arrange help for him at Brockenhurst, but the man refused and said he wanted to get home to London.
“I am going to Brockenhurst” said the woman.  “I can keep an eye on him.”
The guard told them to be sure to summon him, or use the passenger alarm if the man worsened, and said he would look in on the man, who said, disappointingly, that his name was Keith.  Keith sat sipping tea and looking sorry for himself, while the woman looked very worried indeed.  I decided to keep quite an eye on things, rehearsing in my mind what I would do if he collapsed.

To be continued..........

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

A Close Shave at the Barber's

Today I went to the barber for a beard trim.  I do this about three times a year, often when I have let my beard get a bit too long.  The barber trims it very well, and it feels so tidy afterwards.  It is a fiver well-spent, and stops me feeling guilty for only having my hair cut twice a year (which my poor barber complains that if every customer were like me, he would be out of business )

I turned up, and the two brothers were sitting chatting.  My favourite one got up and directed me to his sation.
"Just a beard trim today", I said.
"Ah, I thought your hair was too short.  I only cut it a few weeks ago.  I hoped you had decided to become a regular customer".
I settled down as he wrapped me up, put up the special head-rest for beard-trimming, and readied the trimmer.
"All off?" he asked, to my horror.  He had clearly misunderstood!
"Oh no, just a trim, nice and short and tidy.  If you take it all off, there will be nothing for you to trim nex time.  A 3mm cut please!"

What a narrow escape!  Needless to say, I had my trim, got given some beard oil, and hurried on my way.  I shall be careful to be much more explicit next time.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Song for Saturday - One Voice

Here is a song for Saturday.  I have always enjoyed harmony, and this particular tune, the single of which was owned by one of my sisters, haunted my musical mind a lot when I was young.  I don't think I have heard it in a long long time.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Capricious Pasta Sauce

This is a different pasta souce.  You will not ladle this onto your pasta.  When you sample it while cooking, you will agree it is too herby, too salty, too spicy, too rich, too fishy.  It is capricious.

It is a sauce for mixing with pasta, to leave a comparatively dry mix.  Here is my rough recipe:

1.  Put your pasta on.  It needs to go into boiling water, with a little oil added to stop it sticking.  Do not add salt - this is an unnecessary addition favoured by chefs who oversalt everything.  Use any shape, but it works really well with twists or spirals.  Use a 500g bag.

2.  Chop an onion and soften it in oil.

3.  Add lots of garlic.

4.  Add a small tin of anchovies in oil, cut up, oil and all.

5.  Add a good dash of chilli flakes.

6.  Add a good shake of dried basil.

7.  Add a really big squirt of tomato puree.

8.  Add a tin of chopped tomatoes.

9.  Add a teaspoon of sugar, and a big grinding of black pepper.

10.  Add a handful of green pitted olives (I usually leave them whole).

11.  Add a couple of teaspoons of capers.

12.  Add a can of tuna fish (drained).

13.  Cook until the pasta is done.  Drain the pasta, but keep a good slosh of the the water.

14.  Mix the pasta in.  Add a bit of the water to slacken it slightly.

15.  Eat.  Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Queens and Prince Corsorts....

Prince Henrik of Denmark, husband of Queen Margrethe II, was in the news this week for saying he did not wish to be buried with his wife in Roskilde Cathedral, traditional burial place of the Danish royals.  He has, for some years, been unhappy at his role and title, even fleeing to southern France in 2002, protesting at being put behind his son, Crown Prince Frederik, in a ceremony.  Clearly, Prince Henrik is, perhaps, more sensitive than most about this issue, but it does highlight a curious anomaly.

When a male monarch, a king, has a wife, she is the queen, more specifically, a queen consort.  However, the husband of a queen in suo jure (in her own right) is not a king.  He is usually made a prince, and can be granted the title of Prince Consort, as Prince Albert had, and Prince Henrik himself enjoyed, resigning this position a couple of years ago.

Queen Mary II of England and Scotland did not want her husband to be a mere Prince, so made him joint monarch as William III - which, given their accession by revolution, and his close claim on the throne, worked well.  But Queen Anne's husband was just Prince George, and, in our own day, the Duke of Edinburgh is Prince Philip.

In the Iberian peninsula, male consorts are generally king consorts.  Isabella II of Spain married her cousin Francisco, and he was King Consort.  Similarly, Ferdinand, husband of Maria II of Portugal, was also King Consort (Isabella I and Maria I had both married men who were kings in their own right).  But this has never caught on elsewhere.

It seems to me that this inequality should be put right.  Furthermore, with more and more European nations adopting absolute primogeniture, where the oldest child, irrespective of sex, inherits, we will be having more queens than in previous history.  Indeed, the heirs to the thrones of Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain are all female.  Prince Henrik has spoken more boldly on this issue than many, but it seems clear that the rules, for once, favour women over men, when they are monarchical consorts.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Charlie Gard

For the last couple of months, the tragic case of Charlie Gard has been in the news here in the UK.  The 11 month old has encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, a rare disease, that has left him unable to move or breathe, and with severe incurable brain damage.  He has been at Great Ormond Street Hospital, the foremost pædiatric hospital in the UK, and doctors concluded that there is nothing more that can be done, that he may well be in pain, and that life support should be turned off.  His parents contest this and have raised over a million pounds to take him to the USA for experimental treatment.

You can read more of the ins and outs of the case in the link I give above.  I just want to say at this point, that I simply cannot imagine the grief and despair of his poor parents in all this.  They have a child who is terribly sick, and they fear losing him.  I had a cousin who lost a young son to a different mitochondrial disease, and it was simply heart-breaking.  I also want to say I deplore the attempts of the various interest campaigns to use this family as part of their cultural wars.  The "Christian" Defence Coalition, and even the Pope and Donald Trump have all, unhelpfully, intervened, and muddied the waters with their grubby attempts to exploit this family.

I do, however, wish to weigh in and make two points here.  First, I do think there has been a failure in care by GOSH.  By that, I mean in their care of young Charlie's parents.  At some point, communication has broken down and been replaced by distrust.  How did that happen  Did a specialist not take care in explaining a stage of Charlie's illness?  Was a consultant a bit patronising or dismissive of questions?  Did a doctor appear in haste, and not take time to hear the concerns of Charlie's parents?  Something happened to allow mistrust to grow to the point that the two sides are so far removed they are acting against one another in court.

Secondly, and I want to say this with compassion, parents do not always know best.  The fact that they have been put into such a tragic situation does not allow Charlie's parents the trump card in knowing and deciding what to do.  If parents knew best, doctors would be altogether unnecessary.  GOSH is a world-class hospital.  The doctors on this case are formidable experts in their field.  Expert advice, despite what Michael Gove asserted in the Brexit arguments, ought not be ignored.  Sometimes, an expert consultant knows what is best for a child, rather than a parent without medical knowledge, and with all the distractions of their emotional involvement and pain.

In all of this, a young life of suffering continues, and is artificially prolonged until the arguments are settled.  At the heart of all the discussions must be what is in the best interests of that young life.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Abdication now allowed for Japan's Emperor

A law has just been passed in Japan that will allow the Emperor to abdicate within the next three years.  Emperor Akihito, who is 83. has had significant health problems, Although modernised and having only a constitutional role since the Imperial Laws at the end of the Second World War, the Chrysanthemum Throne is still bound by many traditions.  Akihito is the 125th of his dynasty to rule Japan, and has been Emperor since death of his father Showa (known in his lifetime as Hirohito) in 1989.

The law says the Emperor must abdicate in the next three years, and it is believed he will step down in December 2018.  He will be the first Emperor to abdicate since Kokuku in 1817.  The Crown Prince Naruhito will succeed.

The Imperial Family of Japan was shrunk in 1947 to include only the male line descendants of Taisho, Akihito's grandfather.  Princesses may only marry members of the Imperial Family, and now there are no collateral branches, they must leave the Imperial Family, and lose their title when they marry.  Akihito's five sisters and his daughter all did this.  As women may not inherit the Throne, this means that there is only the Crown Prince, another son, and grandson of Akihito, and his brother left to succeed.  Prince Hisahito, who is 11, is the only one under fifty, and there has been a call to chain the Succession Laws to allow a woman to succeed, or even to allow succession to pass through the female line, although this is controversial as the 2000 year old dynasty has, hitherto, only passed through the male line, although allowing occasional Empresses.

If young Hisahito has no children, or only daughters, he could, in fifty years' time, be the only member of the Imperial Family.  Change is needed in this most traditional of monarchies.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Election 2017 - a difficult decision

Today, the UK goes to the polls in a General Election it did not want, and which its Prime Minister, Theresa May, had repeated said she would not call.  I have struggled greatly knowing how to vote:

1.  I could not possibly vote Tory.  I never have, and cannot imagine how I ever will.  Theresa May is seeking a hard Brexit, and has stood aloof from our European friends (promising to be a "difficult women" at the negotiations) while sucking up to Donald Trump.  She has continued to pursue austerity, winding down the NHS and education, and now promises to restrict human rights laws as a response to terrorist activity.

2.  I could not possibly vote Labour.  Jeremy Corbyn is incapable, tolerates antisemitism in the party, and campaigned lukewarmly in the EU Referendum, before lying supine before Mrs May's hard Brexit agenda.  Furthermore, his followers and disciples on social media are either rabid dogs who will insult me as Tory Zionist vermin for criticising him, or middle-class metropolitan types who believe he wold win, if only not for the BBC being biased against him.

3.  Maybe I could vote for the Lib Dems - they are the one major national party who are standing up for the 48% who did not vote for Brexit, and who want the population to vote on the deal reached.

But then I read the manifestos.  I liked Labour and the Lib Dem.

But then I thought about my constituency - only Labour has any chance of evicting the Tory here.  Furthermore, the Labour candidate is a Jew who has called Corbyn out on his tolerance of antisemitism, and he is a strong remainer.

But then I thought about the USA, and my annoyance with those on the left who felt they could not stomach Hillary Clinton, so either didn't vote, or squandered their vote on minor parties, so that Donald Trump won.

So, holding my nose a little, I shall vote Labour.  Corbyn is useless indeed, but more palatable than May.  Even a Corbyn-led government would not be as strongly Brexit as May's government.

I voted this morning.  I think the best way to vote in this election is to vote for the party with the best chance of evicting the Tories, and I hope you agree and will vote likewise.  But, above all, please do vote, especially if you are under 40.  Enough people did not vote in the last election to have significantly altered the result.  Not voting is an acceptance of the status quo.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

A Civilised Society

Ian Brady died yesterday.  One of the most notorious criminals in British history, he, together with his fiancee, Myra Hindley, tortured and murdered five children in the 1960's.  Much has been written and said about how someone could do such terrible things.  Much has been said in anger and hatred of Brady, and I understand that, but believe there is a better reaction.

A Farcebook friend who is a psychologist, said this of those who provided care for him in the mental hospital where he has been interred for the last years of his sentence:
I notice a lot of bile is being spilt over the death of one man today.  I ask we all pause for thought for all the professions who, day in day out, overcome their own feelings in order to provide care and compassion in the face of public hatred.
This, for me, strikes the right note.  Today is not the day for hatred and anger.  Today is the day to remember that, although a man did much wickedness, society did not descend to his level.

I commented thus:
A mark of a civilised society, and professional health care workers, is that care is provided to all.  He was, undoubtedly, a wicked man who did not recognise the rights of others, yet, as a human being, he deserved professional care.  I am grateful to those who do a job most of us would shrink from.

Monday, 15 May 2017

The Iranian Presidential Election

Iran has a general election on Friday 19th May.  There is a very complicated set-up in Iran as follows:

The Supreme Leader of Iran is the 87 year old Ali Khameini, who has been head of state since 1989 (following the more well-known Ayatollah Khomeini).  He also served as President from 1981-89.

The Supreme Leader is appointed by 88 members of the Assembly of Experts.

The Assembly of Experts is appointed by the Guardian Council.

The Guardian Council consists of 12 members - six Islamic experts appointed by the Supreme Leader, and six jurists elected by Parliament.

The Parliament is known as the Consultative Assembly, which is elected by the general population every four years.

Candidates for President must be approved by the Guardian Council.  For the 2017 election, 1,636 people applied to be candidate, including 137 women.  The Guardian Council rejected all but six, and one of the approved candidates later stood down to support another candidate.  The five candidates are:

  • Mostafa Hashemitaba for the right wing Executives of Construction
  • Eshaq Jahangri, also for the Executives of Construction
  • Mostafa Mir-Salim for the right wing Islamic Coalition Party
  • Ebrahim Raisi for the right wing Combatant Clergy Party (can you imagine such a party anywhere else?) and
  • Hassan Rouhani, President since 2013, for the Moderation and Development Party

Polls currently show President Rouhani on 55% with the others trailing a long way behind.  He is considered a moderate, and has even made some moves towards increased rights for women.  Four former Presidents of Iran are alive, including the first President, Abolhassan Banisadr who was in office from 1980 until his impeachment in 1981.  He is 84 years old.

The Bahamas General Election

On 10th May, The Bahamas had a general election.  This island nation is a Commonwealth realm which became independent in 1973, but which retains Elizabeth II as monarch.  There were 39 seats up for grabs (an increase of since the general election of 2012).  The centre-left governing Progressive Liberal Party under Perry Christie held 29 of the seats, and the centre-right Free National Movement under Hubert Minnis held 9 of the seats, as they went into the election.

These have been fractious times in The Bahamas.  The opposition FNM has been in disarray - dismissing its leader in December 2016 amidst party in-fighting, and re-appointing him in April, just before the election.  The governing PLP has been scandal-ridden, amidst charges over the late Anna Nicole Smith and her residency in The Bahamas, which was granted at a time when the Immigration Minister was one of her lovers.  Although she died in 2007, the scandal has had considerable effect on the standing of the PLP.

In the elections, a complete change of fortune occurred - the PLP went down from 29 seats to just 4, with the FNM increased from 9 to 35 of the seats, a considerable majority.

As a kingdom overseas of Elizabeth II, Governors-General are appointed to administer the realm on her behalf.  Of the eleven The Bahamas have had, 9 have lived to be over eighty, and five are still alive, the youngest of whom is 87.  The current Governor-General is Dame Marguerite Pindling, widow of Lynden Pindling, who was Prime Minister from 1969-1992, presiding over independence in 1973.  Apart from the out-going Perry Christie, the only other living former Prime Minister is Hubert Ingraham.

Monday, 8 May 2017

South Korean General Election

While much of Europe has been following the French general election, tomorrow's election in South Korea has received little attention.

Park Geung-hye was the first woman to be elected President in South Korea, coming to power in 2013.  Mrs Park's term was due to end in December of this year, but, in March, she was impeached for peddling influence, in a scandal reminiscent of the Cash for Questions troubles of the 1990's here in the UK.  Mrs Park led the centre-right Saenuri Party.

The election was therefore brought forward, and the acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn has declined to stand.  The polls indicate a decent lead for Moon Jae-in, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party.

Mr Moon's election could have some international repercussions.  Mrs Park was very anti-North Korea, whereas the Democratic Party of Mr Moon favour a more conciliatory approach.  With Mr Trump of the USA attempting to stir up conflict, this could have an emollient effect on the region.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

2017 Election Prediction

As usual, I am making my election predictions.  I did this in 2010 (nearly right) and 2015 (wrong).  This is not a picture of what I want, but of what, at this point, I think likely, given what is happening with polls and the news, and looking up some marginal seats etc.  I have previously generally under-estimated the Tory vote, which might be dangerous in this election.  I shall have more to say about the election in subsequent posts, but here is my prediction

SNP 45 seats
Down 11, losing 10 to the Tories, and 1 to the Lib Dems.

Lib Dems 25 seats
Mainly gained from Labour and Tories.  I feel very uncertain about this figure and think their fortunes could change a lot, one way or the other, according to how the campaign rolls out.

Plaid Cymru 4 seats
A gain from Labour.

Green 1 seat
Holding onto their Brighton seat.  I did wonder if they might pick up Bristol, where they challenged Labour before, but I think the Tories will sweep up that seat.

Irish Parties 18 seats
I think there will be a movement towards Sinn Fein.

They will lose their seat.

Labour 160 seats
They will lose 72 seats, and end up just worse off than the Tories in 1997.  This could go 20+ either way.  They will be somewhat protected by the fact they start (and end) with nothing in Scotland, and the fact that the safest seats in the country are Labour.

Conservatives 397 seats
Just short of Labour's victory in 1997.

Result - a Conservative majority of 144

As we mark 20 years since 1997, we see a complete reversal in fortunes.

Note added on 8th June
Given the movements of the polls during this campaign, I revise this to a Conservative majority of 56 - but feel quite uncertain about it.  If I am right, it shows the squandering of a significant lead by Mrs May.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Brexit Chronicles: March-December 2017

March 2017
On 29th March, Theresa May, UK Prime Minister, formally invokes Article 50, giving the EU two years' notice that the UK is leaving the EU.  In the letter, May threatens to withdraw from co-operating on security matters if a suitable trading deal is not reached.  The EU reject the threats, and also reject May's suggestion that trade agreements can be made before the withdrawal agreement is made.

April 2017
The Eu declares that Spain must have a veto on any matter affecting Gibraltar in the negotiations.  Former Tory leader Michael Howard goes on TV and says that Britain is prepared for war.  After border patrols are strengthened at Gibraltar, Spain introduces security and customs checks for all persons and goods crossing the border, resulting in huge delays.
The run-off election in Ecuador is won by Lasso, and he immediately expels Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.  Assange is arrested and extradited to Sweden.
In the French election, Marine Le Pen nearly wins the election, sending shockwaves throughout Europe.  A run-off is between her and pro-EU Emmanuel Macron is scheduled for May.
Nigel Farage is appointed as Campaign Manager for Marine Le Pen and moves to Paris.  Bromley Council throws a Street Party on his departure.
Theresa May writes to Nicola Sturgeon, refusing to allow a referendum on Scottish independence before the UK has left the EU, and before the next UK wide general election in 2020.

May 2017
The UK local elections are held on 4th May.  Labour's vote collapses, and the Lib Dems make significant gains, taking two councils from the Tories, and becoming the largest party in fifteen other councils. The right wing vote is split between the Tories and UKIP.
Macron wins the French election by a tiny margin, to the relief of many in Europe.
Boris Johnson announces that EU citizens will not have the right to remain in the UK after 2019 if Spain keeps its veto on Gibraltar.  The EU calls his bluff, and agrees that there will be no right of residence for EU citizens in the UK or UK citizens in the EU.
Douglas Carswell agrees to resign and force a by-election in Clacton-on-Sea.  He will stand as a Conservative candidate.  Paul Nuttall of UKIP will stand as the UKIP candidate.

June 2017
Nigel Farage is arrested in Paris on charges of electoral fraud amid revelations that UKIP donors had sent millions of pounds to Marine Le Pen, supporting her candidature in the hope she would lead France out of the EU.
Russia annexes Armenia, and signs a trade deal with the USA.  President Trump threatens to withdraw from NATO if there are further protests.
Douglas Carswell wins the Clacton by-election for the Conservatives, with Paul Nuttall for UKIP losing his deposit.  Nuttall resigns as leader of UKIP.

July 2017
Tom Watson resigns as Deputy Leader of Labour.  Unable to find a candidate who receives the support of 20% of the MP's, Jeremy Corbyn announces that he will continue without a leader until the conference in September.
Theresa May shuffles the Cabinet.  Boris Johnson is sacked, and Jacob Rees-Mogg is appointed as Foreign Secretary.  Among minor ministerial ranks, Euro-sceptics are brought in, replacing those who had campaigned on the Remain Side.
In Sweden, Julian Assange is found guilty of rape and sentenced to 15 years in jail.  USA applies for an extradition warrant.

August 2017
All the members of the SNP and Green parties in the Scottish Parliament form a new "Scottish Independence Party" and resign en masse, forcing by-elections.  A week later, the SNP members of the Westminster Parliament also resign.  The by-elections will be held at the beginning of October.

September 2017
Nigel Farage is acquitted of charges relating the the French election, and is banned from France.  He becomes leader of UKIP at their annual conference.
Two days before the Labour Conference, Jeremy Corbyn announces he is going on a sabbatical retreat for a month, and appoints Diane Abbott as interim leader.
The Chancellor states that the UK will pay no money at all to the EU.

October 2017
The new SIP win all their Scottish Parliament and UK Parliament by-elections with increased majorities.  The Conservatives and Labour lose their deposits in every single election.  Nicola Sturgeon writes to Theresa May requesting a referendum on Scottish independence.

November 2017
Donald Trump pays a State Visit to the UK.  During the visit, the Queen is taken ill, and, with the Prince of Wales away on a visit to Canada, Mr Trump is received by the Duchess of Gloucester.  On a visit to Birmingham, nearly two million people take part in a demonstration against his visit.
Theresa May announces a new trade deal with India, but with freedom of movement between India and the UK starting in January
Donald Trump visits Moscow and announces a new trade agreement with Russia.

December 2017
Julian Assange is murdered in prison in Sweden by an American agent.  The EU (except Britain) recalls their ambassadors from the USA.
The cold weather forces the NHS into crisis, and the government strikes a deal with the USA to outsource treatment to private US companies.  All non-urgent operations are cancelled until May.
Anna Soubry defects to the Lib Dems, and forces a by-election which she wins easily.
Nigel Farage says in a party political broadcast, that the UK should close its border to India, and deport Indians back to India.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Lambing 2017 - the last day of lambing on the farm

Wednesday was my last day on the farm.  I had to get the 15:59 train home to London, which would get me home by about 11pm.  I got up early and went and fed the sheep, strawing up the lambs in the main barn, who had got a bit messy, and providing hay for all.  Then there was work to be done after breakfast!

Sir and I lamb-napped the four sheep from the lambing pen into their allocated pens in the tractor shed, and then we had to tail and mark them, together with two other mothers and their offspring.  The lamb-napping was a curious affair, as the mother who was rejecting her lamb refused to follow it.  We put it on the ground and it chased her around, eventually chasing her into the tractor shed.  Then it was time for tailing - this took a while, as three of the lambs had mucky tails – with impacted fæces that needed to be trimmed off, and washed – a wet and smelly affair.  Furthermore, the sheep who had previously prolapsed had a particularly smelly behind, with a little bloodstained wool, so she was given a bit of a trim too.

Once this was done, we then moved the gimmers into a field, well away from the amorous concerns of Scrumpy, the remaining ram.  This needs some preparation – the closing of gates and erecting of barriers in case they made a run for it.  Happily, though, they followed Sir and his bucket of feed.  Once they had gone, we could straw up the top pen, and lamb-nap two sheep from the tractor shed there.

All this done, it was time for lunch, and I then had a last soak in the bath – I had got quite dirty that morning, before packing and getting ready to leave.  As usual, Mrs Farmer furnished me with goodies and it was a sad farewell at the station, as I boarded a high speed train for a six hour journey.

The farewell was sadder than usual, as this was the last lambing.  The remaining sheep will be sold off this year.  The lamb I proudly delivered on Sunday was named Zechariah, as the last lamb.  I will visit my friends again – they are very hospitable, and will be glad of help with the bees at a time of the year with rather nicer weather.

I pause and think of 208 days spent on the farm on 20 different years over 23 years.  I probably seen a couple of hundred lambs being born, yet am still excited by the new life, by the way they stand and suckle so quickly, by their beauty, and by the tenderness of their mothers.  I have bottle-fed lambs in the middle of the night.  I have witnessed the sadness of still-birth, the horror of a putrid still-birth, and the sorrow of a mother who has lost its lamb.  Yet most births ended happily, and the descendants of the first lambs I saw being born live on.

I am profoundly grateful to Mrs Farmer and Sir for their hospitality over the years – their laden table and generosity far outweighing the meagre assistance I provide.  The times on the farm are a time of tales and anecdotes, laughter, and board-games, and of wonder at the cycles of nature, and the ways of sheep.  I have had a rare chance to participate in this.  And I am grateful.

Lambing 2017 Days 10-11 Monday-Tuesday

I have decided to continue to story of Monday and lump it together with Tuesday, as the days were somewhat related in activity.  Now that the last lamb had been born, things could progress in a very different way.  Although there was some lamb-napping and tailing to do, and the continual feeding, haying and strawing that is necessary for new mothers who are feeding lambs that grow enormously fast, and therefore eating prodigious amounts of hay, and producing lots of milk, lots of urine, and lots of manure, the need for regular checks had gone, and, certainly, there was no work to be done in the evenings, and no night checks.  I had never been on the farm for this part of lambing, as I had generally been there for the earlier parts. 

On Monday, the Young Mrs had a day off work, because the school of her younger son was having an inset training day.  She came up to the farm, and we planned to go to the viewing of an auction sale of household goods[1].  We met the New Mrs there too and had a good nosey around, looking at various bric-a-brac and other such items, many of interest, but none of value.  On Tuesday, we returned and went to the auction – squeezing eventually into old chairs and watching the items being sold, mostly for about two pounds, with odd items going for more.  After an hour and a half, and three hundred lots, we decided enough was enough and came home.  I enjoyed the auction, and found it quite fascinating – I now want to go to an antique auction.

Later that evening, Mrs Farmer and I played Scrabble – somehow, we had never quite found the opportunity to do so before, and it was not to be borne that a lambing season should pass without a match.  I was rather pleased to win in a high-scoring game that kept us quite entertained for a couple of hours.

[1] This basically means junk

Lambing 2017 Day 10 - Monday

Sunday night, as usual, I went to bed, setting my alarm for 3.30 and determined to wake up this time.  In fact, I awoke at 3.15 on Monday morning, so set off to the barn.  All seemed fairly well – there was only Missy to check on now.  But, while the two gimmers[1] were busy contentedly chewing the hay, Missy was looking a little solemn, and not chewing at all.  I stood and watched her for a while, to make sure nothing was wrong, and my patience was rewarded, for when she moved a little, I could see a large membrane bag hanging from her. 

I hastily went to the lambing shed, and readied a pen for her, and, closing off the path there, returned to the barn.  Missy was still standing in the same place, quite close to the gate of her pen.  I opened the gate, and instructed her to step through and make her way to the labour ward.  My intention was that she could then labour under my attention, and I would not have to summon assistance, unless the labour did not progress, which would likely be a couple of hours later.  However, as Missy tentatively stepped towards the gap, the gimmers, seeing the gate was open, and being naturally young and foolish, and rather more agile than their pregnant aunts, decided to bellow and chase Missy around the pen.  Clearly, I was going to need assistance.

I went into the farmhouse, and gingerly knocked on the bedroom door of Sir and Mrs Farmer.  Mrs Farmer answered, and I informed her that Missy was in labour.  Mrs Farmer came down, and we got Missy into the labour ward.  I then obtained coffee (it was a chilly night) and we waited for her to get on with it, and generally sat and chatted.  We had done well this lambing season, for it the first mid-night labour we had had – and it was easier to bear knowing this was the last sheep to labour.

Missy pushed quite efficiently for a while, but it soon became clear that there was not much progressive.  Eventually, at about 4.30, we checked, and an ominously large foot could be felt, but her cervix was still quite tight.  She needed a bit longer to open up a bit before anything could be delivered.  We carried on chatting, and, at last, the foot began to show, and she began pushing in earnest.  However, given the size of the lamb, and the fact that it had seemed to have got stuck, at 5.30, it was decided to summon Sir, as this was going to be a substantial pull.  Pulling a large lamb is very tiring work – one has to pull very hard indeed on the ropes, which hurts your hands, and is hard work.  But one must not pull too hard, and damage the lamb or the mother, and one must pull steadily in the right direction.  At the end of such a pull, a lamb will often be born in distress, or even stillborn.  Sir would be able to provide the strong pull while I held the sheep, and Mrs Farmer watched on.

Mrs Farmer went in to summon Sir, and as she went, Missy lay down, with her back to me (sheep have an uncanny ability to labour so that you are unable to see their rear end).  This time, she pushed and bellowed, considerably. I took a look when she got up, and there was a huge lamb hanging half out of her!  I quickly leapt[2] over the hurdle, and pulled the lamb, which came out quite easily.  It was a very large boy.  I sprayed the navel, and cleared its mouth of mucus, then stepped back as Missy took on licking him.  All was fine!

I rushed back to the house, where Mrs Farmer was preparing a further bucket of water, and broke the news to her, so she could halt Sir (who, in fact, had only got as far as the bathroom).  Mrs Farmer and I then supervised Missy a bit longer, before checking to make sure there were no further lambs.  It was now six am. and getting light.  I retired and set my alarm for 9am, and got up and had a luxurious bath.  The last lamb had been born!

[1] A gimmer (pronouns with a hard g, like glimmer without the l) is a sheep between its first and second shearing.  The gimmers were two sheep born the previous year.  Although old enough to lamb, sheep lamb better at the their second birthday, when they are completely fully grown.
[2] When I first went lambing, I used to be able to leap over the hurdles there, but in the twenty odd years since my visit, although the hurdles look as if they are the same height, they are clearly much higher, as it takes a lot of effort to swing one’s legs over now.

Lambing 2017 Day 9 - Sunday

Sunday on the farm began with Morning Communion at the nearby Anglican Church up in Paul, at the church of St Pol-de-Leon.  This church has a wonderful castellar tower.  The communion is said from the Book of Common Prayer.  I am much more used to liturgy now, and see the benefits of its limited use in worship.  However, the non-conformist in me still bristles a little at the disastrous imposition of this book on churches – as unhelpful a development in church history as almost any.  Notwithstanding all this, the words are actually helpful, and, once one gets over the theatrical elements, all is not harmful.  The minister there is a very nice chap, and speaks with sincerity and warmth.

Going to church early means one has breakfast on one’s return.  Toast and marmite is a lot nicer when one has already been to church and it is not quite 9.30.  After breakfast, we lamb-napped a sheep out of the lambing pen, just leaving the two misbehaving mothers there for closer supervision.  With two pens free in the lambing pen, and only two sheep left to lamb, the end was in sight.

Later in the afternoon, Holly, one of the remaining ewes, went into labour.  I need to explain her name.  It is generally considered that one should not name animals on a farm, but on a small farm, one gets to know the animals and their ways quite well.  One sheep of note was Charlotte. Charlotte was born in the days or artificial insemination and there was an error, as she was clearly a Charolais cross, instead of the usual Texel.  She had lovely blue and grey patches on her face, and was quite a bit larger than the other sheep, standing proud and tall.  She was most definitely in charge, and stamped her foot if you behaved badly, or entered her pen without permission.  Charlotte stayed on for many years, because she delivered large twin boys every year with easy deliveries.  Charlotte had a daughter called Charlene, slightly less Charolais, who followed her mother’s tradition. 

All sheep love to eat ivy – it is often given to sheep who have been unwell, as it perks their spirits up.  One sheep in particular went crazy for ivy, and so, naturally, was named Ivy.  She was a pleasant sheep who lambed well each year, as did her daughter Holly.  Holly also produced lots of lovely lambs, and was dominant, but sweet-natured.  Among Holly’s daughters was Setti (Poinsettia) and Missy (Mistletoe).  Holly and Missy were the two sheep left to lamb.  Holly was quite old by now, and therefore rather thin, and a bit arthritic – taking a long time to get up from being on the floor etc.  Because she was rather thin, her pregnancy made her look simply enormous.

Holly continued to labour quite well, pushing, and getting on with it.  She is a good mother, and was very licky  - licking any place where she had pushed and waters might be.  However, eventually, she had laboured for some time and was not progressing along, and was getting rather tired.  A large foot was showing, but not a second foot.  We went in and Sir found that there was a normal presentation.  We decided to give her another half hour, but, on the failure of further progress, Sir attached ropes to the feet, and with a gentle pull, a fine lamb was delivered.  This was Lamb 15.  Holly was B15, and Missy is G15 and, furthermore, Holly had had other lambs at No. 15.

Pleased with this, we retired to the house, to sleep off the enormous roast mutton meal we had enjoyed.  In the evening, Mrs Farmer and I went to the Methodist church as normal – a lovely service with five hymns, and a short but helpful sermon.  They are an elderly bunch – four people out of ten there are over ninety, and I was the youngest there by at least ten years – but always friendly and warm.  I enjoyed my two services in Cornwall.

Lambing 2017 Day 8 - Saturday

I have a terrible confession to make about this day on the farm.  On Friday night, I went to bed, and I set my alarm for 3.30 as usual.  However, I awoke at 7.15am, went out to the toilet to commune with nature, and, when I returned to my bed, suddenly thought I could not remember doing my middle of the night check.  I checked my ‘phone, and, to my horror, I had a missed alarm.  Because I had turned my ‘phone onto silent after setting the alarm, it had gone off silently.  Ashamed and alarmed, lest anything had happened, I hastened downstairs and made my guilty to confession to Mrs Farmer over the kettle.

It was the wrong night to have missed the alarm.  The sheep in pen 2 was still rejecting her lamb, and butting it about it a bit, so it had nearly closed eyes, and was a bit bruised.  And, when doing the midnight check, Sir had discovered that the prolapse sheep had delivered a second lamb, which was well licked etc., but she was rejecting it and quite viciously butting it.  She had shown no signs at all of having a second lamb, and we felt it prudent not to inspect for one, given the amount of gynæcological interference she had already suffered.  Sir put her in the stocks – which would have been useful for both sheep, but we only had one.  The stock is normally only used every four years or so.

During the day, I took a trip into Newlyn with Mrs Farmer, to get some belly pork slices for supper.  The young butcher was on duty and only had seventeen slices available, rather than the required eighteen for nine people.  Had the old butcher with twinkly eyes been available, he would have gone off to the ‘fridge and found something for us.  We went home for morning coffee, before considering some more lamb napping.  The New Mrs rang up while the kettle was boiling, and was updated.  A few minutes later, the Young Mrs called, having heard from the New Mrs that there was not enough pork belly for the evening meal.  As the Young Mrs and her family have prodigious appetites, this was a matter of no small concern, but Mrs Farmer assured her that there would be enough for everyone, and that she and Sir both generally only had one slice of pork.

The Young Mrs reluctantly assured, we went out and lamb-napped a few sheep around, and kept a general eye on the rejecting mothers.

Lambing 2017 Day 7 - Friday

Friday was a very busy day indeed in the farm.  Quite a lot happened.  In the morning, we did some lamb-napping from the lambing pen to the tractor shed, and then we prepared to lamb nap some sheep from the tractor shed to the main barn.  As I have explained, sheep generally remain in the lambing pen for about a day, until their lambs are fully licked, the after-birth has passed, and we are quite certain that the lamb is suckling well.  In the days of Artificial Insemination, when there were more sheep, and the lambs used to all come on the due date, we sometimes used to have to move the sheep on a bit quicker.

From the lambing shed, the sheep are transferred to individual pens in the tractor shed.  These are bonding pens, to allow the sheep to develop a strong relationship with their lambs.  While in there, they will have their tails castrated (which is done between one and seven days old) and be sprayed with their numbers for identification purposes.

Once they have been in the tractor shed for about a week, and there is room in the main barn, sheep and their lambs can be transferred across.  The middle pen of the barn is prepared with fresh straw, and gates are closed and blocked so little lambs cannot escape.  Then two sheep and their lambs are lamb-napped over to the barn.  The freedom to run around, and the confusion of other lambs present is a new experience for the lambs.  It normally takes a few minutes for them to settle down, decide that their mother is not the ewe who pushes them away, but the nice once who lets them suckle.  Within a day or so, although they never like to be too far away from their mothers, the lambs enjoy running around with each other, and begin jumping about.

This means there are empty pens in the tractor shed, as well as the lambing shed.  These need clearing out.  When clearing out the lambing shed, the straw is normally put into feed bags and stored up for when there is next a bonfire.  However, the tractor shed, with a week’s worth of straw and manure, takes a bit more work.  The straw is about six inches deep, and quite impacted.  It needs to be dug out with a fork, put in the barrow, and put on a smouldering bonfire to burn.  This can be quite hard work, and sometimes there is a strong smell of ammonia which can make one rather breathless when bending over to clear out the pens.  I always stop at the bonfire to admire the pillars of smoke and enjoy a brief respite while I am cleaning the pens.

The sheep that had lambed the day before was quite insistent on rejecting her lamb.  She had clearly never licked it, and whenever it tried to suckle, she twirled around and refused it, or, worse still, butted it away, sometimes quite forcefully.  However, when Sir went and stood over her, she did allow the lamb to suckle, albeit reluctantly.  She clearly needed a careful eye, and we prepared the stocks, so they could be used if necessary.  Stocks are a special gate with vertical bars that can be used to hold a sheep’s head in place, so that her lamb can suckle without being moved away.  It is used reluctantly, for the mother protests vociferously, but it is very effective after about 24 hours of use.

Later on in the afternoon, the sheep who had previously prolapsed went into labour, and was brought into a pen, only to be followed in fairly quick succession by another sheep.  We now had two in labour.  The pessary was cut away from the prolapsing sheep, and she progressed slowly.  We needed to give her a little more attention than normal, just in case she pushed very hard, and prolapsed again – which is much more disastrous at childbirth.  Things progressed well in each pen, and the sheep in pen 2 delivered a fine lamb, and showed every sign of going on to have another lamb.  Five minutes later, the prolapsed sheep delivered a lamb too. 

Although I have been at the farm at some very busy lambing times, included a marathon night when Mrs Farmer and I assisted ten sheep to give birth to sixteen lambs between 6pm and 6am, I had never been present when two mothers had given birth almost simultaneously.  Lambs are assigned numbers as soon as they are born, but, for the prolapsed sheep, we held off.  This is because if the sheep in Pen 2 gave birth to another lamb (she had just delivered lamb 12), this second lamb would be assigned the following number 13, even though another lamb had been born to another mother before it. Eventually, we did check the sheep in Pen 2, and there was no further lamb coming, and No. 13 lamb could get its number in the regular fashion.

Duly exhausted, we all retired to the house for dinner.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Lambing 2017 - Day 6 - Thursday

Thursday was a damp fog-filled day on the farm.  In the morning, another sheep went into labour and delivered, with a little assistance, a decent sized boy.  She had made quite a drama of being in labour, and was grinding her teeth a lot.  This is a sign the sheep is in pain, and she certainly seemed a little overwhelmed when she delivered.
When a lamb is delivered, the instinct of the mother is to lick her lamb – this is important as it clears its nose and mouth of membranes and mucus from the womb, helps remove mucus from the body, and warms the lamb up, and the licking movements stimulate the lamb to breathe.  At the same time, it bonds the mother and lamb, and the chemicals in the lamb’s mucus stimulate the release of hormones in the ewe to close up the cervix, and shut down the uterus. 

This sheep did not want to lick her lamb at all, and just seemed a bit done in.  After making sure the lamb was breathing fine, we hastily withdrew – too much human interference can be unhelpful in these circumstances.  The sheep would still not lick her lamb, and, as he struggled to his feet, she would not allow him to suckle – which is fairly normal before the afterbirth has passed.  We hoped she would feel more like it once she had passed her afterbirth.

Alas, this was not to be, and she was markedly reluctant to allow her lamb to suckle, and to have anything to do with it at all.  Sir had words with her, and forced the lamb onto her, which worked.  Once a lamb has sucked, it begins to pass faeces which will smell of her milk – smelling a lamb’s bottom is the principal way a ewe recognises her lamb.

Other than this, it was a day of some lamb-napping, and general rest – being a very dull and foggy day.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Lambing 2017 - Day 5 - Wednesday

Wednesday involved a trip into Newlyn, and I got to drive.  I don’t think I had driven since I was last down in Cornwall for lambing.  The hill to Newlyn has a 20% incline, and carries on down for quite a long way.  One has to stop in several strategic places to let cars through.  We were in Newlyn to pick up something from the butcher (the friendly one with twinkly eyes and a wig was on holiday) and to go to the delicatessen for some Cornish cheese for the evening festivities.

In the afternoon, mindful of the fact that evening entertainments were planned, a sheep was found in the barn with a lamb, and hastily removed to the labour ward.  After some time, she produced a second lamb, much covered in meconium, which is a sign of fœtal distress, although it had not been a long labour.  However, the sheep was a good mum, and her two lambs are simply adorable.

In the evening, two friends of the family came around for a regular gaming evening, and we played Settlers of Catan.  This is a fun game, and played every year on the farm.  Throughout the game, Mrs Farmer complains vociferously that she is unable to acquire the necessary goods and items, wails how badly she is doing, and wins.  This year, she did not win, for the first time since I have ever played.  Instead, Sir won, after viciously stealing several of my goods at the start of the game.  It was all great fun.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Lambing 2017 - Day 4 - Tuesday

Tuesday began with an urgent summons from Mrs Farmer at 8am – a ewe was in labour in the labour ward, did I want to come and see what was happening?  Tired, I dressed hurriedly, and rushed out to the lambing pen with a cup of enlivening coffee.  A ewe had been spotted pushing and was now in pen 4, pushing away.  A sheep in labour is at first a little quiet and prim.  But well into it, pushing is taking place, eyes are wide, and the sheep will twirl around a lot, not quite sure what to do with herself.

The ewe was making all these promising signs, and getting on the floor and pushing a lot, but little progress seemed to be made.  At last, fearing a malpresentation, Mrs Farmer declared it was time to check things out.  And it was just as well she did, for the ewe was prolapsing her uterus.
I have been present twice when a ewe has prolapsed following a delivery of lambs, and this is fairly disastrous, requiring the intervention of a vet, and stitches etc.  In my nursing days, I saw a few prolapses outside of childbirth, and like these, the ewe’s prolapse was a problem, and rather alarming, but needed sorting.  Everything pushed back in, a pessary is fitted to keep everything in place, and then tied onto the sheep.  Should she go into labour, the lamb will be delivered past this, but it can be cut off quickly when necessary.  The device is this:

It was rather sad for the sheep – once the pessary was fitted, and she was able to pass water – which had made her rather uncomfortable, she did stop pushing and calmed down a lot, but was rather sad that there was no lamb to show for all her effort.  An hour or two later, we put her back in the barn, where the others questioned her and asked her if she had had a still-birth, to be returning to the labour ward so ignominiously.

Scrubbing out her pen, with its fresh dry straw, I saw an opportunity to burn the several sacks of waste.  It is hard to get a bonfire to catch, but the dry straw helped.  It was just beginning to rain, and the smoulderings were looking like they might catch on when Sir appeared with some pink diesel and drenched everything which burst into wondrous flames.  I stood by as everything died down, and piled the sacks of soggy dirty straw, which smoked heavily.  All my farming clothes now smell strongly of smoke.  But it is good to attend a bonfire.

Thankful Thursdays - Friends

I am thankful for my friends.  With the world of followers, friends, and fans online, it is those who know us offline who are our more meaningful friends.  They can be very close friends, whom we speak to about everything, or less close friends, whom we speak little with, but whose company we will enjoy.

In this fast world, full of online life, we need to be and have good friends.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Lambing 2017 - Day 3 Monday

Monday was another day with no lambs.  Having sneaked out a few lambs before I had arrived, the ewes in the tractor shed were suitably triumphant, and the ewes in the barn were enjoying the service of hay, thank you very much, and “we have no interest whatsoever in being bothered with a lamb when we can rest nicely here”.  After lamb-napping Piran and his mother to the tractor shed, Sir and I set about the task of castrating the lambs’ tails.

Sheep naturally have quite long tails, which reach almost down to their feet.  It is common to put a castration ring on these in the first week of the life of the lamb.  This is a tight rubber ring that freezes blood supply, and the tail drops off.  This is a painless procedure – the lamb is more concerned that it is being picked up by a human than anything else. 

This done, there was time for voracious reading, a nap, and a game of Super Farm.  This was a game bought for the boys to play, and Mrs Farmer and I thought we ought to learn so we can play it with them.  The game was devised by maths professor Karol Borsuk in Warsaw in the dark days of the Second World Way.  It is quite good fun!

Lambing 2017- Day 2 - Sunday

Sunday began with a yawn.  I had quite forgotten what it feels like to get up when one has been on the 3.30 shift.  Each night, the pregnant sheep in the barn are checked at midnight, then 3.30am, and 7am.  Sir generally does the midnight check, Mrs Farmer the 7am, and I generally do the 3.30 check – we all negotiate each night, but I find I can normally cope quite well with the 3.30 check, and it helps my kind hosts out too.

The sheep are checked to see if any of them are in labour – a grim disposition, reserving a large territory in the barn, twirling, wide eyes, and sitting down but getting straight up are all signs that a ewe might be in labour.  If she is, she is brought to the lambing shed for more individual attention in a cleaner atmosphere.  3-4 hours is a good gap.  If a sheep is fine at midnight, she is unlikely to progress and have problems in that time period.  She could go into labour and quickly deliver without problems, but then, that is not so much of a problem.

So, on Sunday, having been out at 3.30 (all was well, although a real gale was blowing), I got up at 7.30, showered, and wandered down for breakfast, which I was just finishing when I realised that no-one was around.  Just then, Mrs Farmer appeared, and announced the birth of a fine large ram lamb, which had claimed the attentions of Sir and Mrs that morning.  The ram was a thirteen pounder, and particularly fine.  As it was St Piran’s Day (the patron saint of Cornwall), he was named Piran.

The birth of the new lamb meant that three out of four of the lambing pens were in use, and lamb-napping had to take place for the two sheep who had lambed on the previous day.  Once the lambs are good and dry, they are transferred over to the tractor shed, where they are in individual bonding pens with their mothers.  A week or so here allows the bond to grow sufficiently to allow the sheep to be mixed up over in the barn, without too much confusion.

To lamb-nap, the pen in the tractor shed must be strawed and labelled, then the lamb (or both) are taken in front of the mother’s outraged eyes.  She bellows at the enormity of the crime being perpetrated and immediately races are the lambs, being wickedly carried off.  The lambs are held at a lower height, so they are in the eyeline of the sheep, lest she misses them.  The lambs normally bleat helplessly and mother follows, her nose pushing you along as you reach the pen, put the lamb down in the straw, and she rushes in, inspects her lamb, and puts herself in between it and you, still bellowing.  The other sheep in the tractor shed also bellow their outrage, but they also greet their sisters, and tell her it is not as bad there is it looks, and there is still some level of personal service from the wicked humans.

Once the pen in the lambing shed is free, it needs to be prepared for its next occupant.  The dirty straw is loaded into an old feed sack, to be burned on a nice day.  The pen is swept out, then a bucket of water is poured over it, and it is scrubbed hard with the broom, until the water, and any remains of straw, muck, or even a little blood is removed.  Another bucket of water with disinfectant is then poured over, and up the walls, and the scrubbing continues.  Even on a cool day, this can be quite an ærobic activity, and warms one up nicely.  Once the pen is scrubbed clear, the warming light is put on to dry it, and it will soon be ready.  Here is a scrubbed pen:

Apart from admiring Piran, little else of lambing note happened.  We missed church due to his arrival, and general chaos due to the birthday of the New Mr.  An enormous Sunday lunch was consumed, and birthday cake was eaten.  It was a good day.

Sheep are enormously difficult to photograph.  Here is Piran, aged 2 hours, with his mother.