Woolly world where no one fails

We went to France for a few days, hoping the weather would change in the UK, as it did in May (!); indeed it did for two days last week, but it then lapsed to showers again. Our eldest daughter Elin flew over from Sydney; she landed in Heathrow at 6.30am and off we went to the Dordogne, jet-lag taken care of in the back seat!

We used the tunnel for the first time, and I was impressed with the amount of time saved at each end, as well as the short trip itself, saving us an hour and a half in total each way. In order to assist with the acclimatisation to UK time and make sure Elin would sleep through her first night (we reached the house at 2am); we called in at Le Mans, to watch the 80th Classic race for a few hours; to see the battle between Audi and Toyota; and what a race it was.

Both teams fielded ‘hybrid’ cars, and as you know Audi went on to win; the first for a hybrid car at the prestigious sports car race. The Toyotas were getting quicker and gaining on the Audis, and we were there when Romain Dumas hit the barriers, dropping one of the Audi favourites to an also ran after a long slow lap back to the pits, and the work to get the front suspension rebuilt. It was also interesting to see the Nissan experimental ‘delta-wing’ raced in anger for the first time; still running well when we were there.

It was good to see Aston Martin running strongly (ended on the podium in their class), but the high speed crash endured by Anthony Davidson, flipping his Toyota at high speed (190 mph), could have been serious; as it is he has a couple of fractured vertebrae, but will make a full recovery; the second Toyota was out as soon as the green light came on as it hit the Nissan Delta experimental car, putting them both out of the race.

Crops look good in France, but it has been very wet in the north, much like England, but in the Dordogne it has dried up a bit, and there is maize ranging between waist high and four inches, where very late drilling took place. There are also vast swathes of cereals flat; driving rain and high winds in very stormy conditions, damaging some very good crops. The winter barley looks close to harvest, and the linseed is in flower. Grass and Lucerne haylage and hay is being made, and our week there was a good sunny, drying week.

Crops look remarkably clean, considering the difficulties in getting spraying done, but there are many fields red with poppies, where they failed to spray or the land is organically farmed; beautiful to look at, but would not feed too many people.

On the way back, the weather changed dramatically as we drove up through Normandy, with dust storms blowing across the motorway; affecting visibility dramatically at times. And after another very efficient train journey (arriving 30 minutes before we left!), we ran into a cloudburst in Kent on the M26. Serious water on the carriageway, but luckily no accidents, which is remarkable and rare in these conditions; welcome home I thought! It had not rained in Plaistow, and it was a reasonable evening on Friday.

In my absence, the late lactation cows were turned out to graze by day, which was the right thing to do, but as I write we have had another deluge overnight. I walked the farm first thing this morning and it is just like mid-winter; soaking wet under foot with surface water running off everywhere. The grass is actually being held back by the cold and wet conditions; it must think that it is winter. I think the rest of our in-calf heifers will have to come in this week as they are getting too fat and the ground is too wet.

We will be back to full winter routine by July if this carries on. Spare a thought for our Australian Friends in Victoria; severe flooding again with roads closed everywhere in South Gibbsland, and an earthquake to boot! They are expecting more tremors as I write. What about ‘Black Caviar’? An astonishing feat (winning the ‘Diamond Jubilee Stakes’ at Ascot after travelling 10,500 miles) by an extraordinary mare; her 22nd consecutive win, and her first win overseas. We’ll never hear the end of this!

Jackdaws and crows have started feasting around the yard and on the silage clamps in their hundreds, and now that I am back will be shot at, until they realise that there are safer places to feed! The odd bird I can tolerate, but when they turn the farm into a carrion version of the Isle of Wight pop festival, I draw the line; both on the food hygiene and safety and economic fronts. Talking of pop festivals, I would just like to see a full biological analysis of ‘that mud’ made public. It would be fascinating to see what it contains, yet all the people who attend care not a jot; all seemingly having a very good time. We would be prosecuted for keeping cows in those conditions!

I received an email from a very interesting Australian chap this week, wanting help to gain employment on a dairy farm. He is married and has a family, keen to settle in the countryside and work on a farm; we do not need anyone here, otherwise I would be very interested, and I will do what I can to help him. Good stockmen are a rare commodity in this country, indeed practical workers of calibre are pretty rare and worth their weight in gold if you find one.

The challenge facing Michael Gove as he goes about reforming the educational system, long overdue; a failed system which has not recovered since the treachery of the ‘comprehensive’ system (not much that is comprehensive about it actually!), introduced by the Labour Party, supported, disgracefully by the Tories at the time.

While worrying about elitism, and having children branded as ‘failures’, we have systematically failed generations of very able children (and filled private schools, not all of which are good) by insisting that everyone must be educated together, able children of academic bent who would have been much better off in a different environment, and those who are not academic, often wasted their time in the ‘comprehensive system’ rather than be trained and allowed to feel proud of their achievements in a more practical system.

We can’t go back to how things were, and not all of it was good, but Michael Gove’s real challenge is not re-introducing an ‘O level’ in schools for the academic children (which is correct), but finding an imaginative and encouraging way of getting the others into areas that interests, nurtures, develops and enables them to shine and achieve.

It is true that the old ‘A’ form pupils who went on to achieve academically, were very often employed by the ‘B’ form pupils, having started and built business and enterprise; something we desperately need in this country. Nick Clegg says he hasn’t been told about these ideas; well there’s a reason for that Nick! The woolly world where no one fails and we are all equal does not and never has existed. You learn to lose on the sports field, and it’s a damned sight easier to learn to win and lose in school than in real life; there are no woolly Liberals to look after you there.

Gwyn Jones