Sowing discord

27 September 2011 § 8 Comments

Seeds of change

One for the rook
One for the crow
One to wither
One to grow.

One for the deluge
One for the drought
One each for the pigeon
And mouse to dig out.

One for the subsidy
One for the crash.
One for the Government
Desperate for cash.

One for the trader
In futures, who bets
On prices, then pockets
The millions he gets.

One for the banks.
Make that two – make that ten.
No, make it a billion.
And then start again.

One for the climate,
Now warming, it seems.
One for our hopes.
One for our dreams.

One for our gluttony
One for our greed
None for the millions
We choose not to feed.

One for the rook,.
One for the crow.
One to wither.
One to grow.

The farmers are already busy drilling next year’s cereal crops, and I’ve had the old rhyme about seeds that bookends this poem going round in my head all day. Blame the Party Conference season for the rather downbeat tone of the stuff in between!

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A tale of our times

24 March 2011 § 6 Comments

Cuts

He walks
Towards the grey stone house
Like a battlefield surgeon coming down the line
Or a man who, shaving hastily, contrived to nick
An artery in his neck.
The warm red rain has spattered his face,
Soaked his cap and shirt-collar,
Stained overalls and hands like some apprentice butcher’s.

He knows
This was a task he should have tackled
Back when they were calves,
The horns mere buds, and their removal
No more than a touch of glowing iron,
A brief sharp stink of burning hair –
A job for life in a minute’s easy work.
Now, left so late, it took three men
And a whole sodding day of trodden feet,
Shouting, straining, geysers of muck,
Maddened beasts slamming on sleepers and steel;
An improvised corrida, short on finesse,
Long on blood.

He begrudges
The time, the hurt, the fat fee to the sweating vet;
Still, it had to be done:
Seeing them swaggering into the yard,
Cocksure with their weaponed heads,
There was no question. The wounds, torn wire
And their seigneurial strutting at the trough
Left him no choice
But the crush, the needle and the blade. Yet

He finds
He cannot say who won this one. He’s left
Slumped and blasted, arms hanging like empty sleeves; the beasts
Bewildered, polls still stunned
By adrenaline local and the shock of shears.
All change in the herd, he thinks:
A social shuffling, a shift in power.
A bullet bitten, the right thing done.
But as he stumbles in to wash and eat
He shakes his head. And does not smile.

Black and white decision

13 March 2011 § 6 Comments

Gone dry

We tried, but now it’s over:
We’ve finally closed the gate.
No milk today, nor ever –
Not from us, at any rate.

They milked here for a hundred years.
Now Daisy, Mabel, Ethel,
Buttercup and Blossom have all gone,
Reduced to lot numbers and guineas-per-head
Under the auctioneer’s hammer.
Enough to pay the bank back
And leave the family in the clear
Without a penny over.
Three lifetimes’ work
Leaked away
A litre at a time.

No waiting now for cows to cross
The road twice-daily.
No forager’s snarl, no rumbling trailers
Hauling home the rich first cut.
No rustling maize rainforest rising nine feet high.
No kicking-up-of-heels
As the ladies leave their winter quarters
And dignity behind
And feel the new grass underfoot.

The herdsman, stockman and relief
Have been let go,
And the farm is worked by just one man
With a big New Holland
And a hunted look.
The leys are ploughed under
And put down to wheat.
The sheds stand like deconsecrated churches,
In silent communion with the swallows and spiders.
And the black-and-white company’s memory
Is fading into grey.

And in the supermarket
Milk’s down two pence today.
Cheaper now than ever.
Getting dearer by the day.

 

Britain is currently losing two dairy farms a week. The main reason is the milk price: farmers receive, on average, three pence a litre below the cost of production, thanks mainly to the supermarkets and the country’s obsession with ‘cheap’ food. We could be effortlessly self-sufficient in milk  – indeed, we’re so good at it, quotas had to be introduced to curb overproduction – but today, we’re a net importer. No dairying means no cows. No cows means no grassland. No grassland means no hedgerows. No hedgerows means no birds, and so it goes on. Meanwhile, dairy farmers are rushing into arable – not because they want to (dairying is a life’s work, a family tradition and a labour of love in the truest sense) but because last year’s disastrous harvest in Russia means world wheat prices are sky-high, and farmers have to make a living the same as the rest of us. 

The farm I worked on as a student recently sold off its dairy herd after more than 100 years and four generations of the same family. It’s a story being repeated all over Sussex, and the country as a whole. It’s sad, avoidable and wrong.

Under pressure

11 March 2011 § 4 Comments

Under pressure

The big John Deere
Is working late;
After so long waiting
For a reborn sun and drying wind
To strip winter from the soil
They’re staying out,
Getting on.
The ten-foot, two-tonne roller
Treads thick, green scents
From the tender grass;
Driving in frost-lifted stones,
Making pancakes out of molehills,
As it wraps broad silver bandages
Round the bruised and pummelled pasture.
But these bent blades will be re-forged,
Stronger, and in greater numbers,
Ready for the tearing mouths
And hooves of summer cattle.
The roller passes on –
No time to lose –
And the soft earth breathes again:
When pressed, we do not break;
Though crushed, we do not die.

 

I promised my good friend and fellow poet John Stevens another tractor poem; I had something different in mind, but this one came along first, during a ride on the Paramount yesterday as afternoon gave way to evening. Apologies for the pic; a long-range phone-camera effort, I’m afraid.

Filthy lucre

8 March 2011 § 8 Comments

Rolling in it

I had a spring song
Surging like the sap in my pen.
Then
When I read the news
My celandines shrivelled
My primroses lowered their pale faces
And my skylarks croaked, twitched
And tumbled out of the air.
Well
I guess you’ve earned your name
If not the sum
– enough to pay two hundred teachers –
They say you’re taking home this time:
The light of scrutiny and opinion
Just bounces off you;
So brilliant and precious
The whole world wants you for its own;
So adamantine in your defence
Of every penny,
The Mohs scale can’t measure
The hardness of your heart.
And as your limo wafts you
Into work this morning
I’m betting you’ll be laughing all the way.

In response to the revelation that Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays Bank, received pay and bonuses of £9.0 million, plus a further £15.2 million in shares, in 2010. My only comfort as a Barclays customer is that, as a result of the recession, for the last two years he’s been banking with me.

Bonus culture

21 January 2011 § 8 Comments

It’s bonus season at the banks, and the billions are flowing once more. My feelings on the egregious sums involved, and the people receiving them, are not suitable for publication. Instead, I’ve written about the payments-in-kind over and above my modest income I receive on a daily basis, courtesy of the Bank of Mother Nature.

FEATHERING MY NEST

Today, I got my bonus.
But I am no sacks-of-gold man;
My pockets are as shallow
As my wonderings are deep,
My profit margins narrow
As my wanderings are wide.
I took my reward
In the rosy blush of bullfinches,
A fieldfare blizzard,
The gallybird and magpie’s laugh,
The high keening of the buzzard
Black against a near-spring sky,
And my dog’s joyous circling
Of meadows lost last week to flood;
Free of tax, guilt and opprobrium,
Out of reach of moth and rust;
All mine to give away.

Happy new year?

4 January 2011 § 1 Comment

Apparently, the prospects for the UK economy are better in 2011 than in 2010. Which isn’t really saying a great deal; after all, you can’t fall off the floor. I’m certainly hoping it’s a more positive year; just in case, though, I’m considering a Plan B. As the bankers have so graphically demonstrated, these days, competence just doesn’t pay.

RECESSIVE THINKING

If not better, I’m no worse
At this
Than I was
Two years
Ago.
So
Why is it I
Now have to settle
For a whole lot less
While the men who made
All this mess
Are still
Doing very nicely,
Thank you:
Maybe it’s time
I dropped the ball,
Downsized my scruples
Embraced ineptitude
And made life simpler
For myself,
Knowing that as others
Picked up the bits
I’d still be sure
Of cleaning up.

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