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Archive for July, 2007

Wolf Spiders

Walking through cereal crops pulling out Wild Oats, it is amazing how much insect activity you come across.   Lots of insects means lots of birds, and that is why in general I refuse to use  insecticides.

One of the star performers is a spider that binds several heads of cereal crop together and places a large white egg sac in the centre of this.     This is the Wolf Spider – quite a bit larger than the house spider, and much faster.   In fact, they don’t build a web to catch prey, but run after their food.    In the field, if disturbed, they immediately run off, or drop down to the ground.   

They are quite an alarming sight in the house, if they get in – a few clicks too large, hairy and difficult to catch.

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Wild Oats

A pleasant job at this very much pre-harvest time of year is walking through the crop fields pulling out Wild Oats, or ‘Rogueing’ – literally, ‘pulling out the rogues’.

Wild Oats look a bit like normal oats, except they are more a wavy oat than a (cultivated) straight up oat.    The grains also have long hairs attached which will cleverly bury a wild oat seed if it is allowed to fall to the ground.    The seeds can lie dormant for years, and then suddenly spring to life.    The plants grow big, and compete with the cereal crop, so should be removed.    It can be done chemically, but with low numbers of these plants on the farm, it is better to walk through the fields with a sack and pull them out. 

When the sun shines, it is a great job, and can involve family members too – to earn their pocket money.   When it is wet and nasty, it is not so much fun.    Yesterday, it was dry here until about 5pm, but we watched a huge thunderstorm over Perth get nearer, then further away.

We did that thing when you count between the flash and the thunder.     I was always told as a child that every second between the flash and the noise was one mile away, but that could be wrong.   It was fun to do though.

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Flooding

When Perth flooded last, people whose houses were damaged were out of them for 6 months while their homes were dried out and put back together.     So my thoughts are with the huge number of people who have had to leave their houses in the flooded areas of England – they face long haul to get things back to normal.    It is a truly appalling catastrophe.

The plight of people and their homes, traffic trying to manage and boats sailing down High Streets is always first to hit the TV screens, and rightly so.     But the vast areas of countryside underwater represent acres of spoilt crops and grass.   The crops will be unharvestable, and the grass too waterlogged for grazing, meaning that livestock may have been brought inside into farm buildings and already consuming their ‘winter feed’.   Quite apart from the effect on individual farmers’ livelihoods, the flooding is bound to push up the price of food in the shops.

Like all farmers in the UK, I have to ‘set-aside’ some of my farm to take it out of production.    Set-aside has never been popular with farmers or the public, except possibly the environmentalists.    Farmers hate it because they know that they should be using their land for producing food, not weeds;   the public hate it because they see farmers being paid ‘to do nothing’.   (Actually set-aside does have management costs).   

Happily there is talk of set-aside being fixed at 0% for next year – although there is a tremendous amount of European red tape to get through to ratify this (and we are in the summer recess apparently).    Already the environmentalists are worried.

Actually, we have incredibly cheap food at the moment.   Food as a percentage of the family spend is much much less than it was 25 years ago.    We could be in for quite a shock as the damage to the countryside is added up over the next few crucial weeks as the main cereal harvest approaches.

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Reading to Children

Both our children were read to every night at bedtime.

Being selfish about this, I have to admit really looking forward to this part of the day.    From early books like the Hungry Catepillar, through Dr Seuss, and eventually progressing on to Narnia (all 7 books), Little House books (7, I think), Moonimtroll (several books, which started off brilliantly but became rather too odd eventually – Memoirs of Moominpappa especially).    There were some surprises like Wind in the Willows, which went really well until the chapter called “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” which was simply uncomprehensible for a child.

Funny stories, frightening stories, and some tales which were so heartachingly beautiful, they were a real struggle to get through.

This was all before Harry Potter of course, and both children are now far too old to be read to, but they do both read.

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Harry Potter

What a publishing event! – stores and bookshops open at midnight with crowds of people buying the last Harry Potter book.    Quite unprecedented I think.

 It is easy to be cynical, but you have to hand it to JK Rowling that through these books she has changed the face of children’s literature (and big children’s literature).    Children who have tackled these big volumes on their own will have the confidence to try other books too.

I read the first three, and enjoyed the third book best, but never got round to going any further, although I have seen the first four films.   

We actually have all the books in the house now as boy b/d wandered into ASDA last night after seeing the latest Harry Potter film (takes a while to get going, he says) and bought a copy for £5.   He has read it completely, and girl b/d is now reading it.     It even beats the attractions of MSN and Facebook, which takes some doing, let me tell you.  

The ending has not been discussed yet.

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I like reading, and try to read a bit every night before I go to sleep.    It is quiet and peaceful and you get time to concentrate.

Which brings me to admire people who can seemingly read in all sorts of busy situations.    I saw people in a queue to a museum reading books the other day – if I am in a queue, then I really like to ‘people watch’.    There is actually too much going on round about to get your head down in a book.

I also discovered that I have difficulty reading a book on a plane – which is probably one of the most boring environments ever.    The thing is, I don’t like flying at the best of times, and actually avoided it for years until I got fed up of it being a problem, and just dealt with it.     I still find it an alarming way to travel, and am recovering from having been on three planes on Monday.     So, no to books on a plane – but a newspaper or magazine seems to fit the bill.

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Luggage

Our lost luggage finally arrived here today – that’s over three days late, but at least it got here in the end.    Everything in the suitcases was damp – except our dirty clothes which were in a poly bag.   We did see what we thought was our luggage sitting outside in torrential rain in Paris CDG and thought it would be getting wet.    Must remember to put everything in a big poly bag next time- camping  style.

But it has been an interesting exercise in trying to get in touch with airport baggage agents and airlines.    Phone lines that have an answering machine;  phone lines that have an answering machine that is so full it can’t take any more;  phone lines that ring and ring and ring and ring, and those expensive phone lines that answer and say (every time) that they are experiencing high volumes of calls, then play music.   Getting hold of a real person is difficult …….. but it is possible.    I think the trick is to go somewhere else and ask to be transferred to where you are trying to get to.

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