Country Matters Jan 22: Two Faces


Janus – Roman god of gates, of entrances and exits – has two faces. One looks back to the past, the other, forward to the future.  Few of us would hope to repeat the past couple of years, but what can we predict for the future?

Not only have we suffered from a global pandemic, but also the weather has been no friend to farming.  As 2021 drew to its close repeated storms broke half-century old records. Tornadoes which struck the United States in mid-December set new heights for extreme storms, and Canadian floods in late November drowned thousands of livestock.

Farmers in the Cotswolds faced unexpected unseasonal weather, leading to failures of crops, putting animals into stressful conditions. In January last year, livestock had to be rescued from flooded fields. Spreading slurry to prepare the soil for the year’s new growth became impossible.  Built-up areas became swamped with more rain and meltwater, sewage began to spill over into the storm drains, onto fields and urban parks, endangering pet animals as well as livestock. Normally farmers would expect to be weaning cattle and supplementing grazing for their flocks with sheep nuts and feeding hay in freezing conditions, but flooded fields spread the bacteria which cause foot-rot in livestock, because they prevent enough oxygen getting to their hooves both to dry them out and kill off the anaerobic causes of disease in both sheep and cattle. Farmers don’t get days off.

Winter Jasmine

Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, the Cambridge and Oxford University comedians once performed a sketch about predictions.  One of them said their mother forecast the weather ‘before it happened’. “The weather is going to be unpredictable.” she said.  Which is exactly how it turned out.  Folklore has always attempted to know what natural signs might tell us about the future, and – since life in the country has always been much more affected by the weather than where people spend most of their time inside buildings – especially whether you should choose to move your stock to higher ground or give them access to a ready water supply.

So – if you’re a shepherd – should you be delighted if there’s a red sunset, or does a red sky at night just mean that someone’s barn’s alight?

Any decent cattle farmer will inform you; cows sit down when they feel like it. Sometimes rain will follow, but it makes no more sense to use it as a prediction than to say being overtaken on the motorway by a German high-end saloon car means you’ll soon encounter a traffic delay.

If you have one of those annoying apps on your ‘phone that presents you with photographs you took on this date each year, you’ll find yourself wondering why, this year, things happen weeks (even months) later (or earlier) than in previous years.  Don’t worry.  It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a sign the world’s going to end soon.

The winter jasmine is out now.  I remember it was out at New Year when I was a kid.  When I didn’t have a phone that took photographs.  Nobody had. I just remember jasmine flowered when school was about to restart back then, little yellow flames springing from stalks like candied angelica, pushing through the frosts and telling me I had to see what would be new in the coming year.

This year the moles in the field outside our kitchen window seem to be out for some kind of industrial engineering award, and I’m not sure I ever saw rabbits like this lot. They’re nearly as big as Jethro.  May we all thrive!  Happy New Year.

Next month let’s see who we ought to love on Valentine’s Day.

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