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Jo, from LittleFfarm Dairy, wrote this comment after reading the various posts about the injured deer. I thought it  a wonderful tale, poignant and thought provoking. I asked if she would mind if I posted it on my front page as I felt it was somewhat hidden as a comment and deserved to be read. She happily agreed. Thanks Jo!

I visited a Theravada (Forest Tradition) Buddhist Monastery near Bodh Gaya in India (where the Buddha was said to have attained enlightenment) a few years ago.   Whilst there a deer suddenly burst out from a thicket of trees at the edge of the forest, hotly pursued by an excited dog.  The monks watched impassively as we stared in horror at the inevitability that the dog would surely bring down the young deer….

…..and then, extraordinarily, just as it seemed the dog would make his move, the deer pirouetted abruptly and started chasing the dog!  The pair ran into the central compound of the Monastery around which a modest cluster of Kutis (living quarters) and a Meditation Hall were grouped, the only other sound the regular swish-swish-swish of a broom as a young novice deftly flicked dust from the warm courtyard floor, not even raising his eyes as the clatter of cloven hooves and the patter of paws puffed up fresh clouds of dust, deep in the meditation of his task.  The dog flopped to the floor, tongue lolling, and rolled onto his back.  The deer danced up for a second, pawed tentatively at the dog, and then flopped down companionably, beside his unlikely friend.

We were dumbfounded; the monks, mildly amused.  The monks radiated serenity, especially the Abbot who as we soon learned, was accompanied everywhere by the dog and the deer; themselves inseparable companions.  The Abbot explained this was a place where no living being need fear another; all was harmony.  Even the mosquitoes seemed subdued!  It certainly was an incredible, unforgettable place: an oasis of calm and compassion, deep in the quiet forest.

I often think of that beautiful young deer and his canine companion, seeing them as a beacon of hope, that nothing is impossible; and that true peace can exist.

When all around me seems turbulent and chaotic, I close my eyes and take myself back to that aura of peace; and all is well.’

jo sent me this photo of the Abbot with the deer...Jo say's the dog is in the background, but not, unfortunately in the photo. 'I just think' says Jo 'that this photo radiates such harmony, calmness and tranquility...'

Jo sent me this photo of the Abbot with the deer...Jo said the dog was in the background but not, unfortunately, in the photo. 'I just think' says Jo 'that this photo radiates such harmony, calmness and tranquility...'

Jo and her husband Tony left high profile careers in the RAF to pursue a dream. After many ups and downs they now successfully run a herd of dairy British Toggenburg goats and make wonderful ice cream. They have just been awarded a Great Taste Gold Award for their Lovespoon Honeycomb Gelato –  as Jo says ‘Not bad for their first year in business!’ To find out more about their struggles and successes follow LittleFfarm Dairy.

I’m back, I’m back! Well, actually I’ve been back since last Wednesday…but it’s been full on. We hit the ground running. So much has happened, with so much to tell that I’ve been stalling in the starting; consequently everything has backed-up into enormous unwieldy stacks. (I have a great analogy, but do forgive its bucolic nature. Sometimes when a freshly calved cow first comes into milk her udder becomes severely engorged.  The pressure is so great it prevents the milk from flowing through the teat freely; the newborn calf finds it difficult to get milk out so stops sucking, exacerbating the problem. One needs to completely strip the affected quarters out, release the pressure, relax the valves and start again…so, that’s where I am – just about to begin the stripping out and trying to establish a smooth seamless written flow!)

Leaving the farm at any time of year is difficult, but during the second half of June it’s particularly so as I’m generally gearing up for haylage and hay making.  Following the last two diabolical wet weather years I’m even more jittery than usual. Ideally I need to make enough good quality first-cut haylage before the end of June to allow sufficient growth for a second cut at the end of August.  So before we left I’d had long searching talks with my contractors, and it was decided that they would go ahead with haylaging if the weather set fair.

We left chaotically early in the morning. Matt and Clare, our friends, had kindly moved in to look after the farmhouse, dogs and stock.

The journey to France was as uneventful as any journey could be herding a large gaggle of adults and children.  Arrived at Avignon, we successfully sorted out hire cars and proceeded to our B & B (a large beautifully dishevelled bastide) with the aid of God (our purposely acquired satnav).  It was stunningly hot, 36C or so the car said, and humid…new babies, new mums and super-hyped three year olds were feeling the strain.

the front of the bastide where we were staying...our apartment was down on the left

the front of the bastide where we were staying...our apartment was down on the left

The Madam de la domaine could speak not a stitch of English but ‘understood’ my expressive gesticulating and stuttering franglaise. This prompted her to talk to me fast and in great depth about all things. I gathered we were short of a room…but she could possibly help out, otherwise we were going to have to double-up in the apartment. Swift instructions were given as to where the supermarche was, the boulangerie, the butcher, the gasoline, the candlestick maker; everything in fact we could wish for.

our apartment at the domain de vallbrillant

our apartment at the domain de vallbrillant

I returned to the family who were exploring our apartment.  From  the shady gravelled courtyard a pair of imposing french doors led into a large spacious living area where an enormous covered pool table acted as a multi-use surface for everything from cooking, eating, sorting, storing to baby changing…leading off this were the bedrooms, architecturally intriguing but unfortunately for us Anglo-Saxons completely dark and windowless! We came to the conclusion that this whole area under the main bastide must have once served as a store or kitchens. From the courtyard we looked down over lawns to an impressive soft-yellow sandstone surround swimming pool. The gardens were bordered by ripe barely fields bleached to wheaten paleness, with a small wooded hill beyond. To the left we had the most stunning views of St Victoire, Cezanne’s mountain, ever-changing from the softest dove grey through washed-out blues into rose quartz pink, magenta and deep palettes of purple.

St Victoire - the intense brightness has unfortuneately killed the photo somewhat

St Victoire - the intense brightness has unfortuneately killed the photo somewhat

Robert, Olly and I made our way to the shops indicated by Madame to find food for supper and stock up on basics. Still hot even though it was early evening, roads and buildings shimmered, the sound of cicadas swelled as we passed roadside trees and bushes, the smell of sun-baked earth and astringent herbs filled our nostrils. It was so different, so very different from the damp, tangled greenness of Locks Park.

Hong Kong junks

Hong Kong junks

I stood by a table covered in name tags, hundreds of them. People were being greeted, ticked off the list and handed a tag. My eyes flicked from face to name and back to face. Did I know them? Was this beautiful well-groomed woman the little girl I played with on the climbing frame, all grazed knees and scraped elbows? And could that possibly be the frustratingly cocky boy I desperately wanted to beat in the under fives swimming heats and never could; now overweight,  purple faced and sweating?

I felt surreal. A cine film of my early childhood was flickering disjointedly through my head. I jumped as someone screeched and threw their arms around me.
“Oh, it’s you! How fabulous. Look at you, just look at you. Would I recognise you? Hell…would I recognise you? How could I not! You haven’t changed”

I stood back and stared at this stranger, smiling inanely, frantically trying to fast forward the cine film in my head to give me a clue as to who she was. I was just on the verge of responding with some absurd remark, when she dropped her arms looked at my face quizzically, squinted at the PAULA THOMSON tag pinned to my chest and said “Actually, I don’t think I do know you, do I? You weren’t at the Island School were you?”

“Sorry, no I wasn’t. It must have been a different me. But maybe…” I trailed off, her attention was already elsewhere “DAHling…dahling…” she shrieked as she bore down on another unsuspecting body.

The throng grew and throbbed. I went back to looking at the arrivals and turned to one of the organisers.
“You don’t know if Amanda’s arrived do you? That’s Amanda Rice that was.”

One of the few positive things about a parent dying is renewed contacts. Having lived and worked abroad my parents and I had large and varied group of friends and acquaintances and some of these old connections were revived when my mother died.

So that’s how I came to be at a Hong Kong kids’ reunion in the Royal China Restaurant, Queensway, London. Amanda (my best friend in Hong Kong from the age of four to eight) had been in contact when she heard about my mum’s death. Unable to get to the funeral because of the snow, she suggested I come to the reunion.

Not one for reunions I nevertheless decided to go. The circumstances made me nostalgic I guess, and I wanted to see Amanda again. Our mothers  had been close friends for many, many years and I had heard snippets of Amanda’s life through their friendship.  I hadn’t seen Amanda since I was eight.

It was bizarre. Ghost names and echoes of familiar features jostled around me. Of course it was their parents in them I was recognising. It was as if one generation had jumped to the next in an instant. Brain bending, reality contorting. You find yourself double-taking, back-tracking and fast forwarding all at the same time.

Back at the welcome table I found myself focusing on a small attractive fair-haired woman with a smile and eyes that certainly looked familiar…
“Amanda? Amanda!” I called and waved. She looked up “Paula!”

How peculiar. We had the majority of our lives to catch up on. Where do you  begin? We began where we last left off…

I thought this might amuse you. Can you remember when I was having the dickens of a job finding out whether I could send my organic beef and lamb to my son and family in France?

I was sent spinning around every conceivable agency and organisation, embassy and Government department, both English and French; not one, it appeared, had the faintest clue as to any rules or regulations governing the export of meat from the UK to France.

Eventually I was told to contact Eblex (in England) by the French Department of Agriculture (in France). My luck changed as I was recommended to one importantly busy Jean-Pierre Garnier, the font of all knowledge surrounding matters such as the import of meat to the EU from the UK.  Jean-Pierre, jetting to Dubai (he’s very, very busy), was unable to speak to me personally, but his delightful PA contacted him mid-air and within minutes confirmed what she had thought to be the case. You do nothing. That’s right. Nothing. I was given the green light to stuff my case, pockets, shoes and bag with squishy lumps of meat. Or, of course, which was my preferred option, to send over my usual insulated, vac-packed and labelled boxes of the stuff.
“So it’s nothing, then? Rien?” I was slightly sceptical…

The piece I subsequently wrote was picked up and published in the Countryman magazine. Sam, a sheep farmer in the South East, mailed me. He thought it was a bit ironical considering.

“Considering what?”

“Considering the notice Johann Tasker saw a few weeks back.” (Johann Tasker is an editor on the Farmers’ Weekly)

“What notice?”

“The one at Paris Orly Airport.” Sam very kindly forwarded me a photo of said notice.

I was gob-smacked. Truly, yes. My jaw fell open, hit my boots and stayed there.

I just had to get hold of Johann to see if he would mind if I showed it to you. He said “Go ahead” (nice man) “though it’s not tip-top as it was taken on my phone.”

So here it is. Squint a bit, improvise. But you’ll get the gist. A Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) warning notice, prohibiting the import of any meat or dairy products into France from the UK.  And, please, do tell me what you think is going on…!

the notice at Paris Orley Airport taken a few weeks ago by Johann Tasker

the notice at Paris Orly Airport taken a few weeks ago by Johann Tasker

dog violet
dog violet

Visiting Ben, Berengere and Camille in Marseille for the weekend on countdown-to-wedding arrangements.

An interesting journey. The Trainline sent me the wrong ticket. I’d stupidly trusted my confirmation email and hadn’t given my tickets more than a cursory look before putting them in my wallet.  Silly me. Confusion and doubt caught me out at the station where I foolishly asked the ticket people for advice. A new ticket had to be purchased and naturally I wasn’t cut any slack by British Rail who gleefully charged me mega bucks to re-purchase the ticket I’d originally booked. Lesson learnt – check tickets minutely in future.

The next excitement was staying overnight in a Yotel capsule.  The plane to Marseille leaves early in the morning (they’ve changed the flight times), making it necessary for me to leave Devon the evening before. The Yotel is a Japanese concept, which funnily enough throughstones mentioned in the dormouse nest tube post below (though this one did have a shower, loo and basin) at the very instant I was experiencing one! As I checked in there was this extraordinarily svelte expressionless American woman checking in at the same time. Chatting to the helpful, de-stressing check-in guy (I had failed miserably at the automated security point outside) about how excited yet trepidatious I was about staying the night in a luggage rack, I was never more surprised when the ultra sophisticated American tapped me on the shoulder and, with a very unexpected girlish giggle, said “Me too. It will be the highlight of my trip!”

I slept well, and so, apparently, had a lot of my fellow travellers, as I found out the following morning as we  checked out.  A chatty place with everyone apparently enjoying the novelty.

And then the pilot over-ran the runway when landing at Marseille! He managed on the second attempt as we held our breath and pretended we were as cool as cucumbers.  Except, that is, for a child who began to scream “I want to get off. Mummy, mummy, mummy. Now. I. Want. To. Get. Off. Now!” Echoing what we were all really thinking.

I arrived in one piece. No more disasters and will be back on Monday night.

village des bories, luberon

village des bories, luberon

I have been away for a few days; a flying weekend visit to Marseille to catch up with my son, Ben, his partner Berengere and little Camille (their daughter). They’ve recently started new jobs, found a flat to rent and settled Camille into childcare. I haven’t seen them since May; it’s been far too long.

sun-bright citrus fruits

sun-bright citrus fruits

In brilliant blue skies and unexpected freezing mistral winds we bundled up in coats, hats, scarves and gloves and set off to shop the colourful seasonal markets. Occasionally we took refuge in a hostelry where we could warm ourselves by a roaring fire, eat steaming platters of warming daubes or nurse mugs of rich thick hot chocolate before facing the elements again. We visited the ancient ochre-yellow hilltop towns of the Luberon and explored the extraordinary Village des Bories. Camille, a tiny Nordic ice-princess, with white blond hair, milky skin and the bluest eyes, was at home in the unusual icy conditions, laughing and running excitedly in the wild bitter winds. At home we caught up on six months of news, chatter and plans over long suppers and wine. It was over too quickly.

the extraordinary village des bories

the extraordinary village des bories

Robert and Olly were holding the fort at Locks Park and hoping to press on with the next stage in our fabulous polytunnel construction; the digging of sixteen deep holes (no mean feat on this land) and the concreting in of sixteen poles (to within a millimetre or so accuracy), which will form the structure’s anchor as well as becoming fixings for the tunnel’s huge metal hoops. They, the holes and posts, need to be deep, very strong and precise. With conditions such as they are it’s a tall order.

Earlier last week we were busy getting a former cattle shed ready to wean half a dozen or so large calves; they’d been preventing some of the smaller calves from feeding in the creep area we have sectioned off in the main cow palace. They are only nine months old but they’re big, very big – almost as hefty as some of my 18 month olds. As they were eating well I thought they would be easy to wean and happy at having a large, roomy space and more food all to themselves. How wrong was I! The poor little buggers have taken it hard with non-stop bawling and bellowing; if they hadn’t lost their voices I reckon there would still be a deafening cacophony instead of heartrending pathetic squeaky squeals.  Their dams, after an initial twenty-four hour shout, have luckily settled down with contented sighs of relief at not being biffed by their overlarge offspring; they were, interestingly, my senior high-ranking cows.

I always try to avoid any unnecessary stress to my cattle and have over the years adopted a policy of weaning at the latest conceivable moment, encouraging as natural a weaning process as possible. It’s a delicate balance between cow and calf. I try to ensure the cow isn’t too exhausted and depleted before her next calving and that her calf won’t suffer any growth checks and is ready to exchange milk for cereal protein and good quality forage.

It’s interesting that my huge hulks may have looked ready in body but certainly weren’t ready psychologically to cut the cord. Though I’m pleased to report that now I’m back they’ve switched allegiance;  every time they hear my voice  or catch a glimpse of me around the farmyard  strange strangled whistles and wheezes fill the air. And their mothers ? They look at me with knowing glances, as if to say “Well, m’dear, you’re welcome to them!”

the tops of the cairngorms dusted with snow

the tops of the cairngorms dusted with snow

Lumpy heather, bog myrtle and blaeberry moorland under foot, majestic snow capped mountains before me, sparkling white against ominous deep purple-black storm clouds, I tingle with the sheer joy of being alive. Spellbound I watch as snow squalls march over mountain tops, through glens, finally engulfing me in a flurry of whirling snowflakes and battering hail. I was in snow, being snowed on! It was October 3rd. I walked on with flame-stinging cheeks and a grin.

We’d arrived in Scotland and while Robert was at his aspen conference I’d taken the opportunity to walk in the Cairngorm foothills directly outside our B&B.

aspen - loch nedd

aspens over the loch

The following day we drove up to Assynt, the far north-western highlands, further north than we’d ever been before. A tiny single track road took us the last nine miles to the cottage we’d rented for the week. Twisting, turning, climbing, falling it led us through breathtaking countryside. Ochre-orange gneiss moorland deeply gnarled and gouged; bleached grey rocks folded, kneaded, pummelled, tortured through millennia after that first ever cooling of the earth’s crust. Impossibly slender stems of rowan and aspen cling to high craggy outcrops, falling away to birch-clothed slopes shivering and shimmering in the dappled reds and golden-yellow green of autumn. Still, mysterious, peat-dark lochans speckle the landscape overspilling in single white threads down to churning burns. To one side of us a colossal hulk of magenta Torridonian sandstone rises up like a brooding prehistoric monster to dominate the surrounding countryside – this is Quinag, the three armed mountain. The road leading us past lochs where sea and mountain meld along ribbons of golden seaweed tossed with weathered bones of boats and the detritus of the ocean. Out to sea our eyes are led over a flotilla of small islets to a horizon of dark steel-blue peaks and headlands stretching into infinity.

assynt hills from quinag

assynt hills from quinag

We arrive at our destination on a high, euphoric. An old metal gate marked the start of a bumpy track down which we drive a couple of hundred metres to a parking spot; walking the last steep descent we turn to each other in bubbling excitement as we see in front of us, nestled on a natural rocky platform overlooking the loch, the cottage! A traditional low rectangular building built of gneiss and sandstone painted white; two windows and a small door face east looking out across the loch and moorland to the brooding, ever changing presence of Quinag. Inside all is miniature; the front door opens into a tiny passage leading to a sitting room on the right, a kitchen to the left, and a bathroom at the back; ahead of us is a miniscule stairway up to the two bedrooms in the sloping eves. Robert has a problem negotiating his height!

the view from the cottage - sunrise over quinag

the view from the cottage - sunrise over quinag

Almost unable to believe our luck we take in our surroundings in the late afternoon light. Sheltered from weather by hillside and trees, we slowly absorb the untamed beauty of the loch below us and the hills beyond, tasting seaweed, the damp decay of leaf litter and peat on the salt blown air. A small gaggle of sheep wander past the front door on their way to their evening grazing spot, turning to look at us with mild interest. Inside I draw a glass of spring water, deliciously cold and clear with a hint of mussels soaking in fresh water. Later that evening, snuggled under the duvet, we gaze at the stars through a large skylight, listening to the wind in a lone Scots pine mixed with the distant sound of the sea. Across the loch the primal roar of a stag in rut echoes around the mountains. We drift to sleep wrapped in a blanket of dreams.

red deer stag

red deer stag

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.



The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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