Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Relentless Onset of Summer

DSC_4655wbThe start of the farmers harvest, yet almost a month must pass before the solstice.

May is a busy time for nature, perhaps her busiest month of all in Ireland for she accomplishes so much during these few weeks that mark the height of her productive powers. The trees eventually come in to full leaf, the hedgerows become corpulent with plenty, eggs are hatching and grubs collected but above all else the fields clog with a luxuriance of grass which, it must be admitted, is dependent to a great extent upon artificial sustenance yet it is impressive all the same.

Now, as we approach the end of that month, the first part of harvest is in full swing as the rich yield of grass is mowed and then taken to the clamp for ensilage. This is accomplished so swiftly nowadays that it appears almost magical, what would have taken at least a week when I was a student now barely extends beyond tea time on the day that the job started, the only hold up to further advances being the restriction of roads and gateways limiting the size of the machines that may be deployed. However, amongst the frenetic activity of the silage season there is often cause for sadness, and usually in my case, regret.

The regret is akin to the that which marks the passing of the years, it’s the realisation that one has not made as much of the time just passed as perhaps was possible although upon analysis it’s always difficult to point to where the effort could have been improved. The difficulty with May is that just so much happens in its 31 days that it is impossible to appreciate the activity and energy that falls upon the countryside as nature drives forward with her endless agenda of growth and reproduction. In this part of the world grass is the major crop, in the tillage lands the rape and barley will have flowered and been pollinated with seed set for collection in just a few short weeks time, the sun’s energy having being harnessed and directed to the provision of man. Yet, just a month from now it will all be over, the solstice will announce the passing of the expanding days and the foot will come off the accelerator as the verdant factory sits back from its task and gently eases itself into the quiet of summer.

There is always a day in late June when that switch finally occurs. It is not so pronounced here in the more equitable west of Ireland but it was certainly felt by those who cared to notice back over the water in Britain. There would come a morning when the air was different, the dew was not that of a cool night previous but carried a different scent, one of exhaustion rather than energy and I have spoken to those who know it for real and those who think I’m plain mad. Whenever I felt that day it became the moment my thoughts were of decline towards winter, the end of spring, and the summer was now upon us, it is the time to get on with any plans I have for the year has started to draw to a close. Certainly, all this can be as easily ascertained by just a glance at the calendar but one of the joys of rural life is that the 365 divisions it charts actually come to mean a little more than just a list of, personal, social and work related events that the less fortunate city dweller is left to ceaselessly observe.

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Petting the reptiles, or how to be nice to the press.

DSC_7702wbNo, not these three, they are as warm and human as they come. This is the open day at Adare Machinery, a text book case of how to get it right in public relations.

I’m not a great fan of social media generally but I do participate a little on Linkedin in the  hope that one day some profit may come of the time I spend there, but alas, there are no great rewards evident as yet. However, there is the occasional item that crops up that is worth noting and one such was by a US based journalist who gave us another list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to conducting ourselves through life and in this case it was what not to say when sending out press releases to us reptiles (© Private Eye).

There were a good many comments made on her article many of which asked what they should actually be saying and the lady has indicated that she will answer that question in due course. In the meanwhile I thought I might add a few remarks as to how to get a journalist on board as opposed to simply contact one.

To my mind the first and most important thing you can do is to show some genuine enthusiasm for your product or cause. This can be infectious and writers like to be all gee’d up if only because it helps inspire them when it comes to forming the words that will introduce or describe your business. I experienced a classic example recently when tractor company A (Valtra) went to some lengths to procure an image of a vintage machine for an article I was writing that wasn’t even one of their forebears. On the other hand tractor company B (who shall remain nameless, but they are big and you know them) sniffily pointed out that they don’t have pictures of their ‘heritage’ machines available and even if they did they don’t have the resources to manage them! And that was over a month after I first approached the press department!! Now it doesn’t take a genius to work out which of the two actually came across as taking an interest in their own industry, so hats off to Valtra and AGCO generally for making the effort, it will be remembered in a very positive way.

A second way to keep a journo happy is to ensure that they have access to figures within the organisation that have positions of responsibility rather than just the marketing department. This will of course depend upon the cooperation of said figures which may not always be forthcoming but if the managers don’t want to sell the company and its activities why should anyone else bother? Kauko Pylvas, the MD of Allu Buckets, spared the time to show me around his factory where I was genuinely impressed by the company, its staff and its attitude, he now has a firm friend and attentive ear in the trade press. Compare and contrast with those that go hiding in the shrubbery when their organisation has a story breaking around it, such evasiveness is just counter productive at best and at worse, well, I’ll let folk reflect on the various scandals that have gone unanswered by companies in the food industry of late.

A further and equally important way of keeping the press happy is to respect their integrity. We are all well aware that the words ‘press’ and ‘integrity’ often stand in direct contradiction in many peoples minds but away from the tabloids and more sensational periodicals there is a lot of good honest hard work being done to inform readers of matters that are of interest to them. The magazines I write for have to be seen as independent from external influences such as big advertisers if they are to be respected, and if they lose that respect then the big advertisers also lose because nobody is taking serious note of the magazine they have corrupted and their efforts are wasted. Being obliging to both sets of customers, the advertisers and the readers, can be a fine line for editors to tread and businesses need to remember this.

These are just three of the major ways in which the press can become a friend of companies and other organisations, it’s not just a question of slap up dinners and fancy hotels, just a recognition that we to have a job to do as well and are often very busy ourselves.

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Arthur Young and the Intensity of Travel.

DSC_3304adjwbComfort zone. Sometimes it’s good to step out beyond it.

It was browsing around in Blackwells bookshop in Oxford that I first happened across the accounts of the good Mr Young and his various exploits upon horseback in France. His name may be unfamiliar today but in his time, the late 18th century, he was a celebrated experimental farmer and highly regarded commentator on agricultural affairs. On several occasions he undertook trips to the continent with the purpose of investigating farming practices abroad and his notes range from the quite hilarious descriptions of less than hospitable French inns to frustrated denouncements of totally ineffective and wasteful growing practices. His dalliance with the nobility and learned  as well as his obvious interest in the culture of the educated classes (he rarely mentions the recreational habits of the poor) are also recorded in his works  which, upon reflection, amount to a good deal more than just a diary of events and situations encountered.

If there is one common thread throughout his writing it is the love of travel, the desire to explore and the need to delve beyond the immediate, to investigate the reason behind what is presented to the casual viewer. This to my mind puts him at another level than just another moneyed aristocrat on the grand tour for he was neither an aristocrat, nor wealthy, nor idle in his inquisitiveness. He is in fact something of an inspiration to us humble folk who would pretend to follow in his footsteps as we take to the airports and hire cars where he once suffered the discomfort of slow boats and horses. Yet despite the dramatic change in how one gets about the planet there is still a kindred spirit amongst all those that travel looking for enlightenment rather than simple distraction and gratification and if that light burns within then the rewards of seeking some meaning in the universe can be hugely satisfying.

This is not too say that one day, atop some mist shrouded mountain, the sun will break through and the all encompassing truth be delivered to you by angels and a deep voice speaking in tongues.  No, that’s not the idea at all. Rather, it’s a question of involving oneself in the environment you find yourself inhabiting and discovering a comfort and empathy with whoever you happen to find yourself alongside, and to do this you need to remain open to those that you meet. Here lies the other great lesson to be had from Arthur Young and that is the lone traveler will have no choice but to immerse themselves in a situation rather than fall back upon the company of a companion.

Being a mature male this is easier than it would be for a lone girl but even if traveling with another the realisation that the trap of companionship can inhibit the experience of learning is a big step forward and not one that is recognised by all. Rebeka West in her trips to the Balkans is perhaps a good example of someone who carries this awareness, for although she is with her then husband her keen sense of observation and intelligent analysis indicates that she retains an open mind to the people she happens across if not the politics of the region, which is a shame for her resulting work, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, is a colourful read although somewhat long on hubris at times, and just somewhat long in general.

I have recently arrived back from a short trip to a land that was previously unknown to me and these thoughts occur come to mind as I arrange the notes and memories in to a series of articles for various publications. A warm and generous lady who was instrumental in my going in the first place has since remarked that I “seemed to have thrown myself into the Finnish way of life”. She is probably unaware of just how great a compliment that is.

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Finlandia and the sleeping bear.

DSC_3601wbBoats moored at Hauho in the central south of Finland.


Finlandia, a short piece of wonderful music composed by Sibelius in 1899 as a rightful protest against Russian censorship of the press in what was at the time meant to be an autonomous duchy of the Tzars empire. The region had to wait for it’s own civil war in 1918 to establish itself as the independent state that we know today which makes it one of the younger countries in Europe, not yet 100 years old.

Written as an objection to Russian policies the music captured an essence of the Finnish character that would appear very much alive and well today for you meet a firece pride and determination for the country wherever you go in Finland. However, it is not the sort of faux nationalistic fervor generated in the British soul whenever the Empire or Spitfires are mentioned, indeed it is quite the opposite, it is a celebration of the certainty of who they are and what they stand for. On the other hand one rather feels that the state sponsored British and US patriotism is a cover for a deep felt unease over their now diminished role in world affairs, but that’s another story.

I am brought to these thoughts by a recent trip to Finland where I visited several factories and sites to gather material for the magazines I submit articles to. My hosts for the week were, without exception, keen to demonstrate the worth of not only their company’s products but also impress upon me the strength of the country as a whole for they are incredibly proud of their past and the success they have so far enjoyed in keeping the Russian bear at bay, although this is more often implied rather than spoken for one has to be diplomatic about so powerful a neighbour in these days of global trade.  The relationship with Russia is, one feels, an uneasy truce, yet I should imagine that the focus it brings to society and the economy has played a large part in the country’s success and when compared to Ireland, a country with much the same population, success is indeed the appropriate word.

If you can tell a country by its roads then Finland is leap years ahead of this emerald isle. Motorways with sweeping junctions deliver you effortlessly to your destination while the smaller trunk roads provide a width and surface quality that is the envy of any major route at either end of Ireland. The Finnish railways are not only direct and well maintained but also busy with both freight and passenger traffic even though, or maybe because of, there being roughly six times as much Finnish track as there is Irish. Naturally it will be pointed out that with forestry being such an important part of the economy railways are required for the transport of the bulky materials involved, but there is more to it than that I’m sure, for it is quite plain that for any government to undertake and maintain such public works there has to be a national consensus and that, in large part, is no doubt fueled by the unease with which they view the bear across their eastern border.

I would be the very last to demand that Ireland somehow adopt a unifying figure of oppression by which it might gather the people together to work for a supposed common good, that was, after all, one of the warnings contained in Orwell’s 1984. But I really don’t see it emulating the progress of Finland with the childish bickering and self interest that characterises the present political establishment. While the people of that Nordic nation talk of building future prosperity the politicians of Ireland have sunk to arguing over how to best manage their country’s decline which amounts to little more than leaving it all up to the Troika.

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