Friday, 26 February 2010

The Shpherd and the Flying Flock

My friend Ernest Naish was probably the only shepherd in history who in his spare time set up an RAF Guided Missile station commanding a staff of a hundred and numbering 15 jet fighters.

He would do the morning milking, fly down to the Air Show in Farnborough and be back in time for the evening milking.

There were difficulties. The Air Ministry asked him to fly to Woomera in Australia to report on a new invention, a pilotless plane the Ministry was thinking of buying. On the way to the airport he saw an advert in The Guardian for a 500-acre sheep farm on Cwm Pennant with five cottages and a fine Victorian villa.

Ernie ordered his driver to take them past the farm so he could look at it from he road, stopped at the next phone box, bought it for £4,000 and flew to Australia where he reported the plane was not worth the money. The farm, as it turned out, was.

Cwm Pennant is a place of legendary beauty, of which a bard sang “Why, Lord, did you make Cwm Pennant so lovely and the life of a shepherd so short?”

Ernie agreed: “I am part of this land, just like the pigs and sheep. Mine is the worst land on the Cwm, a foot of peat on rock. It is a lovely place to live but a hard place to make a living. But my heart is here.”

He was 88 and had lived there forty years when I met him but had spent only four nights away.

Ernie had form when it came to hasty purchase. He came to shepherding by a wavy route.
Being a genius helped. When he joined the pre-war Navy as a youth he was immediately listed as a dagger man. That was the sign by his name in the Navy List which marked him for accelerated promotion. He made light of it.

“My only distinction is that I had a Navy record for going on courses. Ten years. Alas, the day I joined my first ship I went for my typhoid injection and was jabbed with a dirty needle and became seriously ill.”

Back ashore, he was given command of a unit which inspected submarines on maiden voyages. He was about to board one when he was taken ill again. The submarine was HMS Thetis which went on its trial and sank. He told me: “My successor is buried at Holyhead. That is something that is with me all the time.”

Invalided out of the Navy, Ernie bought his first sheep farm, which came with a weaving mill. He knew nothing of either trade. “I just asked my neighbours what to do next.”

His neighbours must have been good teachers. He became an international authority on sheep rearing and wove tweed of such beauty it was taken up by fashion houses in London and Paris. The war intervened. Ernie went back in the Navy and when he was demobbed in 1945 the tweed market had been wiped out by an 80 per cent purchase tax.

Over the years he bought three farms which were about fifty miles apart and which he worked diligently. I met him when he had just retired. He told me that when he arrived at a farm he was too tired to work.

His idea of retirement was not as other men's. By general account Sir Kyffin Williams was Wales's greatest artist. As a boy he was taught to paint by Ernie. Later in life Sir Kyffin arranged an exhibition of Ernie's landscapes. He priced them at £500 each to deter buyers. Didn't work. He sold two the day the exhibition opened. He was furious. He never exhibited again. Yet he gave me a painting.

He explained: “I am a non-profit making water-colourist because, frankly, I don't need the money. I paint purely for my own pleasure. I get a idea by walking round the farm and looking at things, then I come back and ruin a lot of old envelopes sketching on them. I cannot start on a picture until I have it firmly in my head. I start in one corner and work across the paper. Never had a lesson in my life and I have no idea why I paint. It is very exacting work and I can only manage twenty minutes at a time.”

Over the years that followed I visited him often. He was never still. He designed a water-powered Aga in which the electric power came from a generator he built and was fed from a stream. He spent a long time failing to make me understand how a machine he built extracted heat from cold air. “It's nothing really. Just reverse the principle of the fridge.”

He always insisted he was just an ordinary bloke: his sister, a research chemist, was the brainy one in the family. At seventy, a pharmaceutical firm gave her a million pounds to do research of her choice.

Ordinary? If Ernie Naish was ordinary, I am the Queen of Romania.


Alexander Buchan (1829 - 1907) was the secretary of the Scottish Meteorology Society.
He listed six recurrent cold periods: 7-10 February; 11-14 April; 9-14 May; 25 June to 4 July; 6-11 August; 6-12 November.
Rather fewer warm periods: 12-15 July; 12-15 August.
No sillier than recent global forecasts.


You can tell what God thinks about common sense by the few MPs that possess it. I work it out at one per party. Vince Cable for the Illiberal Democrats, William Hague, the sole representative for the Conservatives, and the Dark Lord Mandelson alone among Labour members to possess that essential seasoning. In the climate change debate Cable and Hague are listed as moderates and Mandelson is perceived as so lukewarm as to get green paint thrown over him.
I confess it has long puzzled me the way governments hurl themselves into changing the climate and only cool off when it seems likely they may be asked to do something positive to 'Canute' the climate.
Governments only appear to be stupid. When they seek to change society, as in the restriction of freedom, they move quietly and subtly. I was struck by an article by Matthew Paris in a Sunday paper when he boasted how he and Mandelson plotted to bring homosexuality into public acceptance. One of the more obvious moves was for Paris to 'accidentally' out Mandelson on Newsnight.
Given this centuries-old honing of cunning, why did the Government announce the most wide reaching programme of climate fighting, sewing the seas and defacing the landscape with turbines they know to be inadequate? At the same time they were hinting at another Falklands war over a newly discovered oil source and Putin was calling a meeting of oil company executives to advise on the exploitation of a massive oil find in Siberia.

And then the Good Lord Mandelson rode up on his charger to save the steelworkers of Corus. How? By announcing a £170 million deal to build a nuclear manufacturing facility on Teesside. A consortium of Sheffield Forge-masters and Westinghouse are to build a 15,000-ton press that will be used to make pressure vessels and casings for nuclear reactors. At present these are only made by a handful of specialised facilities in Japan.
So far there has been very little protest by the very voluble anti-nuclear lobby.
Hoist by their own Retard?
Three TV documentaries made me doubt my thesis. Their subjects were the great offices of state, the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Home Office. It was revelatory. The three offices had one thing in common. They were not very good at their jobs and all demonstrated in their civil servants a towering and wholly unjustified self confidence.
Another fine crop of revelations came in the series on the Bible and on Christianity, in which a professor of theology made it obvious what is wrong with religion. They were wrong to insist that God created man in His own image when it is patently obvious that it is the other way round. The Judeo-Christian God, on the evidence of the bible, is unforgiving, vain, violent and petulant. Somehow it is right that He should be defended by the strident Anne Widdecombe, a woman whose apparent certainty does not go as far as to decide what colour hair she wants, and Gerry Adams who was given £10,000 to search for Jesus. Money that would have been well spent had he shown any sign in his lifetime that he would recognise the Christly virtues if he tripped over them.
Inevitably Stephen Fry was called in to demonstrate the silliness of religion in a way that reminded me of what someone said of him: Stephen Fry is what stupid people think is an intelligent man.

EVERY DAY HAS ITS DOG ….and most have cats too.
It's not only bad-mannered cattle that contribute to global warming. According to the New Scientist, cats, through their numerous emissions, are also contributors.

In Europe we spend £40 million a year on cat litter and much of the £500 million a year that we spend on vets' bills goes on our 25 million cats.

Be very afraid. A new study by the University of Bristol shows the number of cats doubles every 22 seconds.

Cat psychologist Peter Neville listed a number of case histories of his feline patients in his book "DO CATS NEED SHRINKS?”

"Cats have rarely been much use. Aside from the often overstated mouse and rat catcher role, cats have not followed the pathway of domestication based on training to task like the horse and the dog.“

Neville tells of a bachelor's cat who lay in wait for his new girlfriend and attacked her as she ran naked to the bathroom. The owner acted with despatch. He changed his girlfriend. Another owner wrote: "Thumper, my neutered tom has fallen in love with Jasmine, my eight-year-old dachshund and follows her everywhere, yowling and sniffing and trying to mount her."

Cats may need shrinks but................. Why don't they go to Specsavers?