The heat is on, but we could do with a drop of rain all the same

Although he doesn't sunbathe nor tan, John Arnold is relishing this hot spell - but the farmer in him also needs some wet stuff! 
The heat is on, but we could do with a drop of rain all the same

ONE WAY TO COOL DOWN: Children enjoy an ice cream in Cork city in the summer of 1954

OH, what a glorious week we’re having. Only for the blasted Covid thing we’d all be on the pig’s back.

It looks like ’twill be a red hot sizzling weekend too. If things were normal there’d be hordes of Rebels in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick on Saturday, and after beating the Banner hurlers we’d head for Killarney and take our chances against Clifford & Co with the big ball on Sunday.

Ah, such wishful thinking, but in fairness, in this Costa del Cork at present you’d have to be thinking positive. We have the hay well saved and though we didn’t ‘bate’ Tipperary, we might yet!

It’s been a long time coming this glorious spell of weather, after an indifferent start to the Irish summer.

Anyone that knew me when I was younger, especially in the last century, will recall a freckly face topped with a mop of tousled foxy hair. Apparently, it’s something to do with the pigmentation in my skin, but freckly redheads don’t tan easily.

The first time I exposed my milky white thighs and upper arms and the upper torso region of my chest to Spanish sunshine was just over four decades ago, on the beach in Fuengirola whilst on honeymoon. In fairness, my use of the word ‘expose’ is probably a bit excessive because in the suitcase on that never to be forgotten trip were at least six bottles of Factor 75 Sun Protectorant. I had been well warned about the possible detrimental effects of the extreme sunshine on my delicate skin.

We spent two weeks in that idyllic spot on the Spanish coast, and I’d say I was on the beach at least three or four days covered with the white and smelly lotion. I tend to sweat profusely from every available orifice and, lads, I sweated buckets on that beach — though under an umbrella and wearing a sturdy cloth cap.

Now, apart from the traditional ‘farmers tan’, a v-shaped portion under the chin and up to the two elbows, the remainder of my physique retains its original colour. I don’t really feel jealous or inadequate when I see these bronzed specimens of the male form with muscles bulging, and skin the colour of sand paper. Each to his own, and not being a lover of the water meant that my beach-lounging escapades can still be counted on my fingers, and no need to go to the second hand at all.

But is this fabulous weather we have, and the terrible floods in Europe and wildfires in other places, proof positive that global warming is here to stay? I’m no expert and experts on the subject are two a penny.

For everyone that claims the end is nigh and that we’re on the eve of destruction, you’ll find as many to rubbish that theory.

A few years back there was woeful consternation about the hole in the ozone layer. Apparently like a massive puncture in a tube, this big hole was leaving in UVF rays — I think that’s what they were called anyway — by the bucket-load and nobody but nobody will have a good word to say about them rays.

They can cause all kinds of health and environmental problems. Of that there’s no doubt, but in recent years we hear little or nothing on the ozone problem. Some experts say ’twill fix itself in time, kinda self-sealing, but other professors and learned men flatly deny the possibility of this ever happening.

One thing is very certain though, and that is if we keep clearing rain forests and clear-felling old ancient forests we are creating more problems. Certain things in this world are finite — they are not being made anymore — and land is one of them.

The world’s population is increasing and they must be fed, therefore more and more land needs to be brought into agricultural production — but does it? Solving one problem by creating another is neither here nor there and is just a global form of ‘kicking the can down the motorway’.

I firmly believe that not alone must we stop the rape and destruction of vast forests, but we must continually strive to plant more. For years in this country there was a policy of ‘One more cow, one more sow, and one more acre under the plough’ which was great when, as a country, we were half hungry and self sufficient in very few staple food products.

All’s changed utterly now and thankfully biodiversity has become the new buzz word. Speaking of buzzing, we now at last recognise the vital role of bees and other insects as pollinators. If they disappear, so too will many food-bearing plants and we’ll be worse off than ever.

On a farm like ours, shelter is a great thing. It was the writer GK Chesterton who said: “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up.” I don’t know if Chesterton knew much about farming, but he was a very wise man.

I often wonder myself at field patterns and the zig zag and seemingly strange shapes of field boundaries. He called them fences, whereas we generally use the term ditches.

A tree-surrounded field is often warmer in winter and gives mighty shelter from wind and rain. In scorching weather like this, ditches have their benefits too. Our ancestors who put those stones upon other stones weren’t educated men — no, but they were smart men. They knew from those gone before them about prevailing winds, rain direction and where storms tended to come from.

Last Sunday, for example, we left the cows out after the morning milking up into the Little Iron Gate Field. It’s surrounded on all sides by tall ash trees. Even before 9am, the sun was high in the sky and the temperature was soaring.

Having ate their fill for an hour or two, most of the cows then stood in the relative coolness of the shade given by the ash trees, now in full foliage. By evening when the sun had moved across heading westwards, the cows went to the opposite ditch. Let no-one ever call them dumb animals, in many ways they have an innate intelligence we can never comprehend.

When the bitter east wind blows, the animals lie with their backs to it so the biting gale blows over them. They say ‘an ounce of breeding is worth a ton of feeding’ and the ‘knowledge’ passed on from one bovine generation to the next is amazing.

Now, this extremely warm weather is hard on milking cows. We try to do it earlier in the morning and a bit later in the evening to avoid the warmest times.

They can drink up to 100 litres of water a day so it’s a time to take them nice and aisy and slow. I suppose that describes ourselves also in this heat!

They say we Irish ‘aren’t built for heat’, yet of a normal year hundreds of thousands of us are scattered on the hottest beaches all over the world!

While the heat ‘doesn’t agree with me’ I’m not complaining at present. Working ’til dinner time then staying in the shade for a few hours whilst cogitating on the affairs of state — how bad!

We had the last mini Ice Age in this parish around 1741, so the jury’s still out on whether this week’s heatwave is a sign of things to come or just a blip on the merry-go-round.

They say the passing years play tricks on the memory but I can recall weather like this half a century ago. We used be out ’til after ten o clock at night on warm and balmy July and early August nights. If you sat down on a stone in a ditch, your backside would nearly be burned from the heat of the stone! Having said all that, we could do with a drop of rain next week in the Long Field, the Kiln and High Fields and Paircaliosa!

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