If you read this column last month you may have thought I was going all nostalgic for the past. Indeed you could be right! Because, although they were damned hard days they were exciting ones, more so for lacking most of today’s rules and regulations.
Although the job was physically extremely hard, every day brought its own challenges, with a really big difference being that we had our workmates to cheer things along. So now, still in seasonal mode, excuse me if I continue a bit longer in the same vein.
As I said, the job was hard but, somehow, when you are working as part of a team – as most farms were until around the late sixties – there was also much to be had from the camaraderie. And of course we were all much younger, and the world of farming was increasingly filled with exciting new experiences and inventions.
Today a tractor operator or even a herdsman can go through most of their week hardly seeing another person, other than perhaps the milk tanker driver, the artificial insemination man or perhaps even the boss. The only form of human interaction may be via the mobile phone. The latest are a veritable, endless source of information which actually, I believe, detracts hugely from the sheer experience of working in the countryside. It also wastes so much time. Slowing down or stopping work to answer some trivial social call or to make one is something that could well wait until work stops for a meal break, rather than in paid time.
It seems really amazing that my generation survived without these things. But we did, and survived quite well while the work was always done. We were at least able to put in a full day’s work without interruptions. Yet having said this I would rate the mobile phone (properly used) as probably the most valuable development in my farming experience – perhaps equal along with the Ferguson system (tractor hydraulics) in the development and progress of farming over all these years.
I certainly wasted many hours in the fifties and sixties when working alone perhaps in winter ploughing up on the cold, often quite bleak flinty hill farm, when I noticed a flat tyre. In the days when there was no on farm breakdown service, a flat meant walking perhaps half a mile back to the farm buildings to collect jack, blocks, tyre levers and foot pump in a wheelbarrow.
Perhaps there were two trips, on foot, to struggle back across the fields, remove the flat, repair the puncture, often in rain or worse and then getting going again, probably three hours later, atop a tractor with no cab, criss crossing some huge, cold downland expanse in the company of thousands of gulls and peewits feeding on worms. Today, one phone call and a fitter is with you in half an hour and the tyre is repaired in another 15 minutes while you could be sitting snug in the cab with a radio or phone for company. Yes things have changed.
Other times one could be out with a couple of others for days on end, armed with axes, saws and long handled slashers hedge trimming, an endless job where an overgrown hedge was taken right back to the field edge, ditch or fence from which over the past years it had been left to grow. This was a seriously hard job but at least one with company and without the intrusion of unwanted phone calls. Each worker took it in turns to use saw/ slasher/ axe; then, when there was enough to warrant a fire, dragged all the limbs, by hand, to central fires. The separated burning timber was left to be carted back to the farm wood yard for putting past the circular saw, and then the logs were moved to the farmhouses for the older folk and their open fires. Often we received a cup of tea, and a cake, as thanks.
Now back to 2018 and reality. Our Conservative government seemingly fail to realise they are playing into the hands of the opposition, potentially setting the political clock back 50 years while making the job of an extreme left wing wrecking-cabal too easy. This is a cabal whose only ambition appears to be to spread sex rumours and attempt to get their supporters to discredit any opposition, get Labour elected and then totally ruin the country. And I mean ruin it financially. Corbyn and his little clique would actually be unelectable if those taken in and fooled by his fairy stories were to stop for a few minutes and listen to those who lived through the seventies and the power they gave the union militants. And the awful damage they did.
Meanwhile, after nearly four years of talking about it, SSE have started the process of putting a line of their high voltage electric cables underground. The moling in of the cable was impressive and easy but, in the process, they smashed the main gas pipe to the whole area. The escaping gas sounded like a jet aircraft and was smelt for miles downwind, which was very popular on a Sunday afternoon.
Having repaired that they then smashed through the main sewer for the district. This time it was no fault of their own because it was incorrectly marked some 80 yards away. Thankfully the job is nearly done but, after all that time waiting for it to happen, the organisational ability seems a little lacking. Now we are into one of the two dead months of the year, January and February. We will be thawing pipes, clearing ice and snow off roads for the milk tanker, cutting logs and feeding housed cows and young stock. The latter at least is rewarding and largely unchanged over all these years.
May I wish you all a healthy and successful new year – one which turns out better than it perhaps looks at the moment.