Chapter 3: Serious Business
The seedbeds are harrowed in. My Case tractor and I did a lot of this. It was important to keep going until the job was finished to avoid being caught out by birds or rain. Birds eat an awful lot of corn especially pigeons. Each one shot had a teacup-full of grain in its crop. By the by I hated this aspect of farming but more of that later. If it rained the tractor and harrows became mud caked and did more harm than good so, as I said, it was vital to keep going to the end. Many times have I driven back to base in the pitch dark and staggered indoors to a grim landlady's sour face and with the engine noise ringing in my ears. Harrowing was also a very boring job and sometimes I used to set the steering and jump off and run alongside to relieve the monotony. Wonder I wasn't killed.
Other lesser jobs were now seen to. The sheep needed to be dosed with nasty medicine and examined for foot rot. No showy sheepdog trial stuff here. The infuriating creatures were most difficult to round up. We would run and run and finally get them to the entrance to the pen when one broke away and the whole flock scattered to the four winds. Mind you, one couldn't really blame them when you consider what was in store for them.
Far more pleasant was taking the horses to the blacksmith at Falmer. I used to particularly like riding Boxer the big black Shire Many young girls seem to have a strange attraction to horse riding. Something sexual I expect. You must excuse my harping on about sex but after all, in that environment it is pretty much in one's face all the time. Anyway, back to Boxer. I used to get him to gallop. The ground shook, the wind whistled and I felt like a Valkyrie. By now the winter was fast closing in and the jobs became simply involved with maintenance. Back then the winters were cold, the clothes thin and the rations meagre. I always remember a particularly miserable task that fell to old Ted and me - one of the outlying fields had to be fenced. We were provided with sharpened posts, crowbar, sledge hammer, coils of barbed wire, staples, a small hammer and a wire stretcher. We started at 7.30 am. It was barely light and a freezing fog bristling with frost cruelly stabbed at our fingers, feet and faces. To start with a post hole is made by vigorously thrusting a crowbar into the stubborn ground, then you insert a post and while one of you holds it steady with eyes tight shut the other hits it with all their might with the sledgehammer until it is firmly embedded with no play at all. Stride six paces and do another one and so on until you come to a tree or similar anchor. "Middlin' strong be'ant yer?" asked Ted and I was set to grasping a great coil of wire, securing one end and staggering along our row of posts to the end one, uncoiling wire all the way. The wire stretcher is secured to this at one end and sister-hooks hold the barbed wire in a firm grip. A lever inches the wire tighter and tighter until it reaches our exacting requirement of tautness. Several galvanised staples secure the strand and back I trot to get the next one until three strands are in place all very tight like violin strings. Now it is simply a matter of banging in staples to secure all. We were all day doing this, with a lunch of bread and jam for me, while Ted had the time honoured repast of bread, cheese and a raw onion, eaten while huddling in a ditch. At one point the Boss came prancing over on his horse. For one glorious moment I thought he was going to send us off for some lovely warm muck spreading, but no; he surveyed our painful progress and remarked "This isn't the warmest place in the world is it ?" and galloped back to do some book work.
One lives in close proximity to the weather. If it rains at the beginning of the day you can get soaked through and must stay like it until knocking off time. Many times I've squelched into a barn at lunch time, dried off a bit only to plunge back into it for the
afternoon. I always remember these times today when seeing the weather forecasters on the television. With their fluttering little hands doling out wind, rain and frost from some nice warm studio. We had no need of such as these. The very feel of the air, sight of the sunrise and state of the scarlet pimpernel gave us all the forecast we needed.