Sunday, 14 July 2013

The 'Good' Old Days

The farmer and I sat over breakfast this morning talking about this year's harvest.   The hay and silage has been very good indeed - not necessarily because of the size of the crop but certainly in terms of getting it all in in hot weather.

As for the arable crops - the farmer described these as 'patchy'.   We had such wet weather last year that many of the crops (particularly Winter wheat) had to be re-sown in the Spring.   But there is no doubt that this wonderful weather has improved things greatly - particularly as we had almost half an inch of torrential, thundery rain yesterday.   That really had a chance to get into the ground before it was burnt off by a hot sun.

But, unusually for him, the farmer continued and talked about harvesting when he was a lad.   Threshing in particular - and it was so interesting to hear him talk.

All the farmers in the surrounding area got together and discussed an optimum period for threshing the corn and then booked the threshing machine and the man who came with it.   The farmers then got together again and allotted days to each farm.

On the allotted day all the men would congregate on that farm and would work flat out to get all the corn threshed during the one day.
David told me who would come here (most of them are still alive - some into their late eighties), how the machinery was set up and where (this was after the days of a steam-powered engine to drive it and just into the age of a tractor).   

The big table (which still sits in our kitchen) would be extended to its full length and dinner time would be set by David's mother - who was a very good cook - and at that time exactly the machinery would stop and all the men would troop in for their lunch.   It was always the same - a huge joint of roast beef, Yorkshire puddings (of course), unlimited vegetables and good gravy.   For pudding it would always be four or five huge apple pies with custard for pouring (and sometimes cream from the dairy if it wasn't needed for making the butter).

The lunch would be only a quarter of an hour in length and then all the men would be back at work.   Tea would be provided - cold - in bottles, so that the men could drink it as and when they felt like a drink.

Sometimes the dust would be so bad, said the farmer, that occasionally somebody would be in bed the next day with a bad chest!   Yet they are still all alive (no masks in those days!)

When I think how one machine works thousands of acres today and does the whole job, driven by one man.   Like all other industries, no wonder workers have disappeared from the countryside and no wonder there are so many out of work.

It's not often I can get him to talk about the old times - it was fascinating to hear him talk - so I thought I would pass it on.


Arija said...

I remember those days well. In Germany as refugees fleeing the Russians, we were used as 'labour force' and our family was separated to work at various jobs, at least in the same village. A stem driven threshing machine would come into the yard and after it left, the sweepings off the cobbles were cleaned by tossing them into the air on a sheet until the wind carried the husks away. Yes, the memories of the old days that soon will have faded away . . .

ArtPropelled said...

Your post reminds me of dipping day and the annual duiker shoot. It was always very festive at lunch time.

Heather said...

I remember watching the old threshing machines in the field over the garden hedge. They seemed like monsters but would be dwarfed by today's monsters. My closest school friend was a farmer's daughter and her mother was kept extremely busy feeding the workforce at certain times of the year, and during the summer holidays my friend was kept busy helping her mother.

Rachel said...

I too remember the threshing day and my brothers would have the day off school because all available hands were needed to help. I remember wooden clubs on hand to whack the rats. However we had a combine harvester which did all job by the late 1940s and my memory of the thresher would have been a one off to do the oat stack sometime in the 1950s.

mumasu said...

Thank you so much for writing this Pat. These days are gone and if they do not get written down they will be forgotten forever.

Barbara said...

Oh, I love stories of the "old days"! It's wonderful that the stories get recorded so that the efforts of those that have gone before us can be appreciated.
Modern technology is so amazing and makes things possible that were only vague imaginings of our forebears...and that is wonderful! But, the sense of community and the seasons of life is somehow lost and that is very, very sad.
Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed imagining watching the work (and eating the food).

Cloudia said...

This worthy oral history MUST be shared with local historical societies, universities, newspapers.

ALOHA from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral
~ > < } } ( ° >

Pam said...

Blimey - 15 minutes for that wonderful lunch - it would hardly have time to settle! Very interesting post Pat - and comments too!

thelma said...

Lovely post, but it must have been very hard work, what I miss the most from today is the farm horses, they must have added an extra dimension. Old photographs show them having their 'grub' in nose bags at lunchtime alongside the farm workers.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for adding all kinds of bits of information to this post - all makes fascinating reading. Thanks also for popping in.