Tractors round two.

I started working a couple of days in an office in the local town as we didn’t seem to have any money coming in, and although we had only just got married we could not live on love alone; we did need to buy food and other things.

Mr. H was now able to drag himself up on to a tractor and do some of the work in the fields.  Having had his licence taken away he could not drive any vehicle on the roads, so, before I went to work, I had to move the tractors, trailers and equipment to the right fields and then in the evenings, bring them home again.  We had some land on the other side of the village and on the mornings I worked, one of our lovely farming neighbours Michelle, very kindly collected Mr. H and off they would go to check the bullocks and sheep in the fields away from the farm.  Of course this started the village telegraph talking as people seemed to think there must be something else going on!  Michelle had a little mini and Mr. H would fold himself up in it two days a week and go off to check the animals.  I don’t actually think he did much checking as he was still not able to walk very well, but Michelle was brilliant.

I also had trouble holding full loads of straw and hay when driving the tractor and trailers downhill.  My legs are not very long and I used to have to jump up and down on the brake pedal with two feet in order to make an impression.  This worked fairly well, although in some cases it did terrify the drivers of vehicles coming up hills towards me, until a couple of years later, when I was eight months pregnant and I was bringing a full load of hay back to the farm.  Even with two feet on the brake pedal I was not even make an impression.  Mr. H was on the tractor in front with a friend who was driving down our steep drive for the first time.  I was getting closer and closer to the other tractor but I just could not slow my tractor down as the bump was getting in the way and I ended up wedged between the door and the steering wheel.  The tractor had twelve gears and I was in the bottom gear, so my only options were to stay on board and run into the back of the tractor in front, or to get off.  So I got off and went to get Mr. H; his face was a picture when I tapped him on the shoulder, but he ran back and, leaping, well dragging himself up on to the tractor, stopped it in time.  The next day I rang the doctor and asked if there was any chance that Mr. H could have his licence back as he only two months of the ban to run and it seemed it was less of a risk giving him his licence back than letting me carry on driving tractors.

The first time Mr. H drove through the village the phone started ringing as people obviously knew exactly when he should be driving again and they were ringing to make sure I knew he was driving!

Whenever I took a load of hay, corn or straw through the village with the tractor, the elderly gentlemen who sat on the seat in the square would get up and shuffle forwards to watch me coming.  Somehow I managed not to knock off anyone’s gate post or wall and I would smile and wave to them as I went past.  After about a month they started to nod at me, then after another month I got a smile and after about six months they started waving and sometimes even waving their sticks too, which I thought was a great success.  I think they were always a little disappointed that I didn’t provide them with more entertainment, but I am sure they never gave up hoping as they had obviously heard the stories about me losing loads of straw and taking a few chunks out of our barns and house.  Personally I think they were lucky I didn’t run them over.

Every summer we employed a contractor as we did not have a combine harvester and he would come to cut our corn.  He provided these gentlemen with a bit of interest as when we were doing the harvest, he would always manage to take down a stone or two from someone’s wall and the phone would be very hot with people ringing to tell us what had happened.  He tried very hard not to do it, but with houses on both sides of the village and a very narrow street, it was nearly impossible to get past.

When Mr. H and I got engaged my mother had made him promise that I would not lift many bales as she didn’t think it was good for a woman of child bearing years!  That summer I lifted around 12,000 bales, that being 4,000 stacked in the field, thrown, well not in my case, more a struggle, on to the trailer, unloaded and re-stacked in the barn.  All good fun if I didn’t weaken.  My mother was mortified and my father kept being dispatched to help.  Poor man, he had a bad back to start with and by the end he could hardly move.  We also bribed friends with sacks of wood and joints of meat in payment for help and we actually had a very happy and enjoyable harvest.  Nowadays the harvest is not like that at all as it is much more mechanized  easier and quicker to do but not quite as sociable.

I was eventually banned from stacking trailers as I kept building ‘banana loads’ which look like upside down pyramids.  We would rope them down and Monty would lie prostrate on the top as we trundled home with me driving and him shouting at me to avoid the bumps, walls, gateposts and traffic, yells of ‘don’t forget to indicate and change gear ringing in my ears!’  We didn’t lose too many loads but the same cannot be said for the gateposts.

Sheep

I was also checking our sheep every day and feeling rather proud of myself that they all looked very well, were all still in the right field, which really was quite an achievement, although some of them were covered in brambles and burrs so no doubt they had been trying to escape, and they were all still alive.  It seemed to me that a sheep’s favourite pastime was trying to escape, closely followed by trying to die. 

One morning on my return journey to the farm I met one of our neighbouring farmers, Cecil.  We stopped to say hello and Cecil told me he was on his way to check our sheep.  When I said I had just done this he scratched his head and replied ‘Well, I found maggots on mine this morning and it is good maggot weather you know, so I thought I would just go and check yours’.  Oh wow, I thought maggots!  I didn’t even know sheep got maggots let alone what weather they liked.  My next lesson was how to spot a sheep with maggots at a hundred yards and what to do with it when I had. 

A few of the sheep did have maggots so Cecil and his sons, Peter and Jonathan, came to help me bring all the sheep home to the farm so that they could be treated.  We had to walk them home along the main Salcombe road and it is a very busy road.  I was put at the front of the sheep with an empty sack which I had to shake so the ewes would hopefully follow thinking there was food in it.  The Rogers gentlemen were far too polite to ask if I knew what I was doing, which of course I did not, so they did not tell me to shake the bag to get the sheep’s interest and then hide it under my coat, so I shook it and held it at my side.  I felt like a fugitive as I ran up a very steep hill and all the way home, chased by the whole flock, terrified that they would get in front of me and end up in the local town centre.  By the time we arrived home I could hardly breathe, definitely not speak and my legs had turned to jelly.  Ten minutes later Cecil and the boys arrived, expressing surprise that I had gone so fast!  We then spent a few interesting hours finding maggots and scraping them off. 

The following day we had to dip all the sheep to kill off lots of awful bugs and stop them getting fly strike and sheep scab.  I say we, as I had bribed Brian who lived in a caravan on the farm with a dinner or three, to come and help.  He knew even less than I did about sheep but at least there were now two of us.  I had imagined this would be fun, a leisurely

 

day in the sun, stopping for lunch in the garden, well in our case that would be a bit tricky as the garden was under six foot high brambles, but outside at least, surrounded by gently baaing sheep.  Dream on.  Brian let the sheep come in to the dip and I pushed them under.  Well it was more like two hundred and fifty rounds with a prize fighter as each ewe put up a fight to avoid the dip.  After an hour only five had been dipped and I was a lot wetter than any of them, but on a positive note at least I would never get sheep scab, also no one would ever come near me because of the smell. I had practically given up when the cavalry arrived in the form of our local ace shepherd, John Eve.  ‘Heard you were dipping Mrs. H and thought you might need a hand, I wasn’t very busy today so I thought I would come along and see’, he said.

Now John had over two thousand sheep to look after, so I knew he really did not have the time to help me, but I was so grateful.  He calmly caught each ewe with his crook, which he hooked around the sheep’s back leg, high up so he did not hurt it, then he plonked the sheep in the dip and I pushed it under with Brian letting it out at the end.  The sheep really seemed to enjoy it now there was some order to the proceedings.  Actually I think they had been laughing at me.  In hardly any time at all we had finished them all.  We did sit in the sun with our tea, of course lunchtime had come and gone with no lunch.  It was not quite as I had imagined it as the two hundred fifty sheep gently steamed in the sun, what a smell. I was so grateful to John and Brian and the next time I went in to town I bought myself a crook!

Tractors

Mr. H came home with his memory slowly returning.  He had however moved eight vertebrae and crushed three when he had his blood clot and he was very weak, in fact it was to be six months before he returned to anything like his normal strength.  One morning he staggered to the door to answer a knock and was greeted by the milkman. ‘In village, they says you are dead, but I says you aren’t; now I can tell them I’ve seen you and, although you look dead, you isn’t’ and off he went to spread the word!

Summer arrived and we had to sort out some fat lambs to go for meat.  By this time Mr. H was staggering around but not really able to do very much.  Most of the time he was just propped on a bale giving me instructions.  When the lorry arrived I had to load the lambs with the driver, Neal, who was really nice and very helpful.  We never weaned our lambs as we found this caused them more distress, but took them straight from their mothers to the lorry.  The ewes were all calling for their lambs, so by the time we had loaded the last one I was in floods of tears.  Neal was upset at the state I was in and kept trying to comfort me by telling me that they had had a lovely life.  ‘But Neal’ I wailed, ‘they are so little and their mothers are going to miss them dreadfully’.  Needless to say I was never allowed to load lambs again and always got sent on some errand when the lorry was coming.

After Mr. H collapsed his driving licence had been taken away from him for two years. When he came home the doctor told him he could start driving on the farm again.  I pointed out that the farm was probably far more dangerous than the roads, as most of our fields were very steep and Mr. H would be driving a tractor and could hardly move. Mr. H was not happy with me pointing this out but we had only been married for a little while and I was hoping to stay married a bit longer, and also we couldn’t afford life insurance.

A lot of our fields bordered the road so we quite often needed to go on the roads to get to the fields, so out of necessity I became chief tractor driver too.  I use the term loosely.  I had an HGV licence for driving horseboxes so I was used to driving a large vehicle, but, driving a lorry is easy as it is one unit, but a tractor and trailer is a completely different thing, as I soon found out.  I would turn into a field with the tractor forgetting that the trailer would cut off the corner and whoops, there would go another gatepost! 

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Bullocks!!!!

Every day when I was checking the bullocks and sheep I would count them.  This often took forever as they would move, as Mr. H said I should count the legs and divide by four!  I was checking them to make sure they were all looking healthy, none of them huddled in a corner or any of them on their own and if they were lying down I would get them up, watching them to make sure they stretched, as any of these things could be the first signs of illness. 

The next day one of the bullocks disappeared.  I started panicking, as, apart from worrying that it was ill somewhere, we could just not afford to lose one. I looked everywhere, but to no avail.  To make matters worse, another of the bullocks took a dislike to me and kept charging at me.  Mr. H always told me to stand my ground as the big charging snorting beast would only want to play.  Well, that is easy to say when you are as big as he is and can look menacing.  I stood my ground for a while, but when the bullock had reversed and then run at me four times, I panicked and scrambled up on a hedge, and there I stood with scratches all over my arms and legs, tears streaming down my face shouting at the awful bullock and feeling wretched.  I should be admiring the hedgerows not climbing all over them I thought.  The stray bullock turned up later in the day in a neighbouring farmer’s field, so I then had my first lesson in mending fences.

The cattle were strip grazing the stubble turnips, which meant they were allowed on a new small area of stubbles every day, and were prevented from getting into the rest of the turnips by an electric fence.  This fence had to be moved every day, so I had no choice but to do it otherwise the bullocks would have got very hungry and broken the fence down. Mr. H would not have been happy if I had had to tell him that his bullocks had broken into the winter turnips and eaten them all.  Also of course, this could have made them very ill.

I could vaguely remember being told that to check an electric fence I should hold a piece of grass on the wire and if the electric fencer was turned on, I should be able to feel a faint twitch in my arm.  So I picked a piece of grass, put it on the fence and waited.  After I had picked myself up off the floor I knew that my memory was not to be relied on, and for the rest of the day I had a very sore arm.

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Disaster Strikes

My first lesson on the farm was to help weigh and inject bullocks.  First of all we had to round them up and in the field below the village, in full view and hearing of numerous gardeners, we had our first tiff.  Mr. H is 6’3” with long legs for striding up hills, I, on the other hand, am 5’3” with short legs, certainly not made for going up hills quickly.  On this particular day Monty had reached the top and started shouting at me to run faster as the bullocks were going around the side of me.

 

‘I can’t go any faster’ I shouted, to which he replied,

 

‘When you married me you promised to obey me’,

 

‘Well you promised to worship me and I can’t see much worshipping going on’ I retorted.

 

No doubt after that there were some bets as to how long our marriage would survive!

 

Four weeks after our wedding disaster struck.  One moment we were having a Sunday morning lie in and the next, Mr. H was unconscious on the floor.  I was terrified.  When I married Mr. H I knew he had a rundown farm and house, and no money, but the one thing I believed he had going for him was his health and now here he was, 6’3” of muscle out cold.

 

The doctor arrived quickly and Mr. H was dispatched to hospital leaving me with fifty sheep, one hundred and eighty bullocks and numerous crops, and not knowing very much about any of them.

 

When Mr. H regained consciousness he could not remember much, including the fact that we were married!  When he was being carted off to hospital I had put his wedding ring on his finger.  It was to be three months before a reason for his illness was diagnosed – a blood clot on the brain caused by three rugby knockouts.  To this day he cannot remember our wedding, but luckily we have the photographs to prove it happened.

He did move eight vertebrae and dislocate three, so he was unable to walk very far for many months.

 

While Mr. H was in hospital the animals still had to be looked after, so every day I had to check the bullocks and sheep to make sure they were in the right fields and looking well.  The farm was very steep and I was fairly fit but it was still taking me two and a half hours to check them all.  Devon is a very beautiful county with wonderful rolling green hills and they are very steep but it is these hills that make the wonderful views which I kept reminding myself as I struggled up the hills looking at the lovely views.  I am not from a farming family but I had always kept horses so I knew what a healthy animal should look like, and I was used to looking after them for seven days a week which was a huge asset.  Anyone marrying a farmer who is not used to a seven day working week would have a terrible shock.

 

With Mr. H in hospital for a week I obviously had to get on with the work.  As I had not lived in the area before our marriage, my family lived about twenty five miles away, I did not know many local people but everyone was very kind.  As soon as the village telegraph started working to say that Mr. H was in hospital, the neighbouring farmers were telephoning and I heard ‘You don’t know me but I farm nearby, can I come and help?’ many times over the next few days.  The non farmers also rang offering to make meals or do the washing and lovely dinners would turn up on the doorstep.  These people were our lifesavers.  Even our wonderful vicar arrived on our doorstep, ‘I am perfectly capable of driving a tractor and mending fences.  Where would you like me to start?’ he asked.  What a man.

 

We had just started the silage harvest when Mr. H was taken to hospital but rain had stopped the work.  The following day it was still raining so the silage gang of three sat round the table drinking coffee waiting for the rain to stop.  We did silage with a neighbouring family, the Rogers and we shared equipment and did the harvest on one farm and then went to the other.  ‘Don’t tell Mr. H what we are doing when you visit him, he will say we should be working!’ they said but as soon as it stopped raining they were out working almost round the clock, a really great bunch of men.

 

Without all of these people I am not sure how we would have survived, but somehow we did.

Getting old.

When I saw my mother, who is 87 years of age does not see very well, oh and she has a knee that has a mind of its own and gives way now and then, she told  me that the other evening she had fallen in a ditch!  She was on the way home from a function at the bowling club having gone there with her neighbour who she said was helping her.  However, as I explained to Mum he was already pushing his wife in a wheelchair and as he only has two hands how was he going to help her?  

To get to and from the bowling club everyone has to walk down a long path, there just isn’t any way of getting cars to the club house which is a shame as a few of the members are not terribly mobile.  Anyway, coming back in the dark Mum somehow slipped and fell in the ditch that runs alongside the path.  One of her neighbours had walked up to help people to get back along the lane to the car park and he pulled Mum out of the ditch but minus her torch so not being able to see him she had no idea who it was.  He took her home, despite me telling her never to go home with strangers, and took her safely in, switching on lights and putting the kettle on, thankfully she then realised who it was.

When he left Mum decided she would have a brandy as she was very shaken up but as she told me, ‘the funny thing was that it didn’t taste of anything’.  Well it wouldn’t would it I replied as your cleaner keeps drinking it and then watering it down.  It is now very pale but of course Mum cannot see that.

Mum has a cleaner who is very good to her and was excellent with my father when he was alive, but she has a drink problem.  Well I suppose it isn’t a problem to her, just the people who employ here as she drinks all of their alcohol.  Everyone always knows when she has had a drink as she wears a wig and it ends up at a jaunty angle.  One of the neighbours who employed her ended up grounding her children as she thought they were drinking her alcohol, but of course it was her cleaner!  I buy Mum nice sherry which Mum takes to her bedroom every evening to hide, leaving out a very cheap one for the cleaner.  Wine is now hidden in the woodshed but I am worried Mum will fall while carrying the bottles.

Mum was a bit shaken the next day and actually cried when I spoke to her which is not at all like her, so Olivia was dispatched complete with mashed potato to give Mum a hug and TLC and she is all fine now.

Agricultural smells…

Marmaduke the peacock is not my friend today.  When I went to get in my car to go and collect my mother to take her out for lunch there was a deposit from Marmaduke all over the windscreen.  Now as you can imagine, peacock poo is rather large and very smelly.  As it was pouring with rain I thought it would soon go away and I really did not want to wash it off as I would have ended up soaking wet.  We live up a very long lane but by the time I got to the main road, well two way with high Devon banks, most of it had gone, so I was very pleased and by the time I got to the main dual carriageway it had all gone, or so I thought.  As I was proceeded up the dual carriageway my windscreen suddenly became very brown and streaky as peacock poo covered my windscreen.  Marmaduke must have been sitting on the roof of my car during the night and had left me lots of large brown deposits which were now being washed on to my windscreen!

The deposits were coming from the roof on to my window and then down under my bonnet.  Of course the engine is under there and the heat was making the poo smell and not of roses.  When I got to my mother’s and she got in the car she said ‘nice agricultural smell dear!’ 

Mr. H has been a bit grumpy recently which is not at all like him.  He fell over backwards a couple of weeks ago when he stepped back to admire his welding so it was his own fault really.  He refused to go to the doctor, no time of course which is what he normally says, and he has been working climbing ladders, going on roofs, etc. and been in great pain.  He is beginning to feel a bit better but he is lucky he is not a horse, otherwise we would have shot him!

Marmaduke

Marmaduke the peacock turned up this morning looking very bedraggled with his comb on one side and his tail feathers dragging on the floor.  Last night was just so wet and Marmaduke does not have a lot of brains, well peacocks have such small heads, so it stands to reason that he must have a small brain.  He sleeps in trees, hopping up to the top branches from side to side, but he keeps going up the ones without leaves so when the rain comes he gets absolutely soaked.  I had a long chat with him about going up the right tree, preferably bushy with lots of leaves, so that he could keep dry, but I am beginning to think he may be short sighted and cannot see if a tree has leaves on at the top.  

There is a large bush in the courtyard by the kitchen and when it starts raining Marmaduke wanders over to it and puts his head amongst the branches to keep dry and then seems very surprised when the rest of his body gets soaking wet!  When he first arrived, about three years ago, he ambled up the drive and into the garden where he met our chickens, well technically fouls as chickens are the things that come wrapped in plastic at the supermarket.  He wasn’t that impressed with them but he fell in love with the rabbit who was in a cage on the lawn.  Sadly, about two weeks later, the rabbit died and Marmaduke pined for him, lying on the grass next to his cage.  This lasted until some pheasants arrived, coming in to eat the corn we put out for the chickens and ducks. He especially liked the males, we think because of their plumage.

 

The biggest problem with Marmaduke was getting him to eat anything as he didn’t appear to like the corn.  One of the girls remembered reading a Roald Dahl book about feeding pheasants sultanas, so that is what we did, we gave him sultanas and he loved them.  He then progressed to eating chocolate cake, grated cheese and his favourite, cooked spaghetti which is what we give our hens for a treat.

Growing up.

I can’t believe we have children in their twenties, how did that happen and how have we become so old so quickly?

I am now wearing glasses for close work but I have not been able to work out how to put my eye make-up on when wearing them.  When the children were at home it was fine as I would put my make-up on and get one of them to check me over to make sure it was vaguely in the right place before I left home.  However, when they went away to University I was on my own as Mr. H would always say I looked lovely, bless him.

So, our eldest daughter bought me a magnified mirror, but boy, what a shock I had the first morning I looked in it.

So many wrinkles and lines!  It took me another couple of mornings to pluck up the courage to look in it again, in fact I really think I need to start my day with a vodka orange to get ready for the shock, but I am persevering and have gone out and bought magic creams and serums.

The swallows have fledged.  Yesterday evening there was lots of chirping and I thought a cat or magpie had got in with them, but when I went outside there they were, flying all over, some were rather shaky and ended up perching on the wash house roof with their parents flying around them encouraging them to fly.  In the end they all managed it and then went back to their nest to wait to be fed by their parents.

When the swallows first arrive back from their long trip, the first one always flies into our kitchen to let us know they are back.  I was very worried this year as the first one arrived but not his partner which normally happens.  Every day I was looking out for them and three days later they arrived.  They are just so amazing to come back to their home every year after such a long flight.

No one teaches …

No one teaches us how to be married or be a parent, yet most of us do one or both of these things.  Somehow I have bumbled along and am very lucky that I have managed not to muck it up too much along the way.  I have a wonderful husband in Mr. H. who has put up with me for many years, and we are very lucky to have four tremendous daughters.

 

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