You know what it’s like when you’re trying to sleep in a strange bed? Somehow, unless you’re very lucky or just very tired, you rarely sleep properly. Also if you’ve been eating unusual food at unusual times then that doesn’t help either.
But we went to a wedding, and it was a long way from home, so we stayed two nights in a B&B. This is doubtless a sensible idea and it certainly took a lot of stress out of the whole occasion. Not only that but it was a nice B&B, the bed was comfortable, the breakfast was good, and the lady in charge friendly and helpful. You couldn’t really ask for more.
But at some point during the night I heard this sort of metallic screaming. I knew immediately what it was. Because I knew what it was, it didn’t really wake me up, it just shifted my dreams back five decades.
Now a long time ago, and we’re talking about 1965, my grandfather farmed here. Back then, dairy cows were tied up by the neck in shippons (byres or cow houses) over winter. I can remember it all as a small boy. Each day they’d be milked first thing in a morning. Then they’d be mucked out by somebody with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. Back then it wasn’t me but I’ve done my share in later years. Then they’d be given their food. Obviously they got something when they were being milked but now they got their hay and perhaps a few chopped up turnips. Finally somebody would spread some wood shavings where they would lie down, and they’d be left in peace until about 4pm when it was time to milk them again. Again there’d be the same routine, milking, mucking out, feeding and sprinkling some bedding.
Now my grandfather always used wood shavings. He had some sort of agreement with a wood yard in town, and a couple of times a year he’d send my father and a couple of others who worked for him with two tractors, trailers and an awful lot of old sugar beet pulp sacks, to collect the wood shavings. As a small child I was taken with them, probably to get me out of the way at home. The wood yard was a fascinating place for a young boy. Huge stacks of wood, sorted by side and species, big heavy saws and the big planing machines, plus men occasionally finishing things off with hand tools.
We would clean out the entire yard, sweeping up and bagging up all the shavings, tying the sacks up and stacking them onto the trailers. The sugar beet pulp sacks were big, far taller than I was, and when full it took two men to throw them up onto the trailer. As the smallest person there, my job was to go under the machines (switched off while we were cleaning round them) and sweep out with a small brush.
But whilst they switched off when we were cleaning round a machine, the yard was still working and I would stand and watch the men at work. The big saws were impressive but I was really taken with the planing machines. The chap would set the machine up, push a piece of rough timber through and it would come out virtually polished. These were big heavy pieces of kit, I suspect it took five or six men to get them into place and then they were never moved. But the really impressive part of them was the noise. There was this hard, high pitched whine when they were switched on, and then as the timber was pushed through the noise increased immensely and you got this loud metallic shriek.
And that was the noise that almost woke me in the B&B. Somewhere, in seemed to be in the middle of the night, somebody was using a heavy industrial timber planing machine, and I almost woke. But instead of waking, old memories were dragged out and my dreams took a different path. The past can be strange like that.
Next morning, when I had my shower, I discovered where the planing machine was. It was the shower! To be fair it wasn’t a bad shower. OK there wasn’t a vast pressure of water, but the temperature was good. But the noise, whilst not deafening and not painful, was certainly several orders of magnitude louder than any shower had any right to produce!
But it did get me thinking. Our pasts, and the past generally, is closer than we think, and sometimes it refuses to stay in the past and gets mixed in with the present.
What do I know, ask an expert. Available from Amazon in paperback and ebook at
And available everywhere else at
As a reviewer commented, “Another gentle and entertaining read about the pros and cons of Farming, ably assisted by Sal the collie dog and Billy the feral farm cat.
As always, I’m amazed Farmers make enough money to keep their farms and families going, given the ‘guidance’ given by the ‘experts’ in government and the Civil Service…”