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Farm Life on Field and Fell
Farm Life on Field and Fell
Alfred Hall, MBE, founded the World Ploughing Organisation and was its General Secretary for 40 years. He was also involved in many other activities and spent twenty five of his years as a free-lance broadcaster on radio and television, talking about all things farming. This book is a collection of his stories based on some of those original talks broadcast by the BBC.
150mm x 210mm paperback
Alfred Hall, MBE, knows what farming is about: “It’s clarty – that’s what it is clarty. Wherever you go there’s mud. At the field gateways it’s ankle deep and it sticks to your boots and your leggings”. And indoors you get a wigging if you “clart everything up”.
That’s the downside, but there’s the good side too: “There’s nothing more joyfully satisfying in a solid, quiet sort of way than to lean on the gate you’ve just closed and look back over the field you’ve just sown and rolled flat and finished with”.
There can be few people who know more about farming, and Cumbrian farming in particular, than Alfred. He was born in 1914 and has farmed in Cumberland and throughout the world. In fact, he is such a citizen of global agriculture that the Mohawk Indians in Canada respect him as “Rahgahratwas” or ploughman; the Welsh have made him Vice-President of Cymdeithas Aredig Cymraeg or, in plain English, the Welsh Ploughing Association; he’s an Honorary All-American Ploughman and he’s even famous for ploughing in Zimbabwe.
But it’s back home that people will know him best. He’s been Secretary of The Cumberland Canine Association and of Workington and District Agricultural Society. When it comes to farming and especially ploughing, Alfred Hall has furrow after furrow of field cred.
In this attractive book of short stories and essays he paints a picture of farming life as he has known it.
From the vantage point of 92 years he is able to survey a vast field. The tractor has long replaced the horse and the steam traction engine and there was a time when butter was freshly churned on the farm.
All those good old agricultural tools – hay-rakes, pitch forks, hay knives, draining spades, hedge slashers, sickles and scythes have fallen into disuse. And it’s had its effect on the farmers. “Consequently, farmers’ hands became less horny, freed from seggs, more tender and susceptible to blister”. Alfred respects those old horny handed sons of tool and he has a word or two of quiet disparagement for today’s farmer working with “noisy machinery controlled by an operator seated comfortably in a cushioned tractor cab wearing lightweight shoes instead of sturdy hob-nailed boots”.
Alfred remembers “snaggin time” when “in a cold thin wind” you pull up turnips and chop off the roots and the tops and “every now and again you straighten up your stiffened back for ease and wipe the drop off your cold nose-end”.
And he has a love-hate relationship with that “fur-coated underground engineer” the “mowdie warp”. He had a dog that would wait patiently and then pounce and “fling the gentleman in black up in the air” and he remembers the mole-catcher coming to call. He’d keep your fields almost free of the little creatures for three pence an acre, but, oddly, he never quite got rid of them completely. He liked to leave one or two to breed for next year. He didn’t want to put himself out of business.
As you can see from Alfred’s credentials, ploughing was his real business. And it’s the most important job of all, not just for farmers, but for everybody. “If ploughmen round the globe missed the opportunity to plough we’d all starve to death in a matter of twelve months”. As you would expect, it’s not easy. “Oat seed furrow is also known as high cut or high-crested work because of its pointed shape, and it’s as near ploughing perfection as skill can achieve.” If you want to learn, Alfred will tell you how to do it.
His book is a manual of old farming practice, full of life and incident, and good, rich, agricultural humour, in the best sense of the term. Alfred may be in his nineties and no longer horny-handed and clarty, but his heart is still in the land: “To be a farmer’s boy: farming is the fundamental, immemorial profession and needs good practical farmers”.
Farm Life on Field and Fell is available from Bookends, 56 Castle Street, Carlisle, and 66 Main Street, Keswick, and from wwwbookscumbria.com
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