By Clive Dalton and Donald Clegg
An extract from the book - Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on (2003) By Clive Dalton and Donald Clegg. If you would like a copy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The easiest way for a Daft Laddie on a North Tyne or Rede farm to get his "lugs
chowed" was to commit the sins of waste and mekin’ a slaistor. Indeed the two were related, and you could see the evidence every hay time by the state of the dyke backs around people's hayfields after the pikes were aall nicely topped oot, roped doon and the rakin’s made into a special “pike 'o rakins”.
Ivorry straa was treasured, not just as potential fodder in the unpredictable winter ahead, but because leaving the hayfield untidy with unraked hay and uncut bull snoots was a serious sin. So what you couldn't cut with the mower you had te cut with the scythe.
The dyke backs around your hay fields made a kind of public statement of what your standards were as a farmer for all those who passed by. And there were plenty to pass judgement on you from the few cars at weekends, or from the daily trains or buses that regularly went up and doon the valleys.
Imagine the humiliation you suffered when someone reported in the Fox and Hounds, The Forst and Last, or the Blackcock that "Aye, Aa see Tommy's finished pikin’ the low fields at Mowdysike - marcy thor's aboot ten pikes left i’ the dykebacks - sic a waste, man, sic a waste. He must've cum inte money or be buyin’ hay from doon the Tyne"!
But getting that last blade of grass was certainly no joy. Everybody hated "cuttin’ oot" the dyke back - the boss, the Daft Laddie and sartainly the horses. Leaving it to the end only heightened the misery, the bad fettles and the tension.
It was usually about half past ten when the main brick was cut oot and the dyke back was tackled. By then the sun was starting to warm up and all the flies and clegs from the Tyne, Warksburn, and Redewattor had arrived - aye and some from the Scotch side an’aal, to pestor old Jean and Blossom who by this time were thoroughly lathered in sweat. The smell of the sweat was the great attractant to these winged raiders.
Cutting close to the dyke back with this outfit was a trick business!The boss's fettle was reaching his eleven o'clock high when his daily "epistle to the Daft Laddie and the hayman" was presented. It was predictable.
(Photo from Bellingham Heritage Centre collection)
(Photo from Bellingham Heritage Centre collection)
"Bugga me days man - iliven o'clock alriddy and nowt deun, nee time for wor baits nuw. We shud've cut-oot lang afore Norman’s bus went doon. We shud've had the blowd Glebe torned be nuw and that leuks gay like a black clood up abun Kielder!"
But as a Daft Laddie, you had to remember the main pillar of farming philosophy. This was that "things could aye git warse!" Be thankful for what didn't happen that morning. There could have been a broken fingor on the cutter bar leavin’ bull snoots ahint, and the boss could have jammed his fingor, or worse still, cut it when he put the new knife in that you had just sharpened! Your newly sharpened knife could have been declared as blunt as a couter and hoyed into the dyke back. You could even have lost the oilcan or the big multi-porpose spanner off the reaper
In heavy crops the daft laddie had to "rake back" as the cut grass built up into great heaps and the shedder board and grass stick failed to turn it over into a nice even sweathe. Vigilance was essential at all times. You had to do everything in your power, using divine help when called upon, to avoid bung-ups, and the inevitable gollaring of "wow-WOW-WOW" to the horses.
If you got carried away with what the boss described as "blowd daft rakin’", you could get ahead of the cutter bar which would either chop a few teeth out of one of the Weightman's new hayrakes, or even reduce it to kinlin’. All you could do then was to hope the vicar would pass and call in asking if there was any chance of the boss reading the lesson on Sunday! The Daft Laddie could have added that he'd had plenty of practice that morning!
The horses knew when the final “WOW" came in the middle of the field and the brick was cut oot. The reaper was put out of gear and it click-clicked its way towards the gateway to start on the dyke back. For a moment the poor horses thought it was "lowse” and would pull hard for the gate until they got the warning about gittin thor arsees warmed! Nee sic luck. Let battle commence on the dyke back.
Delicate manoeuvring was the key. The first job was for the Daft Laddie to race aroond and rake back the first cut sweathe to allow the bar to have a clean entry to the staning grass and not get bunged up. You had to cut against the lie of the grass that was flattened when opening oot in the opposite direction. If you could finish the dyke back with one cut - grand, but you regularly needed another half a bar's worth. Then the gollarin’ started.
"Jean - git up you lazy bitch. Stiddy nuw, STIDDY. Wow - WOW! Back a bit Blossom, back a bit, BACK damn ye. GEE UP - stiddy-STIDDY. By Blossom Aa'll rattle your arse shortly me lady! WOW-WOW-WOW. Damn and blast, we've hit a bluddy caep!"
The dyke back was a battle ground of hazards. There were often coping stones (caeps) fallen from the dyke tops, wire or a post left when yon extra wire was put along the dyke top to keep the tups in, bottles of disinfectant left by the heord at lambing time and old brokken tines off the hay turner from last year. The list was endless as were the curses rained down upon the guilty.
The skill was to know when to avoid perfection, and when to give away the desire to get the last standing seedhead and conclude that the eyes in passing cars, the bus and train cud gan te hell.
"Lowse" came as a blessed relief, but any respite was short lived. "Howay lad, get Darkie yoked inte the tornor an aal away te git the rakor. Thor's a black clood cumin’ doon the valley - we'll hev te gan like hell the day lad te git finisheed. The days is just gliffs!"
They say death and taxes are the two most certain things in life. We now geriatric Daft Laddies would now add another – a shoower cumin’ doon the valley.