By Clive Dalton & 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 email@example.com
It was a wet clashy mornin. As a farm Daft Laddie (DC) I had fothered the bease in the hemmel, put a scoop of crushed oats and cattle cake infront of each of the milkin cuws and teken the rough ‘o the muck oot from ahint them. After the milking by hand into a bucket held between the knees, I’d tipped the warm frothing milk into the sile in the dairy to be filtered. It trickled over the water-filled fins of the cooler; thence to run into the 10 gallon churns which would be collected from the farm gate by the wagon later that morning.
The cuws had been torned oot into the yard for a drink at the old stone trow and a stretch and a scratch (skart), while the mangers were filled with an armful of hay and a swillfu of chopped turnips. In their absence, the byre was thoroughly mucked oot with the shoel, coll and barra, then clashed oot with numerous buckets of wattor and vigorous application of the yard brum. A chore guaranteed to bring ye oot in a lathor however caad the weather ootside.
When the boss had come in, I had commented hopefully that it was a gey rotten clashy day and there wouldn’t be a lot of ootside work we could get on with. “Aye, it’s a rough owld mornin” agreed the boss and my hopes rose. “But when ye’ve had your breakfast, ye can hadaway and howk yon drains. And ye’d bettor tek a coat!” The coat suggestion was a generous, caring gesture.
Feeling only slightly better after a breakfast of thick slices of bread and jam and several mugs of hot tea, I and the young boss set off for the caert-shed and yoked the bogie ahint the old grey Fergie. “We’ll need the ritter and the hack, and a bottoming spade and divvent forget the file, and hoy the pinch bar on just in case there’s any muckle rocks. Hev ye got your coat?”
Two big deep drains, just through the fell gate, which took the water off the hill and directed it into the syke, were to be the object of our attentions. Over the years they had gradually silted up and chowked with reshees, moss and flying bent. The overflowing wattor had produced a great expanse of soggy, quaking grund, which had sprouted bull snoots and rushes and formed masses of green sphagnum moss. The whole area, perhaps an ecological wonder, but it presented a hazard to all that passed that way, as evidenced by the bones of a Blackie yowe in the middle of the morass that threatened to flood into the lower fields.
After years of puttin off and “we’ll dee it the morn’s morn”, the boss had finally admitted it couldn’t be put off any langor and declared “We’ll hev te git hor cleaned oot afore we loss the cuddy!”
“This’ll tek a bit o sortin oot”, the young boss muttered as he manoeuvred the Fergie to a safe parking area while I lifted doon the ritter and the hack, ancient but essential tools of the drainer’s trade and laid them carefully to one side.
The ritter is a kind of spade with a very large, heart-shaped blade and a razor-sharp cutting edge set on to a shortish, very stout shank with a wide crossbar on top. With one foot on the shoulder of the blade and both hands holding the crossbar, the young boss began slicing his way slowly along one edge of the over-grown drain.
After about 5 yards and several stumbles and mutterings at the staens and gnarly rutts he crossed to the other side of the drain and sliced his way back to the start. Finally, with much grunting and brow wiping, he used the ritter to crosscut the 2ft strip he’d just outlined into manageable turfs to be hacked oot by the laddie.
As the young boss was well over 6ft and the laddie was 5 foot 6, nee heavier than a bag o chaff, the word ‘manageable’ was a bit of an over statement. Wielding the hack, which was like a garden fork with its tines bent at right angles to its long straight shank like a flail, the laddie brought it doon on top of the first turf, spread his legs either side of the drain and heaved.
Slowly, the sodden turf weighing var’ nigh as much as mesel’, released its suction grip on the sides of the cut drain and slid down between me feet. With a shoulder-wrenching heave I swung it back, up and ower to the doonhill side of the drain. So it went on. Hack down, heave and slide. Swing up and ower, and again and again until the end of the cut row.
Meanwhile, the young boss had set the ritter upside down, resting on its handle and had started to put a new keen edge on to the blade, a job that required a sharp awareness of the danger to the fingors of a careless slip of the file. I heaved the last sod out of the 5 yards of cut drain, the young boss set off again. Slice doon, step to the side, pull up. Slice doon, step to the side, pull up for another 5 yards.
|Drain cut by plough in peat|
The watery moss would shrink to a clarty patch of rushes, with bent and heather soon to dry out and become passable once again. The bottoming spade was not needed after all as the drain was soon cleared of all steps, bumps and obstructions by dragging a solid juicy sod along its length with the hack, until the water ran black and free into the syke and thence to the burn.
By the end of the afternoon, tired, wet and covered in glaur to the oxters, the young boss and me rattled haeme on the old Fergie. We were satisfied with a job weel dun but thankful that we weren’t dependant on drainin’ for a livin’ - not at 7/6 a chain, which was the gannin’ rate at the time!