October 19, 2008

Daft Laddies – Is’t fit?

Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on.
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 & Donald Clegg. If you would like a copy, contact donaldclegg@btopenworld.com

 The weather
The North Tyne and Rede valleys were noted for their “catchy” weather during hay time so the constant question was always, “Is’t fit”? The concern was whether the hay was fit or dry enough to be worked and put into pikes to make it safe from the elements until led home to the hayshed or stack.

If the answer to the question was – “Oh nivvor i’ the mind o’ man!” or “nowt like’t”, you knew that you were in for the lang ritual of rakin’ into windrows and mekin’ kiles. These then had to be shaken oot the following day if it was fine, and maybe kiled up again if it was shoowery. The whole damn’d ritual could be repeated for days and even weeks. It was not uncommon in bad summers to be in the same field for a month, trying to get the hay dry enough to pike. By the time it was eventually dry enough it was sartainly not hay – mair like beddin’. Nevertheless it was precious and could never be wasted.

What made the decision difficult about the hay’s fitness was because in the 1950s, apart from the regular farm’s staff, there was often a small army of opinionated helpers in the hayfield from the village after they finished work. Their pay was a good load of hemmel muck for their gardens, delivered in winter by the Daft Laddie and couped right ootside thor hoose in the village or at their allotment.

In these discussions about the hay’s fitness, as a Daft Laddie you had to be very careful which side you took – those in favour of clashin’ on and gitten hor piked, or supporting the more cautious, favouring kilin’. The leaders of these debates, which could go on till the midges came oot were often based on age – usually the owld boss and owld farm retainer urging caution, and the young boss and hind urging action.

Hayfield discussion
During the discussion (starting to sound more like a row every minute) each would walk across the field kicking windrows with their boots, grabbing a handful and trying to squeeze it to destruction to extract some moisture – the Ayes finding dry bits and the Nays grabbing wet bits. Others would join in this ritual – even the Daft Laddie who was very careful not to offer ower much of an opinion ower soon.

If the Ayes were gaining ground, everyone then went over following the old boss to the “double sweethe” (the critical part of the crop) where two swaths were laid together around the dyke back. Do you remember the discussion?

• Owld boss: “Whaat did Aa tell ye – it’s as green as scallions.”
• Hayman: “Why mebbe if we shook hor oot it wud dry afore tea.”
• Young boss: “Aye, them green bits ‘ill soon dry.”
• Owld boss: “Nivor, - the only way they’ll dry is in kiles.”
• Owld retainer: “Noa , Aa think we cud risk pikin’ hor inte canny hand pikes – kilin’s sic a lot o’ work.”
• Owld boss: “Aye mebbe, but kilin’ maekes the best hay. It’s these damn’d heavy crops wi aall yon artefishul fortilisor that’ll nivor dry that’s the ruination of gud hay.”

Then, one of the village haymen who has been quietly gittin’ his pipe te draa to deter the midges, says those fearful words – “Aye, mind ye, that leuks aafu’ like a shooer cumin’ doon the Tyne – she’ll be pittlin doon at Kielder.”

With nowt more said the hayfield explodes into action. The taalkin’s ower and the great debate forgotten. The only comment is how hungry the damn’d midgees are – as each forkful of hay disturbs another great swarm.

The non-pipe-smokers in the gang stick closely to the men blaain’ oot reek from their Highland Roll baccy. In minutes the well-practised team has the windrowed hay swept into great heaps to start piking. Hernias and bad backs have been forgotten as tidy little pikes appear as the shower up the valley gets for ever closer. It must hev been fit enuff eftor aall!

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