May 25, 2009

Northumbrian poetry: "The Great Daft Laddies' Waal" by Donald Clegg

Don Clegg (on left) and Tom Batey -resting after
completion of the " Great Daft Laddies Waal"


By Donald Clegg

There is a little cottage standin’ on a windy Highland brae,
The bonniest Butt and Ben inventeed, definitely, Aa wad say.
Way, way up a hillside in an Aberdeenshor glen,
It belangs to school-day friends, that stay theor noo and then.

It hes a country garden, tended both by Tom and Beth
And a view ‘cross to the Grampians to make ye haad yor breath.
But the braeside nuw is slumpin’, Tom thinks it’s gan’in te faal.
So Tom and me decideed, we wad hev to build a Waal.

A waal to keep the garden up! It wad be quite a feature.
Strang, stoot and gappy too – a heme for ivvery creature.
Bords, moosees, bugs and beetles, it meks nee odds at aal.
It’d be a boon for wildlife, wad the buildin’ of the Waal.

We stumped aboot aal day wi’ lots of scratchin’ 'o wor heeds,
Amang brambles, burrs and nettles, and plenty other weeds.
We measured and stuck sticks in – an’ then we changed wor minds.
Wor heeds was fairly abuzzin’ with the choice of grand designs.

At last we got it settled, and decided on a corve.
Not ower big or ower hee – just moderate wad sorve.
Part 'o the top might just be right to mek a viewin’ bench
So, full of hell, we started oot to dig the footin’s trench.

The soil was lowse and sandy and, tho’ the dust blew int’ wor eyes
We raked aboot and fund a bowldor – just the varry size
To get the buildin’ under way - and two/three mair anaal
‘Twad be a simple process, wad be the buildin’ of the Waal!

Sand and cement at 4 to 1 was saen browt into play
And bowldor followed muckle bowldor aal throughoot the day
We sweated, strained and laboured till the dyke began to grow
‘Till at last we reached the other end – as far as we meant to go.

Noo we’d done the footin’s, it was time to build the coursees,
So we pulled and pushed mair stones aboot, like two dementeed horsees.
Wi’ pinch bar and sledge hammor, we winkled bowldors oot
That hedn’t seen the light 'o day since Adam was aboot!

Tho’ bodies creaked and muscles groaned, we went on wi’ wor labours
Just stoppin’ yence or twice to a crack wi’ passin’ neebors.
Tea, coffee, sandwiches wor aall eaten in the shade,
Sittin’ in the wheelbarrow, or just leanin’ on the spade.

Some staenes wor easy worried oot, and quickly buildeed in
While some, nee mattor huw ye tried, ye simply couldn’t win!
But in spite of aal the akward yins, that seemed to be unwillin’
We soon got roond that problem, cos’ we used them for back-fillin’.

The day arrived for toppin’ oot, thor was a great debate.
“Where wad the initials gan? And what aboot the date?”
A flat stone from Northumberland was used to cap it aal
And we stood in admiration of wor grand, completed Waal.

It beats the one in China and Hadrian’s muckle dyke.
It beats that yin in Bykor, folks hev nivvor seen the like.
That yin in Borlin didn’t last for varry lang ataal
‘Cos it didn’t hev the craftsmen like the 'Great Daft Laddies’ Waal'.

It stands se strang and prood against the worst of Scottish weathor.
We think it’s got a canny chance of standin’ theor for ivvor.
So, if ye gan te Scotland and want somewheor to caal
Pop in to Aberdeenshor and see the 'Great Daft Laddies Waal'.

Falstone 2009

Profile of Tom Batey by Clive Dalton
Dr Tom Batey was born at Broomhill farm in West Woodburn where his parents farmed before moving 'doon country' to Gilchesters at Stamfordham in 1939. There Tom grew up and after his secondary schooling (where he met Don Clegg), he went on to Kings College, University of Durham in Newcastle upon Tyne where he did an agricultural degree specialising in soil chemistry.

While being the main stay on the home farm, Tom completed a Ph.D at Kings under Fred Hunter looking at the productivity of hill land in Northumberland. I can recall a memorable day with Tom up the Coquet 'howkin holes' on Blindburn, looking at the soil profiles and fencing some small plots to keep the yowes oot!

Tom spent the first part of his career working as a soil specialist for the UK Ministry of Agriculture 'doon sooth', initially in East Anglia then based at Reading. Then followed over 30 years teaching land use and soil management north of the Border at Aberdeen University. During this time he came to the deep sooth and had a short exchange at Lincoln College in New Zealand.

In his later career Tom acted as a soil consultant, specialising in assessing damage to the land following the installation of oil and gas pipelines. He loves 'sittin aroond a hole in the grund' spouting on about soils to anyone who will listen- including quite a few farmers in Australia! He and his wife Beth are in retirement in Aberdeenshire, where Tom recently bought himself a set of Northumbrian pipes! Now he can sit on his new waal and practise.

In 1988, Tom published an excellent book called 'Soil Husbandry - A practical guide to the use and management of soils'.
ISBN 0-951-3605-0-7.

Without question, it's the best book available if you want good, easy-to-read basic information on soils and their care, because of Tom's complete understanding of the role of science in practical farming.

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