Another cold but dry day which starts at dawn as usual with a deal of chicken poop picking and setting out the food, water and grit bowls for the girls. Then a quick run out to the local farm to buy our milk (or raw milk as it is laughingly called these days to distinguish it from the processed coloured water they now sell as “milk” in the supermarkets). Home again, make the breakfast porridge and the girl’s hot vegetable mash and just as I am ladelling out the mash in the chicken run, I hear Jim calling me over to the field gate.
I rush to the gate and let him in. I can see another couple of tons of horse manure on his pickup and he has brought over a little trailer to boot. There is a dawning realisation that I can expect to wipe out the next three hours in yet another struggle with heaps of, admittedly wonderful, horse poo. (Did you know that most farming activities are centred around poo? Well they are apparently).
Now I have a secret weapon purchased just the other day from EBay. A shiny new three point hitch tow bar which will enable me to pull the trailer with my tractor and take the muck over to the arable land some 300 yards away. Three loads later and lots of shovelling and the new heap is right next to where the potatoes are going in. Jim is a star even if he makes me work like a dog.
Taking a well earned cup of tea on the terrace (coffee for Jim – he is strangely cultured for a Scot), we see the sleek lines of the Janmobile pull up outside. No peace for the wicked I thought. Jan always seems to appear when we are drinking tea – a sort of tea sixth sense you might say – certainly the only sense I have yet witnessed him exhibit. Clutching bags of seed potatoes he proclaims his intention to set them out in the massive bed we covered with straw last winter. We are trialling the Ruth Stout method of potato production. Ruth was a keen gardener with a bad back who found she could still grow great crops in deep beds of straw with no digging. Sounds good to us old men.
So with only chocolate biscuits for lunch we head off to the arable field. Jim and I (well mainly Jim) have hooked up the flail mower attachment to my tractor and this is its first outing. Will it cut? Will it explode? Will we all die? Questions soon to be answered. Clutch in, low speed selected, pto engaged and revs up to high and as the clutch is released, the flails started whirring and in doing so emitted a very deep mechanical tone of the kind you might expect of serious industrial machinery not to be messed around with. Soon I was off across the field and to the great amusement of both Jan and Jim I cut a swathe through the long grass that was not exactly straight. In fact, if I told you it resembled the yellow brick road from the Wizard of Oz you will get the idea.
With a bit of practice and the help of some loud expletive-laden instructions from Jim, I managed to mow a large area which we thought we might use that afternoon to try out my shiny new plough acquired just last week. We headed home to give the idea further consideration over more tea and biscuits.
Now at this point I left the tractor running close to the field gate because nature was calling me rather urgently. Big mistake! When I came out of the front door of the house I heard a distant strangulated yell from Jim but I couldn’t quite place from where it came. I rushed to where I had left the tractor. It was missing as was Jim and Jan. No sign of it at all on the field. Had it been stolen? Surely not! I had only been gone for about two minutes.
It was then I noticed a worried-looking Jan standing in the middle of the road clutching handfuls of soil which he was scattering frenetically around him. Now Jan does a lot of odd things, but this behaviour seemed totally inexplicable to me. When he finally ‘fesses’ up, it transpires he had seized his opportunity to have a go on the tractor and had taken it onto the road to bring it down to our front gate where the new plough was waiting to be hitched. Unfortunately for him the tractor had exploded en route. Well to be fair, a little oil pipe had blown off, stalled the engine and oil had pumped onto the road surface.
Fortunately the tractor, which had been facing downhill at the moment of ‘explosion’, happily freewheeled down to the forecourt of the very handily positioned tractor garage which just happens to be next door to us. By the time I had spotted Jan, Jim was already in the garage using his finest Scottish negotiating tactics to get the mechanics to fix it quickly at a very reasonable price! I have found that certain Scots folk can be very persuasive. You know. The kind that go to England v Scotland football matches at Wembley and return home with a souvenir goal post.
The next hour was spent with bags of sand brushing down the oil spill, whilst apologising profusely to our neighbour whose gate was directly opposite. Surprisingly, Jan turned out to be quite proficient at flagging down cars and stopped them from driving over the oil at speed until we were happy the surface had been properly neutralised. More tea and a bit more potato planting before I waved them both a cheery goodbye. Then indoors to collapse in an armchair counting my blessings. You have to look on the bright side. At least there were no chickens stuck in the hedge.