Life Cycles…

Our Thatching Life, featuring Ferrari the Thatcher, Daisy his apprentice and animals various…

It has been a bitter winter, not just raw hands and frozen sheets on the roof, but the deep chill of loss all round us. People who I’ve known as a boy growing up in the village or through working on their roofs over the years, who have been the fabric of village life, known for their exhaustive knowledge of moths and butterflies and joy at the natural world; or held in high regard by a generation for their herd of cows looking as good after winter as they did in summer, whilst nurturing a cricketing talent that in another lifetime would have been amongst the best in Somerset; someone else younger than us with children only just grown up, too soon, too young. A near miss of a much loved friend returned home and getting better by degrees, the relief felt more keenly when held against the losses. 

The old farmers used to say that we need a good hard winter to rest the ground, maybe to rest ourselves as well for as spring seeps in there are plans aplenty for filling lighter evenings. Daisy’s got one pile of telegraph poles, another of aggregate and a shopping list that includes, tin, timber and enough friends to build a pole barn. I want to finish the flint stone walls on my barn and finally cast a concrete floor in my workshop. Each day starts chilly enough but soon brings a couple of hours of warmth and then we are down to our shirt sleeves with a mountain of jackets discarded on the scaffold. Daisy’s watching for the grass to grow on her land better than last springs hard baked ground, and I’m probably not alone amongst thatchers needing a good harvest of wheat reed else we’ll all be up against it after last years failed.

So after a more than usually tough time for family and friends, we look back and raise a glass to the winter and turn our heads, hearts and hopes to the spring warmth and summer sun. We welcome new life whether it’s the burgeoning hedgerows or Daisy’s new calf, all shaky legs and nuzzling her mother, who all the while is singing him soft cow lullabies.

Much Huffing and Puffing…

Having scoffed at Daisy for naming her food, I now have to eat my words and introduce to you, Itchy, Scratchy and Sniffles. They might not be huffing and puffing, but my 3 little pigs are doing a good job of bulldozing the bit of ground behind Frank’s Dairy, unearthing all manner of buried scrap and creating neat piles of nettle roots that would have taken me days to pull out. I had forgotten what time wasters pigs can be; they are such characters and together with my youngest son Tom, a day can soon pass. So far he has built them a wallow, and the best of all, his ‘perfect pig massager’; a post driven into the ground with 3 old broom heads bolted to it. Watching each of them heave and scratch against it was the funniest thing and gave Tom’s shins a rest from doing the self same job.
I was out with Daisy checking her Galloways the other day. I turned to see her eyes closed with her hands to her face in what looked like a state of bliss. She looked up and caught my quizzical look, shrugged and said, ‘I like the smell of my cows’. It made me think  of all the smells of our year: The first washing out on the line in the weak spring sun; Summer’s lawns and hay mown and sweet like the first of the new season’s wheat reed; muck spreading, the wheat reed turning from sweet to something nearer cat pee once wet with rain…or actual pee from the owner’s dog marking each pile of reed as his own. Soon will come the first drifts of wood-smoke from chilly chimneys, and sometimes the smell of bacon wafting up from the customer’s kitchen, with the possibility that it might be a kind Saturday sandwich coming our way. With your eyes on the work and your ears on the radio, you could be forgiven for thinking time had stood still. But then you crank yourself back to upright, and with a coffee and maybe that kind sandwich in hand you can see the day’s work, and be content.

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