Friday, 7 April 2017



Of late, I’ve had more than a few causes, to pause, and consider, how so many and various people met along the way have shaped and directed the course of a life.

It might be a very fleeting encounter, or only a conversation, that can send one off on a different path of thinking. 

Or give a fresh perspective.

Proper job - mower looking much shinier now, and continuing to make speedy work of munching up vegetation prior to reincorporation.

This afternoon I chugged up the road to collect the flail mower from Ace Mechanic Jon.

 I’d requested that he solidify the top of this handy contraption. So now there is much less chance of crusty shards of rusty steel flinging themselves through the back window of the tractor, and impaling themselves in my cranium.

Jon is a star of epic proportions, on many a front.
Fear not, for his blushes though, or over-inflating ego. There is scant chance he will ever read this.

I don’t know his whole history.

 But as far as I’m aware, he has lived, and worked, fixing tractors, and other farm machinery, in this valley for most of his over seventy years.

Many an imperiled hay crop, or urgent cultivation will have been pulled back from the brink of disaster, by the timely arrival of his mobile workshop. 

He should have retired many years ago. But then what would he do? Get under someones feet?

And more to the point; what would I do?

Being of a particular vintage, Jon doesn’t turn his nose up at the kind of machinery, that I use to run the farmlet here.

Much of it, is of the sort, that can now more usually be found serving as temporary (permanent) hedge repair material in and around the verdant hedgebanks of Devon.

But with a modicum of know how, and some basic tools, most of it can be maintained into a long and useful old age.

One particularly impressive repair was when our hero, upon finding no commercially available replacement part being available, fashioned an internal hydraulic widget from an old hay bob tine. 

I suspect that many a younger mechanic would have sucked his teeth, and condemned the whole mechanism as unfixable.

But one of the best things about Jon, from my point of view, is his attitude to me, and my slightly unconventional agricultural endeavours.

There’s no edge, or suggestion of ‘What is this woman doing, mucking about with this stuff?
Even though my maintenance regime does, it has to be admitted, leave a lot to be desired.

Like a lot of up-against-it land workers, I tend to do things on the run. One time the tractors' fuel filter did look like it had been filled up with treacle - oops. maybe i need to write these things on the calendar.

Moreover, stuff rarely breaks when you’re not using it.

But I’ve never been patronised, or made to feel stupid by Jon.

He will quite happily chat about my latest schemes, and dreams. for acquiring or adapting useful kit. He will take the time to explain in comprehensible terms, how things work, or why they aren't working.

 Some might say I get unnecessarily prickly around this issue, but it does get tiresome having assumptions made about ones competency, or knowledge.

On more than one occasion, I’ve had machinery hire companies ask “ What do you want it for?” when asking about the availability of a piece of kit.

Delivery drivers will quite frequently sidle towards the nearest available male in the yard for instructions, even though it clearly indicates a female recipient on the paperwork.

And then there’s the infamous ‘invisible woman’ incident detailed here.
Other women friends have reported similar happenings. It shouldn't matter really, but it does get wearisome having to laugh it off.

Anyway, luckily over the years I’ve encountered a good number of folks who have encouraged me, especially at the outset, when I wasn't sure if I was sure if I was 'allowed' to join in with the wonderful world of mechanisation.. 

A couple of people spring to mind.

At the tender age of nineteen, and having only just embarked on my agricultural career, I was staying at the farm of my then boyfriend.

I’d probably only been driving tractors, for a year or so at that point.

That holdings' old fashioned, and not very capacious cattle byres needed emptying of the dung they'd accumulated over the winter.

There was a tractor and loader, plus a tractor and muck spreader, some tight turning spaces, and quite a lot of trailer reversing to be done.

Ivan (the father) made sure I was conversant with the basic workings of all the kit. Showed me the fields, that needed the FYM* flung upon.

And then...

 Went out for the day, and left me to it….

There was no arm waving, no extra coaching every five minutes, no "Ooo be careful! Mind out!"

On his return, the muck was spread, the buildings were still standing, and all kit was in one piece.

There is so much to be said, for giving confidence, by showing confidence.

Around about the same time, whilst working on a carp farm, some seventeen or so 50 x 20 m fish growing ponds needed constructing.

There was a very large, tracked,, old JCB swing shovel excavator,and a long narrow field.

Whoever was supposed to be doing it, couldn’t. And I was detailed to have a go.

So most of the summer that followed was taken up with peeling back the top soil to make banks.

And subsequently plastering the sides and bottom of the ponds  taken from the thinnish seam of clay beneath, (fiddly bucket work) Followed by crafting the pond bottoms in such a way, that they all drained to one corner for emptying, and fish retrieval - not leaving any divots in which the pesky piscines might hide,

But, at the same time avoiding penetrating the layer of gravel beneath which would have prevented them being watertight.

My favourite part came, when alighting from the cab at the end of a hot, noisy, diesel fumed day… Walking across the smooth cool clayed bottom of the pond in bare feet…

On reflection , it was a bit like doing clay plastering, but on an epic scale.

A local plant operating guy turned up one time to appraise my efforts. – I was a tad nervous, as he wasn’t particularly well known for having a very ‘modern' attitude to women ayyempting this kind of thing.

But he quite cheerfully conceded that “I had a feeling for the machinery”

So all these little bits of encouragement, and many more besides have added up over the years.

 They came to me this idyllic Sunny Spring evening, as I stormed up and down happily mowing last years ryegrass, and clover green manure, in preparation for further cultivations...

Spoiler alert - It'll probably be the discs next...

And I would hope to pass on that same sort of encouragement, in any situation, where someone isn't sure if they'll be capable, of the task in hand.

In my experience it makes a vast difference to whether people will even give things a try.

If someone says to me “Oh I couldn’t, or can’t do that”

My usual response is “ You mean, you can’t do it - yet….”

No one is born knowing how to do any of this stuff, those things that many folks make look so easy.

One of the most dispiriting phrases to my mind is - "I'd like to have a go at {........}  But I'm not the sort of person, who is able do that sort of thing"

Hmm, so who told you that? How do you know? Have you even tried? 

Yes' some of us have a more natural aptitude; for certain things. 

But I reckon at least three quarters of it, is having a go, being willing to fail, a few (or many) times, asking for help, and not allowing yourself to be put off by anyone elses' negative attitudes....

Those narky comments usually say far more about the naysayers personality, then they do about your potential. 

However. I'd still maintain that the most important thing is having people encourage you, and help you believe that you could become competent.

 Or, as some my girlfriends are given to calling it, being supplied with some enthusiastic cheer- leading.

And Trailer Trash Kitty quite naturally spent most of the day on the porch, making some impressive solar gains...
Cats really are the experts when it comes to energy conservation... The epitome of indolence.

* that's Farm Yard Manure - FYI

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