Doing the groundwork

14 October 2010 § 2 Comments

SENSE OF URGENCY

On the headland
Two red Masseys stand
With engines stopped;
A moment’s silence
For a snatched tea-break;
Then, drill refilled,
And ring-roller singing,
Get another fifty acres of winter wheat seed
Snug and spaced precisely in the still-warm tilth.

Three fields away
A blue New Holland stays
Hard at it, disc harrows
Raising the dust.
No time to be lost
While the clay lies dry;
Just a single day of rain and they’ll all be struggling,
With bogged-down implements and clogged-up tyres.

Under the shaw
A green John Deere roars
As the heavy cultivator
Rips the tawny maize stubble
Into brown corduroy,
Releasing the scent
That rose up to greet us
When we first hitched our oxen and scratched at the soil:
The earth’s exhalation; the quick tang of life.

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Reading the road

13 October 2010 § 3 Comments

One of my regular rides takes me through the parish of Chiddingly (in accordance with local custom, the ‘-ly’ is pronounced ‘lie’, not ‘lee’) which, like Rome, encompasses seven hills. My route crosses three of them in succession, and I’ve always liked the historical logic of their names that allows me to track my progress. From north to south, they run as follows:

ROAD TO WAR

Ride over Pick Hill,
Whose sandstone sides
Were first cratered for their ore
To arm the legions,
Its quiet woods scabbing over
Long centuries of plunder.

To Gun Hill
Where the ironmasters cast
Culverins and cannon
For Device Forts and men o’ war;
Our stolid breed of Sussex men
The muscle in Good King Hal’s arms race.

Then Thunders Hill
These days disturbed by little more
Than tractors, Sunday motorbikes
And neglected car exhausts –
Still echoing to the martial roar
Of the past along the road.

Deep roots

12 October 2010 § 3 Comments

Rain makes autumn cultivations a tricky, stop-start affair on our clay soils, but in the current dry, unseasonably warm spell, they’re progressing at a furious pace. This is one of my favourite times of the farming year: I’ve always been fascinated by the heavy implements that turn ragged stubbles into smooth, drilled seedbeds, and watching their steady passes up and down the fields. On a ride with The Guv’nor yesterday, I found myself pulling off the road to observe a big rig at work; a childhood habit I’ve realised I’m in no hurry to shake off. So, apologies for another tractor poem; normal service will resume shortly.

CULTIVATING HABITS

A deep diesel drone
And the thin, brittle ring
Of steel on stone.
That sound
Half-heard
Has me
Diving for the verge
Like blue lights and sirens:
Searching
For a gap in the hedge
To peer, wary as a poacher,
At a big New Holland
With a till-and-drill machine
Beyond Jethro’s wildest fancy.
Still the lad
Who’d haunt the lanes
Then, bike forgotten,
Wait patiently on gate or stile
And watch the land at work;
An eager boy who shrugs
At the grown man’s shame.

An unequal match

8 October 2010 § 2 Comments

Another ploughing-match poem…

NO CONTEST

Inching forward, earthworm-slow,
Eyes front, rigid as a guardsman
He opens up the ground.

From this first furrow all others follow;
With coulter, mouldboard, share and landside
The battle line is drawn.

At once, the Sussex clay
With a night and day of rain in it
Fights back;

Clogs and butters churning tyres
Sets front wheels slickly sliding
Plucks at the plough; leaks, collapses.

But in our annual fixture with the fields
We lead the land three thousand-nil
And this year will not break our streak.

Power on the land

7 October 2010 § 2 Comments

A poem inspired by the many vintage tractors I watched doing their stuff at a local ploughing match yesterday.

POWER ON THE LAND

I should hate them:
Raucous, oil-burning beasts
That condemned my quiet, beloved horses
To exile and extinction.
Yet my heart warms
To these homely stalwarts, still game
To plough and till the stubborn clay
Three generations on.
So simple I could drive one
In my sleep (and often did)
But with enduring rightness
Wrought in each casting and component
And the motive power of twenty teams
Compressed into a one-ton slab of steel.
After sixty years and more
They turn the earth
Beneath their wheels
And hand a man like me
The means to shape the world.

Out and about

4 October 2010 § 1 Comment

One of the things I’ve learned recently (and belatedly) is that you don’t have to go far or fast to have a proper bike ride. I did this little route yesterday with The Guv’nor, snatching the only half-hour of the day when it wasn’t raining; although it never takes me more than a couple of miles from home as the crow flies, it’s full of interest, both from a technical riding point of view, and in the sheer variety of things to see on the way. As backyards go, I guess it’s pretty good.

CLOSE TO HOME

It begins, like them all,
With a hill.
A well-known haul
Up from the town and the river
To the greensand ridge.

A straight mile, more or less,
Attention divided
Between fast-moving traffic
And cauliflower clouds
Heaped over the Downs.

Change down, toil up
A hundred-yard climb
Left rugged and rubbled by frosts
Then a long, cooling plunge
To the heart-in-mouth bridge

And charge for the stiff pull
Through a tunnel of trees;
Sandy banks brock-burrowed
Deep shadows harbouring
The shy deer.

Into the village: sharp left
At the Hare and Hounds
And light out for home
Slashing through esses
Past the Big House, the farm shop and stables

Then stoop like a falcon
Down Bird-in-Eye Hill
And into the final few furlongs
Of brick terraced houses
Parked cars, potholes, patched tarmac, impatience.

Four-and-a-half miles;
About twenty minutes (on a good day).
Not far, not fast,
But a little of everything
I look for in a ride.

Harvest home

1 October 2010 § 5 Comments

These days, I know as many names among
The churchyard stones as in the church. I knew
Their faces, voices, ways: when I was young
They were my world, and now there are so few
Familiar folk to shake hands at the door
Or catch up over coffee. So I sing
The well-loved harvest hymns, give thanks once more
And think on those now safely gathered in.

Where Am I?

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