By Claire Neville (nee Prater)

a rat in your underpants is no laughing matter 

The giant combine with a 20ft cutter bar turned to face me & I could see the driver ensconced and isolated in the air-conditioned cab. He was clean and probably listening to the radio but as my thoughts slid back over the years to my childhood I couldn't help thinking what a lot he was missing out on. Where were the hot, dusty men, their trousers tied below the knee with string – a mouse or even worse a rat in your underpants is no laughing matter? Where were the gangs of boys armed with sticks – a vision of rabbit pie before their eyes? Where indeed were the rabbits, harvest mice and poppies? Where were the womenfolk bringing out much needed food and drink?

Photo:horses and sail reaper

horses and sail reaper

When I was a child, an air of excitement surrounded harvest which drew in most of the village. The weeks of watching the rippling grain ripen were over – men, horses, binders and the odd small tractor were ready for action. A time of hard work and long hours but also one of comradeship for young and old was about to begin. A highlight in the farming calendar.

As the binder completed ever decreasing circles and the patch of standing corn diminished, so the excitement of the local lads grew. I can remember watching with a mixture of fascination and horror as the rabbits bolted from their refuge but happily ate the end product of rabbit pie. In contrast finding the nest of a harvest mouse was pure joy – unless it nipped you!

Photo:Stacking hay, Manor Farm

Stacking hay, Manor Farm

I can still feel the scratches and itches of helping to stack the sheaves and hear the rattle of the elevator when they were finally carted to the rickyard. Our special farm (the Arnolds far) was where we got our milk from and they prided themselves on their round ricks. Somehow I would continue to be around when the thatcher came to give each stack its protective roof, topped by a bobble of straw.

The climax of harvest for the men was their harvest supper, with beer and laughter in good supply. For the whole village it was the Harvest Festival in Church and Chapel.

Not every sheaf of corn went into the rickyard for some came into the church along with giant marrows, bunches of huge carrots and onions plus a glorious assortment of other fruit, vegetables and flowers.

Photo:Threshing, Pumfrey engine, at Thriplow, early 1950s

Threshing, Pumfrey engine, at Thriplow, early 1950s

We children carried, helped and got in the way as our mothers heaped and arranged until they were finally satisfied. Then the church waited in silence and splendour for the congregation next day to come in their 'Sunday Best' to give genuine thanks for a harvest “safely gathered in”.

How sad young man in your horrendously expensive machine that you will move from one lonely job to the next and never fully understand what “safely gathered in” means – for it is always harvest time in the supermarket.

Claire Neville (signed)

This page was added by Martin Grigor on 24/10/2012.
Comments about this page

Photo of Threshing is of Pumfeys engines now known to have been taken at Thriplow

By Clive R Flack
On 26/01/2013

Very nicely written and a portrait of times gone.

By Jeffrey Shackell
On 25/11/2013

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