A day of rest? Not for this silage crew.
Hard-pressed, the forage harvester devours
The thick green swaths; the spinning steel blades chew
A month’s growth into half-inch lengths. For hours
The tractors have been hauling high-heaped loads
Then racing back with empties, raising dust
And thunder from rough headlands hard as roads.
To lay the winter’s feed in is the trust
Placed in them. In the next field, unconcerned
With hurrying machines, the engines’ roar,
The man-hours and the diesel being burned,
The cows plod in to give their milk once more.
An ancient pact, whose terms both sides accept.
A Sabbath broken. But a bargain kept.
The sun’s long gone; the summer evening makes
The first down-payment on the winter night
To come. Long shadows creep out from the woods
And over hilltops, driving colours deep
Into the still-warm soil to sleep till dawn.
But in the mothy dark, new sets of eyes
Are opening; the bright, all-seeing stare
Of sleepless beasts whose labours will not cease
Until cold dews come down upon the crops,
Or diesel tanks are hollow, drained to fumes.
They sweep the stubbles, flood the fields and gaze
With halogen intensity on plough,
Ring-roll and tillage-train; while in the lanes
Red pairs blink bright on bends, then settle to
A ruby glow that dwindles on the straight
Run in to barn or silo. They will haunt
The land a little longer, then be gone
Like swallows. All their mighty works complete,
They’ll drowse the dreary winter months away
Snug in their sheds, while night is handed back
To fox and owl and badger, who will reap
Their harvest from our acres as we sleep.
Photo credit: CLAAS GmbH & Co KGaA
Is there a better thing, I ask myself
In this world than a Good Bike? And by that
I mean the bike that runs exactly as
You want it to, and makes you happy when
You look at it; whose little dings and scuffs
Aren’t flaws but battle honours; and you’d know
Within an instant if the saddle height
Were altered by a fraction of an inch.
A bike like this cannot be bought: it’s made –
Transformed from shopfloor-shiny by the road,
Necessity, communion and time.
So one-and-only, so completely yours
You’d know it at a hundred paces. Build
Another like it, piece by piece, down to
The smallest bolt, it wouldn’t be the same.
Now your idea of what makes a Good Bike
Won’t be the same as mine. You may define
It as the latest, lightest, fastest, made
From moondust, spider-silk and starlight. Or
Could be the budget gas-pipe clunker: fell
Out of the Ugly Tree and hit each branch
On its way down, but never failed you yet.
A Good Bike is the one you’re always glad
You took today. And want to ride again.
My Pashley Paramount, on its holidays in Brittany this summer. A Good Bike if ever there was one. N.
It’s not exactly thrill-a-minute stuff:
A straight-line dash at half-a-mile per hour.
A test of skill, not speed or human power
Played out on dry ground bristling with rough
And tawny stubble, under autumn skies.
No city raised a stadium so grand
As this, where our long struggle with the land
Is made a gentle game, and neighbour vies
With neighbour for rosettes. When we compete
On level terms for small rewards, we hold
Fast to reality. No one wins gold
Today – and no one truly tastes defeat.
For every man who took the start can say
He went out there and changed the world today.
Been working till all hours the past couple of weeks, but today I took The Guv’nor and rode an easy 15 miles or so to a ploughing match. Spent half an hour watching modern and vintage tractors, plus a couple of horse teams, striving to turn perfect furrows on the sunlit slopes of the South Downs, then trundled home again for lunch. Hard to think of a nicer way to spend a morning, really. And yes, I do know how lucky I am! N.