Work and play

Yesterday, there were special Fathers’ Day activities at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum. For me, the main draw was the chance to drive a tractor, which was how I spent my summers in my student days. It’s been a long time but, like riding a bike, you never entirely forget how to do it. And even though it lasted just a few minutes, and I was simply trundling round a field between traffic cones, it brought back some happy memories – and stirred some old regrets.


Two steps up into the dusty cab
Is all it takes to leave the world
And twenty years behind me.
One hand falls to the wheel
As surely as it lights on
A switch in the dark;
I sit half-turned in the ragged seat,
My eyes everywhere
Alerted by old instincts and recalled disasters,
Though today there’s no long trailer,
Plough or harrow hanging off the back
To swing out wide;
No fence, gatepost or steel stanchion
To gouge and smash in a moment’s inattention.

There will be
No more long nights hauling the harvest home
Ten tonnes at a time,
Ripping September’s stubble open
Rolling down miles of shining leys
Or coming in from spring seedbeds
Every surface dredged with a grey flour of clay.

Yet in a five-minute spin
On soft turf and a sunny Sunday
I can still connect to shirtless summers
Of big kit, hard hands, boots and jeans blotched with oil,
The smell of straw, the taste of dust.
The labour of life. A man’s work.
The first and last I ever did.