A Morning of Interruptions – August 1917

It was an intensely hot morning, and I was grating suet and preparing vegetables on a stone sconce out of doors. The bleating of sheep, and the soft scurrying of their woolly forms, just beyond the burn, reminded me that there had been talk of examining them for wicks (maggots).

And presently a youth approached the house asking for sheep-shears. These are supposed to be kept in a domestic pantry, safe from irresponsible hands putting them to illegitimate use. But they were not to be found — nothing but a pair — rather old and loose.

Then followed much questioning and counter-questioning, who had them last, on which day, and who undertook to put them in their place etc. The women, meanwhile in turn each left her own job to look in cupboards, on shelves, and in odd corners for the missing shears.

There is a tall cupboard in the kitchen which is the limbo of diverse lost and mislaid articles; the top of it I mean. It is just at a convenient height for a tall man. He steps in at the door with something he does not wish left in the outbuildings, and there is the large cupboard top so handy!

Even a tall man cannot reach to the back of it, so one mounted a chair to examine among the miscellany pushed backwards. Such faith had we all in the possibilities of discovery on that high shelf that we all mounted it in turn, not convinced by the failure of the previous searcher. That very morning, I had found perched up there a “poorie” containing some cream for which I had been searching.

Not long after I went back to the grating of suet, I saw the young man walk away testing as he went the working of a pair of shears. He had found them — where I didn’t ask. And a little later two figures could be seen beyond the stackyard driving the sheep back to pasture: for only one was found to be “wick’t.” (to have maggots)

It seemed almost the next moment that there burst upon our ears a terrific noise as of crashing buildings. For a fraction of a second I thought a shell from those booming guns testing over the Solway had gone astray when three big cart horses galloped into the yard and made for the stable; evidently they had got out of the field as the sheep were being moved. After them came two lads all legs and arms flying.

The horses quickly settled to the water trough and one lad gave the bigger a leg up on the bare back of one of the animals, then hallooed, waved his arms, got a whip and cracked it for the delight of seeing the other clutch at the clipped mane to prevent himself being joggled roughly off his seat. I paused, expecting to see him thrown on his head, but the three horses rounded the corner of the buildings, the boy still holding on, the other hallooing…

With a sigh of relief I turned to my own task, and had hardly begun when one of the men appeared with a request for a knife to cut “strings of bottles” — or buttles as the Scottish pronunciation sound it — for two of them were thatching the hay-stacks. Feeling sure that was one more gone of our rapidly diminishing stock of kitchen cutlery, I looked narrowly if I couldn’t pick up a “lost” knife to replace it.

A brood of young chickens have got the very bad habit of picking for scraps round the kitchen door, and when they are too troublesome, the maid flings at them any thing she happens to be working with: spoons, forks, tin-lids, brushes, dishcloths — and never dreams of picking them up again — why should she?

Within a few yards of the door I picked up two teaspoons, one dessert spoon, two knives, and a fork. The lattter by the way, had evidently been used as an implement for hooking weeds from between the bricks. Babes Ailie, too — no longer a babe, but still an irresponsible morsel — is under suspicion of carrying out spoons to play with. So from one cause and another our stock decreases weekly.

Once more back to my own task! But not for long without outer distractions. This time, a terrific yelping from that aforementioned brood of chicks, and I looked up to see their mother flying through the air from the open door of the top-barn while her seven tiny fluffy youngsters shrilled in terror on the very edge of the high doorway.

She must have taken her family a long traik round behind the stables, through the end of a sloping cornfield, and in at the big door of the barn over the stables and sheds. Then from a side door or opening, looking down into the yard, she would see her familiar hunting ground, and fly straight to it. After a few minutes, three of the bravest tinies flew like balls of down after her, but I had to go away round and force the remaining four, panic stricken, to take the giddy flight. Then a peaceful silence reigned for a brief space.

But not for long. A score of ducks came quacking round the corner, fresh from the water, in protest against the diminished rations a war they do not comprehend has forced upon them. Meals are prohibitive, potatoes non-existent; at the very close of the harvest year, corn is scarce, and being “hained” for the horses. For the last week or two, the poultry department has been under strict food control.

Temporarily, I made them a mash of crushed corn, and later a load of last year’s sheaves from a rather waste and thistly corner of a field provided the whole yard with food and exercise for a day or two. The men folk are not impressed by the necessities of the poultry. “Oh, they can pick up their living in the buildings, and on the dung heap!” How many, I wonder?

Just as we’re finishing arrangements for dinner, two youths came up and asked for the master. As he was not at home, I enquired their business, and found they belonged to a number of high-school boys, chiefly from London and the South, who were billeted in a disused college in the neighbouring village and hiring themselves out to the farmers around. They were glad to accept an invitation to dinner, and told us funny tales of the regime at the college, and of the rough way in which they had to eat and sleep, catered for by three soldiers, drilled by a sergeant major, and the work department managed by one of their masters who accompanied them and who went round interviewing the farmers.

We had not seen him yet, but the boys asked when should he call? None of them had worked on the land previously, so not much could be expected of them. However, they are being asked for. ‘Tween haytime and harvest, there are numerous odd jobs to do. Our two amateurs are at present cutting thistles, one of them learning to handle a scythe, the other making effort with a big “scopper” or long handled hedge knife. I warrrant their muscles will be sore before night.

This entry was posted in Cooking, Ducks, Farming, Hens, House, Servants and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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