The Countryside About Us: December 1991

posted 1 Dec 2011, 11:35 by James Mansell
We humans are very much out of step with the timetable decreed by nature. We think of December as the closing down month of another year. January is the month of new beginnings and fresh resolves. In nature and agricultural this part of the year has few “alpha’s” or “omega’s”. Spring and autumn are the great celebrations. with December but days to routinely work or watch pass by. If sharp frosts or a covering of snow feature, so much the better. However, the winter months are little different to the summer months in the time taken to care for farm livestock.  Pigs and poultry are housed all the year round. It is the dairy herd that reaches its peak work demand during the winter. In December there is much forward planning to ensure that those caring for stock on Christmas and Boxing Day can have a few extra hours free to enjoy the festivities.  The twice daily milking ritual must be relentlessly obeyed, and even nowadays in some herds cows are milked 3 times in 24 hours! Demanding as tending to livestock can be, there is something special on Christmas morning about a newly strawed yard of contented cattle, quietly pulling out hay from freshly filled racks. It is well worth a lean on the gate for a few moments to savour their contentment, before coming indoors. One is met by the delicious aromas coming from the kitchen and family and friends celebrating this special day in the Christian calendar.

Gardeners will be turning over the pages of seedsmen’s catalogues wondering if the perfect specimens colourfully illustrated  or claims made for some exotic new variety  will live up to its description. There is much to be  said for remaining faithful to varieties that have proved satisfactory over the years. Perhaps the occasional foray into the exotic could be excused. The “Flak” giant carrots from Holland which I grew  for the first time were certainly enormous when mature, but what they gained in size they lost, in my view, in flavour.  However, I shall certainly be ordering in good time the early potato “Foremost”. The combination of shape, taste and readiness for the saucepan in early June provide all I ask for in any humble spud. 
In years past, the traditional place for the exchange of village “news” was the blacksmith’s or farrier’s forge. Every village had one, and Earl Soham was no exception. We know it now as a disused petrol filling station, by the green.  A farrier in the next village told me, as I stood talking to him recently in a smoky cloud of pungent burning hoof, that he had shod oxen there some sixty years ago. His memory bridged the decades more vividly than any written word in a history book could, as he recalled those years long ago.                                 

Roger Sykes