Monday, February 18, 2008
Back it the late seventies it was still legal to burn the straw by products of the grain harvest directly in the field. Various justifications were expressed on behalf of the practice. Weed control was one. Ash as a quick wash in fertiliser was another. I think that I heard destruction of certain types of parasite insect larvae once as well.
The truth was of course far more simple. It gave you an opportunity at the end of a hard days work for more than a little mayhem.
Stubble burning was a truly spectacular conflagration and the real aim was to produce a pall of smoke that could be seen for three counties and allow you to turn up grinning and red eyed for last orders at the pub. If you were truly gifted you might just get a write up in 'The Stubble Burners Gazzette'.
My old boss Roger was a stubble burner of legend and on a good windy day, a day when things got truly out of hand, he could close down the M4, Divert air traffic from nearby military airfields, take out half a mile of hedge, endanger a few lives and probably several tens of thousands of pounds worth of equipment. It was men like Roger that made farming ‘exciting’ in the seventies and I fear that unless health and safety legislation becomes a whole lot more lax we shall not see his like again.
I remember at the end of the day he would turn up just as his chaps were taking the last load of grain from the field. Cackling like a spectacularly maniacal Arthur Brown, he would drop a match while standing at a point that he judged to be upwind. Heaven help you if you were downwind.
Here on Hallett’s mountain it is time to pay tribute to our heroes of yesteryear. For the next month or so it is perfectly OK to set fire to the gorse. I have no idea why, though they do say that it keeps down weeds and pests and improves the grazing. For the next month we shall be blessed with a little rain of ash from the sky. Lone tractor drivers will be seen heading away as fast as they can. The skyline will be filled with small volcanoes, and men glad of the overtime will arrive in little red fire trucks to watch as things burn to their natural conclusion.