Illustration by Caty Bartholomew

West's Awake: The joys of a May day


Illustration by Caty Bartholomew

Bob had an old quarry with high walls. He fired the mowings of one big meadow into it, soaked the hot grass with treacle (molasses) and then covered it with "scraws" of topsods and, to the neighbors' amazement drove his tractor back and forth across the whole pile to roll it flatter.

The subsequent smell across the parish was awful, sweetly sickly. People expected Bob to be transported to the mental hospital in Omagh any day now.

But come the feeding weeks of the winter when he was drawing home the brown silage from the quarry to his bred Ayrshires it was not long before the neighbors noted that their own cattle went stone mad for the bits of silage that fell on the road.

And Bob's herd of Ayrshires were thrivingly glossy when all the other cows were simply being "held" on the subsistence rations of hay all winter. In two seasons everyone was at it, and children like me were glad the days of the left thumb blister were over. 

The tractors of modernity have been growling up and down past the cottage every five minutes precisely since I went inside to write this.

Strangely, I have a backside sensation too as well as the thumb one on this memory road. When the bottled tea and big sandwiches came to the meadows it was not all as idyllic as most remember it.

The food tasted special, yes, but it was also a reality that when you sat down to feast yourself you invariably sat atop a mossy nest of what we then called "pismires," and what the rest of the world called ants.

You only had short trousers without underpants, and the fiery little pismires knew exactly where to hurt you most and longest, and I need say no more than that. But you and I remember it well.

There is a fabulous TV advert running here now that emphasizes the change so very neatly. Two traditional farmers are working in the field, not making hay but building a stone wall.

The traditional housewife arrives from the house with the tea and sandwiches. It's the old picture, except that the sandwiches are prawn and avocado and the tea is green! One of the men takes a call on his cell phone and says no, he cannot meet his friend because tonight is his Pilates night. He mentions to his friend that herself seems in an awful hurry to get home and his friend, the husband, explains the reason is she's bidding for something special on eBay! It's very neat.

Before writing this last paragraph I went back out to the garden to check on the progress or otherwise of the bull spider and the coquette. They were sitting companionably together in the left socket of my skull -- which appeared to be grinning even more widely -- and they both looked very happy in the sun.

Never mind the recession. Life is good and strong.


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