Health and Safety


My grandson is observed at all times by a responsible adult. When he travels he sits on a special seat and is always strapped in. He feels uncomfortable even if his mum is moving the car in the drive and he isn’t buckled up. He checks sell by dates on food from the fridge before he eats it.

It wasn’t quite like that when I was his age. During the holidays between breakfast and tea my parents never saw me and had no idea where I was. In fact it was good to do that otherwise I could be asked to help on on the farm which I wasn’t particularly keen to do.

The farm itself was a Health and Safety nightmare, not just because of the heavy equipment and big animals but also because of all the junk spread liberally around. It was a bit of a treasure trove for a kid because there were the remnants of some interesting things lying around. Mostly with sharp edges, broken glass and rusty 6 inch nails sticking up in dark corners. A little Heaven.

Dad had bought the farm yard in pieces over the years and it was quite a sprawl. There were three main stables. Each of the stables had a name. The Little Stable was closest to the house, Foster’s and the Bull stable were a reasonable distance away.

The Little Stable was a typical ancient Guernsey stable with a low ceilinged ground floor and a hay loft open. Some modernisation had taken place to put in stalls and later a vacuum line for milking machines. Joined on to the far end of the stable was the double seated outside “dry” toilet which had to be emptied from time to time. Mercifully it was redundant by the time I was born.

My enduring memory of the Little Stable was the tickely hay dust continually falling through the gaps in the hay loft floor. This was exacerbated by having chickens roosting in there because it was warm when the cows were in. From time to time chicken lice would also fall down your neck as you worked in the Little Stable.

A leisure activity was to root around in the back of others jumpers and pleasurably snap the lice between two thumb nails. Ah, Happy Days.

Foster’s stable didn’t have a very good “liquid” collection facility. Imagine probably 20 cows in the stable tied up for the entire winter in their stalls. A cow eats about 20lb of hay a day plus kale or swedes plus a couple of pounds of beetpulp  and on dry food will drink 10 to 15 gallons of water a day. All good stuff goes in the mouth and a considerable amount of waste comes out the other side. Some as semi solid waste which given the height it starts at before it hits the floor will splash all over you if you just happen to be passing the back end at the wrong moment.

In the spring when they move off dry food and go onto grass assuming they don’t die of staggers they get very “loose” in their movements. Fast forward about 18 years and I was milking friesians in a step up milking party being helped by my dad. He used to get tired and kept a chair in the milking parlour. Once he sat down he usually fell asleep and that is what he did on this day. Standing on a step in front of him was a cow who was very “loose” but also had a bit of a cough. Both combined created an explosion waiting to happen. She coughed at one end and at her other end was an equal and opposite reaction. Steaming warm brown waste shot across the distance between the cows rear and dad’s head falling in a gentle gravity inspired curve until it hit him full in the face.

The shock immediately woke him from a deep sleep in a very confused state. He jumped to his feet in an unusually nimble manner and raised his hands to his eyes shouting “I’m blind, I’m blind”.

You had to be there to see it. I couldn’t stop laughing for hours and just looking at him would start me off again. He moved his chair and never spoke of it again.

Now we are all experts on animal waste let us return to Foster’s stable. Named after the lovely Mr Foster who once owned it but now ran his box cart manufacturing business from a long building on the eastern boundary of the yard. A Guernsey box cart is a delightful box shaped cart made of wood and it was the perfect utility vehicle. It could be used for everything getting loads of roots from the fields, taking manure to the fields or collecting vraic from the beaches. The box cart had big wooden spoked and iron rimmed wheels and could be pulled by usually one or for a heavy load by two in tandem. The driver stands up at a great height in the front of the cart to drive it. Painted blue and red (soon to become grey under a skin of dried manure or whatever) and the wheels had brass ends to the axles.

Mr Foster had his own branded axle ends and it was easy to spot a Foster’s boxcart as it is a Ferrari now. When tractors took over Mr Foster’s business died but in a very entrepreneurial way he turned to making boxy shaped wooden wheelbarrows which he painted blue and red. They were very good as well. Foster’s yard still exists as the excellent Beeton’s fish and chip shop.

During the winter a considerable amount of liquid waste was produced and had to go somewhere. Rather than installing a proper system which wasn’t dad’s way there was deep square pit behind the stable which filled up over the winter and either leaked away or was emptied though I can’t ever remember that happening. To stop us kids falling into it, though more likely to keep rain from filling it up too quickly, a few sheets of rusty corrugated iron were thrown over the top.

There were no lights at all in the yard and not in the stable where candles in bottles provided the light. Crossing that back yard in the dark in the winter was always quite concerning. I had an absolute fear of falling in the liquid pit.

The dangers of the back way to Foster’s was used by my dad during the war to aid his black market activities. He was caught a couple of times creeping back to the house after curfew. Luckily he was caught both times in the road outside the house. On one occasion he had a night in the cells but used his by now fluent German to convince the officer in charge that he had only been out to check the horses and as it was too dark to risk falling in the pit using the road was the only option.

The German fell for it and gave dad a permit to be out after curfew to enable him to check the horses. That permit was used again and again to avoid arrest as he moved around at night stealing coal form the German power station and delivering black market food to his customers.

You will be pleased, dear reader, to hear that I never did fall in. It would be many years before I fell into a slurry pit, three times and perhaps I will tell that story another day. My only sad event with the liquid pit is that on one of my German artefact hunts on the Hump I found a pretty good German helmet. I took it home but as soon as my mother saw it she insisted I throw it away – in the liquid pit. That was so hard for me but for mum it was still too close to the end of the war and anything German was just not going into our house.

All of my posts so far have had a not no nice ending and you will be waiting for the bad news and to learn who fell in that pit and lost their life.

Well this time its going to be a happy ending. I didn’t fall in, no one fell in because we all knew it was dangerous. We didn’t need a fence or a secure top just the words “keep away from the liquid pit”. Seemed to work fine and was pretty low cost.

I survived 15 years at Villa Castrorum so tell me who needs Health and Safety?

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4 Responses to Health and Safety

  1. Maureen says:

    I survived going to your dad’s farm every day after school weekends and holidays and I remember “cleaning” the stable out – pooh! but I didnt mind at all – recall watching a calf being born in there and your dad named it after me- first time I had ever seen this and the afterbirth frightened me- he explained it to me. lovely man!I was never sick – my mum used to make me strip off when I got home because I smelt so bad!

  2. maisiecat says:

    milking friesians? In Guernsey? Never!

    • Quite right. We were living in Devon at the time.

    • Interestingly the herd of Frisian cows we bought had once been Guernseys. The man we bought Lower Swineham from had worked for a large estate which was sold off to pay death duties. To reward him for his service the family gave him a herd of Guernsey cows. He then had some capital he could use to buy a small farm to keep them on. Over the years he used Frisian bulls on the Guernseys and on their daughters and so on until he had Frisians. The combination of the two breeds gave him a high yielding cow with high butterfat milk. When I was farming I toyed with buying Ayrshires, a cow with a good udder, and doing the same but to turn them into Guernseys with good udders. Never got around to it.

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