Saturday, May 18, 2024

Johnnie Bag O’ Wind

April 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Bygones

On leaving school, aged fourteen years, one of my first places of employment was with a village farmer whose farm buildings were situated opposite the school, adjoining the auction yards. His land, however, was down a lane at the junction of Severn Street and Chapel Street, this meant that the animals had to be driven from the fields back to the buildings for milking, twice a day in Summer and once a day in Spring and Autumn. I wonder what the residents would think today about the inevitable mess left on the streets and no road sweeper to clean it up?

The cows were not the only things to be driven through the village. All the hay, oats, swedes, etc also had to be dragged up by horse and cart, there were no tractors then, not even on the large farms.

The old farmer chap rejoiced in the name of Johnnie Bag O’Wind, how this name was arrived at I never could find out. He was a small portly man who seemed always to be smoking his favourite Woodbines. He lived with his wife and her sister, they kept a shop in Bridge Street. Both were said to be extremely mean, however, I cannot speak too highly of them and Johnnie, they were always kind to me. The pay was extremely poor, just thirteen shillings a week old money (65 pence in today’s money). Ten shillings for my board and keep, three shillings (15p) to live the good life! I had been used to making more pocket money than that whilst still at school, so I soon left. In any case, Old Johnnie only employed someone for a year, taking a school leaver each Spring, thus keeping the wages low.

When I say that this was a farming job, many people would disagree. Well, it was a bit hap hazard. The only horse power available was an old mare, a half leg, a cross between a shire and a smaller animal. This old nag had a will of her own, starting and stopping whenever she felt like it, probably caused by the fact that she was always handled by a completely inexperienced youth who had little or no idea of handling horses. She was the boss, and proved it whenever possible. Cutting hay became an absolute farce, with me sitting on the machine, working the levers that controlled the cutting blade and bed, Johnnie walking behind, cracking his whip and shouting, the reins in one hand, whip in the other, Woodbine in his mouth, coughing and wheezing and the old nag stopping every fifty yards, oblivious to everything. She rejoiced in the peculiar name of “Tit”, a very strange name for a horse. She seemed to know that threats of the knackers yard did not apply to her.

Cutting the little crop of oats; grown mostly for animal feed, was a big event. Johnnie was the proud owner of a harvester binder, this machine was the type with the big flails which swished the oats onto the cutting bed where they were gathered and tied into sheaves before being kicked out ready to be put into shooks of four or six for harvesting. This machine was a very intricate and clever piece of engineering and is the one always seen in prints of old farming methods. It was certainly far in advance of the previous method of hand tying sheaves. As neither Johnnie or myself knew anything of engineering, when something went wrong it could take hours to put it right. Putting a new roil of binder twine into the machine became a work of art, threading the twine through the correct sequence so that it wrapped around the sheaf, knotted itself, then cut itself free ready for the next sheaf, was quite difficult, but once working properly it was most ingenious.

Despite the poor pay, the lonely hours working on my own and the long working days, I was quite happy, practically my own boss, and of course the fact that this was only a filling-in part of my life plan helped a great deal.

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