Bella Hall: Maize maze design finalised

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Dave and I have both been consumed by the need to make them this month.

For Dave, this is one of the busiest months so he is constantly having to make decisions and prioritise his work load. For me, after some procrastination, I really had to make the final decision on my maze design and theme.

I like to do the design myself, free-hand. I’m no great artist but I love to work out exactly where each path is going to lead and just how lost I want people to get. It has to be the right balance between being a challenge for older children (and maze enthusiasts) and not too long or complicated for parents with small children. Nobody wants to be lost for hours.

At the design stage, I also have to consider the cutting out process which Dave is in charge of. Every year he comes back from the job with an ever-increasing list of criteria for the perfect maze design. More straight lines, less dead-ends, avoid the stoney patches, greater distance between the paths. This is before we even think about including the bridge in the correct place, finding room for the go-kart track, making sure the paths don’t go too close to the edge of the field and making sure the shape is recognisable from the air for our aerial photograph on the postcards.

This year I was all set to embark on a theme based around Suffolk Coastal Landmarks. Then a period of indecisiveness set in. A phone call was made and a completely new theme started to unfold in my mind. I seem to remember doing a complete U-turn at the last minute last year, too. Thankfully, my design is all but finished – a prehistoric theme with a Woolly Mammoth design, based around the early Bronze Age flint dagger that was found last summer. We will do a display showing the dagger and some of the other items that have been found on the field and give information to the children.

Flint dagger

I think Dave felt the urge to find a flint dagger or indeed anything sharp and pointy to wield this week when putting the young cows out to graze. One of his many decisions this month is to decide when to put the cows out. Every year he dreads this day. The transport is booked, everybody is organised, the bolusing done. The only thing he can’t organise or plan is the behaviour of the animals. Loading up, one calf was injured and the lorry damaged. Down on the marsh things went from bad to worse. The electric fences that had been carefully checked were in place and so the cows were let out. Unfortunately, there was some misunderstanding back at the farm and the electricity supply to the fence was off at the crucial moment. A flighty cow charged through the wire and pandemonium ensued. Total chaos. Now I understand Dave’s reluctance to make this particular decision.

One decision which I had no trouble in making this week was in accepting an invitation to attend the School Farm and Country Fair (SFCF) run by the Suffolk Agricultural Association. It was their 10th Anniversary of running the Fair.

They run it as an entirely charitable event giving 3500 primary schoolchildren a free, unique opportunity to interact with farming, food production and the great outdoors. Staffed by volunteers and with exhibitors giving up their time free of charge, the children are treated to a huge variety of experiences from making sausages (amidst a great deal of giggling), to watching working gun dogs, cuddling chicks, stroking beagles, making bread, icing cakes, dissecting owl pellets, trailer rides, learning about conservation, plus seeing machinery past and present.

Suffolk Punch

They got to see and feel all of the different crops grown in our fields and find out what they can be turned into. The questions asked by the children at the Suffolk Punch demonstration covered some interesting points from how long are their tongues to how many teeth they had, which kept staff from the Trust on their toes. You name it, the children saw it.

I was introduced to Bill Baker, the chairman of the event, who described how they have more than 90 schools visiting and they try to give every primary school pupil in Suffolk the opportunity to attend at least once. He felt that it gave the children an insight into the food cycle, from field to fork but also into how farming has changed through the ages and the role that farming plays in the management of the countryside. All of this done in an interactive and immensely enjoyable way judging by the hoards of enthusiastic, smiling faces.

I caught up with Southwold Primary School at the Sheep Dog demo. They told me how much they loved holding the chicks and watching them hatch in the incubators. They will go home and, instead of the usual reply to “What did you do today?”, they could say that they held a day old chick, or they pressed rape seed to make oil or ground wheat to make flour.

The idea for the SFCF arose out of the foot-and-mouth crisis. I chatted to Sir Michael Bunbury, the vice chairman of the Suffolk Agricultural Association, and he described how the committee came up with the idea of doing something for schools to try and re-engage children with their rural roots in 2001 when the Suffolk Show had to be cancelled due to foot-and-mouth. Sir Michael describes it as possibly the only good thing to come out of F&M.

He could be right. What other industry is working so hard to educate our future generation? If just a small percentage of the children visiting went away feeling enthused by what they saw and will seek to get involved in the countryside in some way in the future, then the SAA, the volunteers and the exhibitors can all feel very proud of their achievement.

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