Flindt on Friday: Barley field swapped for cow corner

After much crashing and banging round the attic, I managed to find my cricket bat. It’s a bit musty and unloved, but I have great plans for it this year.

One of the many joys of harvest is its surprising chronological consistency. Year in, year out, irrespective of what the previous nine months have done, July will be predictable: in mid-month, Luke the Combine Wizard will nod his satisfaction that his work is done for another year, and there will then be a two-day hunt for the waxed lifters and the disawning plates.

Fuel levels will be topped up, the cab glass will be polished, inside and out, and medical supplies (paracetamol and sting relief cream) checked.

See also: Read more from Charlie Flindt

And then, usually on a late July Monday, about a week after the distinctive roars have started on my chalk-farm neighbours, the little TC5070 will be fired up and launched into some satisfyingly lodged winter barley. Good thing we found those lifters.

Different strokes

But this year is different. Harvest 2020 – like everything else linked to 2020 – promises to be somewhat unusual.

For a start, there’s no winter barley – which is a shame; there’s no crop like it for taking the wax off the bright metal, preparing the ground for next year’s OSR and getting harvest off to a good start while nothing else is ready – reasons completely lost on the gross-margin fetishists who just can’t understand why we grow it.

It looks like the first crop we touch this year will be the 50 acres of OSR, which has spent the year sounding like The Clash – “Shall I die or shall I grow?”.

At the end of May it was still flowering and confounding February expectations – although that might have changed (again) by the time you read this.

I wouldn’t mind, but fitting the OSR kit – side knife and special sieve – is a big job, best done after harvest fitness and flexibility levels have built up a bit.

It’s a huge effort for only 50 acres, and then the whole lot has to be taken off again. I’ll be mighty hacked off if I do all that for half a tonne to the acre.

Stocking up

The in-cab medicine cabinet will be different, too – it will be fresh stock. At the peak of the coronavirus frenzy, we thought we’d round up as much paracetamol as possible, since the shelves in the shops were empty.

Sure enough, in the cubbyholes and pockets of the combine were dozens of boxes, most of them well past their use-by date (I’m sure one said “By Appointment to His Majesty the King” on the side) but still worthy of a wipe-off and promotion to the farmhouse bathroom, just in case.

But what’s going to be really odd is that it looks like there will be no harvesting in July – and that’ll be a first for me since starting with a Ford 6600 and a 3t Weeks trailer in 1977.

But what to do? Roadside hedgetrimming will be finished. Preparing fallow ground for another attempt at OSR? I think not. Holiday? Pah!

Lurking on my desk is the optimistic post-lockdown fixture list of the White Hunter Cricket Club – a nomadic gang of flannel-clad incompetents too terrible to get asked to play for anyone else, so had to form their own club.

For three decades, they’ve been running round picturesque pitches, losing gracefully and pulling muscles in the process.

And now I’ve rediscovered my lovely 42oz Newbery bat, I think it’s time for a long-awaited comeback.

Mind you, 42oz sounds a bit heavy after all these years. Good thing I’ve found all that paracetamol.