Flindt on Friday: Manual labour’s not the job it used to be

Twice a year my old Hyundai Terracan gets a good wash – if it’s lucky.

Once for the MOT in June, in the hope that the testers will look more kindly on it if they can actually see what they’re supposed to be inspecting, and once in the run-up to Christmas, when it becomes a kind of ceremony to celebrate the end of the busy arable haul.

Of course, the last couple of years have turned into a “when will we finish the long arable haul?” – but it’s still therapeutic to walk slowly round with a hose and a stiff brush, and then a bucket of warm car shampoo.

See also: Read more from Charlie Flindt

The green and silver two-tone reappears from under the thick layer of mud, while assorted harvest calculations, random phone numbers and dodgy van registrations – finger-written hastily on to dirty windows and panels – vanish forever.

I was just reaching the last stage the other day – only alloys and wheel arches to do – when I realised I was being watched.

Wax on

It was one of the teenagers from down the road, out on his bike, and leaning over the silver gates, obviously angling for a chat. My lower back was all in favour of a break, so I dropped my sponge in to the Wash’n’Wax and ambled over.

He was keen to know all about the parked-up farm kit, what it was and what it did. He asked about our sheep and cattle plans for the winter, and when lambing might start.

I asked how school was going. “We’ve all been sent home ‘cos of the virus,” he said. “And I’m bored with video games.” Good lad.

I said it seemed odd to send children home; I dimly remember an animal health lecture where we were told of the importance of piling young animals into a barn to ensure they caught everything and got herd immunity.  

“Have you got any jobs I could do?” he asked. Blimey. I had to stop and think for a minute. Well, anything involving a tractor is out.

The days of jumping on a Super Major with no brakes and sloppy steering joints as soon as we could reach the pedals and heading off down the lane in a cloud of face-level fumes are well gone.

Mind you, if he’s bored with video games, he can try and sort out the incomprehensible gearbox on my newish Massey loader tractor. But it would be more than my life’s worth to let him drive it.

Wax off

What about manual jobs? We just don’t do them anymore, and I have to say that my lower back is very grateful for it.

We don’t carry hundredweight bags, or shovel shit, or throw silage over a fence to hungry calves with a prong, or a grape, or a fork. And I miss the arguments about what it was actually called.

Sweeping out the corners of grain store floors is about the limit of manual labour these days – and even that’s a job not to be taken lightly in the frantic heat of harvest. As Neighbour Robert once put it: “If I can’t do it from a tractor cab, I don’t do it!”

But what do you say to an enthusiastic youngster? “I can’t think of anything at the moment, but I’ll give you a shout if something comes up,” was the best I could come up with. He seemed OK with that, and we went our separate ways.

“Hold on,” I said. “You could come and do these wheel arches…” But he was already halfway home on his bike. Smart kid.