I’m a worried man. The winter barley is beginning to look a bit harvest-y in this hot weather, but there’s a large, combine-sized hole in the barn.
Does this mean the trailer thieves have been back, looking for a bigger haul? No; we’ve bought a new one, and it hasn’t got here yet.
For us tenant farmers, a new combine is a major event, the biggest thing we’ll ever buy, and this will be only my third.
See also: Read more from Charlie Flindt
But the old one had done 10 harvests and arable farming finances suggest that now is the time. So I signed on the dotted line three months ago and wrote a large cheque.
The ink had hardly dried when the old combine was whisked away, down the A272 to a new home – hence the hole in the barn.
As I gave it a fond farewell wave, I thought that was the last I’d hear of it. But no; prospective buyers, now over in the east somewhere, have twigged that it was mine, and have been ringing me up.
How did they know? Could it be that I’m the only farmer childish enough to write “bum” on the bodywork as soon as it gets dirty enough? Have I left a receipt for the new grease gun in the cab?
The upshot is that my phone has been busy. “What’s it like?” “Why d’you sell it?” “What’s that bit of welding all about?” “Why are the sieves cocked over?”
I’m not sure what the protocol is in this situation, but I have now perfected a stock set of answers: “I had it from new, you’ll have to recalibrate the sieves, the clean grain elevator needed work, I thought it was time to change, the mice have eaten the speakers, I have no idea where the grain tank lid is – it was attached when it left, ignore error code 28, nothing I am saying constitutes any sort of warranty, and yes, I’d have it back in a heartbeat.”
So, onwards to the new machine. When my fabulously wealthy neighbour rang me asking if I, as a Z-list motoring writer, might know why delivery of his new Mercedes was getting later and later, I did some research.
It turns out it’s not just him. New car delivery schedules are being trashed by a shortage of computer chips. As a member of the Campaign for Plain Engineering, I had a chuckle at this – but then had a scary thought. Might that affect my new beast?
I’ve been reading the 822-page owner’s manual (printed off, hole-punched and filed by some poor soul at the dealer), and the engineering hasn’t got any plainer.
Never mind that someone has bolted R2-D2’s cousin (“Add-Blue-D2”?) on to the bodywork just behind the engine – it’s the in-cab screen with “menus” and “favourites” that baffles me. A Protector 6 it ain’t.
Is my new machine going to be held up, too? I rang the dealer, and got the most chilling answer in farming: “Don’t worry Charlie, you’ll be fine. We’ll sort something out.”
I had visions of an ex-demo 40ft rotary straw-chomper struggling round our little fields, causing grain cart chaos and balerman fury, and filling our tipping space in about two hours.
Or perhaps a Protector 6 that they’d found round the back – I would be reliving the 1980s all over again, only with more expensive dust masks.
If push comes to shove I could go on the hunt to get my old one back. I know it’s up east somewhere, sitting in another dealer’s yard. I can’t miss it: it’s the one with cone-free speakers and “bum” written in the dirt.