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Idyll Six

The Bo’son arrived one harvest evening. He walked in the Passage while the men were at their supper and took a berth in the loft without a word. No one enquired who he was, or asked if he’d run away from home, or from a Home, if he was an army deserter or fresh out of jail. But you could see he wasn’t accustomed to farm work. When my father told him to sharpen his scythe, he sawed the whetstone back and forth across the edge.

‘It’s not like you’re playing a fiddle with the bow, son!’ said Moss, taking the scythe to show him how it should be done. That’s how he came to be known as the Bo’son.

One day the Harvester didn’t show up. It was a fine morning. The dew had dried from the ground by breakfast and the ears of barley were crackling in the heat. But the silver Claes combine stood idle in the middle of Higgs’s Field. The men replaced damaged sections on the blade. They climbed onto the platform and folded clean sacks for the chutes. They cut lengths of binder twine for tying the sacks when they were filled. The Bo’son had gone underneath the combine and was greasing the nipples.

It was mid-morning. The Harvester still hadn’t showed. The men patted the dogs and lazed about. The Bos’on was sitting up on the driver’s seat. Suddenly the machine started into life. The engine revved and belts and flywheels began to turn. The worm rotated. Then the combine set off bouncing across the stubble ground. But ‘Son steered it round to face the uncut field. He lowered the blade into the standing barley.

The machine rumbled and shuddered from end to end. It coughed diesel smoke into the air and chaff flew from its tail. ‘Don’t just stand there gawping!’ my father roared. The men scrambled to grab hold of the platform ladder, while the grain from the open chutes rained about their heads.

— Maurice Riordan, “The Idylls”, The Holy Land, Faber and Faber 2007

Posted in Arts and Letters, Notes, Poetry.

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