A Very Ordinary Story Chapter 4.

A Very Ordinary Story

Chapter 4


While I was still at school, I spent every holiday and many weekends on Grandfather Cunningham's farm, where I had a glorious time, running wild. Completly alone, but never lonely. At times I went off on my own to explore the surrounding countryside. In one of the fields on the outskirts of the farm (Nether Lochty) was a small wood or copse. In the middle of this was a rocky clearing where an abundance of wild raspberries grew. In season I had many a feed and the smell of fresh raspberries still brings back memories of those days.

Rabbits were prolific at Lochty and my uncles had ferrets, snares and a 12-bore shotgun. Rabbiting was a good method of getting a bit extra pocket money for them. They used to cycle to the local butcher at Pittenweem with the rabbits strung from the handlebars of their bikes. I remember vividly Lochty railway station and the Stationmaster (probably a Leading Porter, but he was always called the Stationmaster), Jock Pryde and my grandparents were very friendly and we visited them a lot. His wife was an extremely good baker and we enjoyed some lovely meals with them.

Lochty station was the terminus of a single freight line, which branched off the East Fife line near Leven, and served the rich agricultural land surrounding Windygates, Montrave, Largoward and Lochty. The freight train arrived, I think, twice or three times weekly and brought fertilisers, coal, paraffin and other necessities of life and took away the farm produce of grain, seed potatoes, sugar beet, etc.

Latterly my grandfather farmed at East Pitcorthie, a few miles north of Anstruther, where I found many new and exciting things to do and, as I was a bit older, I helped, as I thought, with the farm work. The school summer holidays were in July and August and, at that time lasted for eight weeks. I thinned the neeps (swedes turnips). Turnip seeds were sown in rows, by means of a machine, drawn by a horse, for that purpose. As the seeds were so small it was impossible to sow them at their proper spacing for growing. (The same applied to sugar beet seed). So, in early summer, the seedlings were required to be 'thinned out' - that is left about six inches apart. We used a hoe to push or pull the unwanted seedlings out. It was quite a skilled operation, as it was a dead loss if the seedling intended to be left was inadvertently pushed out. This was a slow process and very labour intensive, so all hands were use including the females!
I actually became quite an expert.

Horse Rake

Haymaking was the main job during the summer months; the hay was cut in swathes by means of a hay-mowing machine, drawn by a horse. The mown hay lay for several days until it had quite dried out (there was no silage in those days).

After that a horse-rake gathered the hay and when the rake was full a big handle, assisted by a foot pedal was pulled and a pile of hay was deposited. The rake traversed across the field and when finished, the hay was left in long rows.

Tum'lin' Tam

The next part of the process was the use of the “Tumlin' Tam”. This was an piece of equipment difficult to describe, being a contraption with five or six large wooden prongs which, pulled by a horse, slid along the ground under the aforesaid rows of hay, collecting a large amount of hay. When it was full, the person in charge lifted it up on to the tips of the prongs and the thing cart-wheeled, leaving its load of hay behind, hence the name “Tumlin' Tam”. It was at these points 'ricks' (miniature haystacks) were built. They were left in the field for the hay to mature until it was time to take them to the stack yard at the farm to be built into large haystacks. At this time, one of my jobs was being in charge of the horse on the rick 'triangle'. This was a huge three legged erection with a wheel at the bottom end of each leg, about 2/3 metres high. The three legs were attached at the top so that they could be spread out in a triangular shape. This was pulled over the hayrick and three angled iron forks was attached to a long rope which went over a pulley at the top of the triangle. The other end of the rope was inserted through another pulley near the bottom of one of the legs and then attached to the harness of a horse. When the horse was led forward the rick was bodily pulled in the air, so that a cart could be backed underneath it. The whole rick was dropped on to the cart and then transported to the farmyard, where they hay was built into large haystacks. (I hope all that made sense).

Rick Triangle

I had never been able to get a picture of a 'rick triangle' until August 2006 on a visit to Orkney. There, on a farm while going to see the Italian Chapel was a rick triangle.

If the harvest was early (late August, before school started) I used to help in 'stooking' the sheaves.
Before the days of the Combine Harvester, wheat, barley and oats were cut by a machine called a Binder, pulled by two horses, a fairly large machine which when the cutting took place, huge flails knocked the stalks back on to a moving canvas which took them into a complicated piece of machinery. This gathered the stalks into a fixed size bunch and cleverly tied them in a bunch using binder twine, tied the knot and ejected the sheaves. They were then gathered in pairs and placed together, head up. A row of four or five pairs of sheaves formed a 'stook'.

I was paid 2/6 (12 1/2p) for a day's work, carrying c'aff (chaff) when the travelling threshing mill arrived. The mill was pulled from farm to farm by means of a steam engine. During operations the steam engine stood facing the mill, which was driven by belt placed over the huge flywheel of the engine. Although the travelling mill was used occasionally, there was a threshing mill built in the steading of Pitcorthie. It was driven by a large one-piston engine, fuelled, I think, with paraffin. It required a firework like squib thing to preheat it before the huge flywheel (approx. 2 meters in diameter) was manually turned until the engine fired. It ran at a set speed, which was controlled by a 'governor'.

East Pitcorthie was only 100 acres (actually consisting of two 50 acre smallholdings). The large estate of Pitcorthie had been broken down into 50-acre packages to be made available to returning soldiers at the end of WW I. The big farmhouse and the steading belonged to the 100 acre patch. My grandfather rented one 50-acre lot and the other was in his son's name, my uncle Alex. He was the youngest of the family. They along with my aunt Nan and Jean all lived in the 'big house'. A wall divided off part of the original farm buildings (steading) for use of the small holding next door, where a s cottage had been built for the farmer. The top of the wall was rounded off with cement and, when it was still setting, someone had written the words 'Lest We Forget' in the cement.

100 acres is not a very big farm and it was hard work indeed to get a living from it and to support five adults and me, when on holiday. It was a mixed farm - in the true sense of the word. A variety of crops were grown, wheat, barley, oats, hay, potatoes, turnips and latterly, sugar beet, which was processed at the local sugar factory in Cupar.
A few cattle were kept to fatten for the market, my Granny kept hens, hatched out chicks in the incubator plus a few 'clocking' hens who laid away and reared their own chicks, surplus eggs were sold to help out with the housekeeping. Four or five milk cows were kept to provide milk and butter. It was my grandmother's and aunt Jean's job to milk the cows, early every morning and late afternoon. Before milking time in the morning the huge kitchen range had to be cleaned out, the fire lit and the porridge pot put on and left to simmer till milking was over.

A sow was kept, which was my Aunt Jean's 'perk', as, every time it farrowed she got the proceeds from the sale of the young pigs. One pig was always kept to supplement the larder. When a pig was killed I'm sure the family lived on pork in all its various forms for weeks after. Of course, the bacon was home cured and was hung, in a muslin bag, from the kitchen ceiling. I can honestly say that I have never tasted a better piece of bacon since those days. Sunday morning breakfast was always fried bacon and egg(s), (two for the men).

There were no 'freezers' in those days and a lot of the pork was salted to help preserve it. Butter was made on a regular basis; my aunt Jean made the butter, using the 'kirn' (churn), which was barrel-shaped, with paddles inside it, and attached to a frame so that it could be turned round and round when filled with cream, to make the butter. Both my Granny and Aunt Jean were good bakers as well as being good cooks. As far as I can remember, Saturday was the main baking day. My Granny would make girdle scones, bannocks and oatcakes. I believe the word 'bannock' is used in different parts of Scotland to describe different things, but in this case was really a girdle scone with oatmeal replacing some of the flour. It is the best accompaniment to bacon and eggs I know.

I am glad to say that Elspeth carried on the tradition and for most of our married life made girdle scones and bannocks for me every Saturday morning. My Aunt Jean made Cakes, Shortbread, Gingerbread and Sponges. She won many prizes for her baking at the local agricultural shows both at the 'Wee Show' at Crail' and at the bigger East Fife Agricultural show held in Colinsburgh. The shortbread tin was never empty. On occasions my uncle Alex and I would raid the shortbread tin, which was kept in the parlour cupboard, and when asked what we were eating would reply 'magic bannock'!

Our meals on the farm were plain, but wholesome. Porridge, as mentioned above, for breakfast, followed by tea and toast. A toasting fork was used to hold the bread in front of the kitchen range fire bars. That job fell to me when I was on holiday there. The more leisurely breakfast on Sunday mornings was, as previously mentioned, bacon and egg. The main meal was always in the middle of the day, consisting of soup (nearly always), followed by the main dish of either home reared chicken or pork, and occasionally beef from the butcher (curried mince was a favourite!). Rice pudding (baked) was also a favourite, as were steamed puddings. We had curds quite often, bread-and-butter pudding and the old faithfuls, sago, tapioca and custard with fruit in season. Dinner was eaten at the large plain wooden kitchen table, it was large enough to seat 8 people, and after the meal was finished, before work started again, all the adults would sit for a while, generally arms folded, and have a nap. That was one part of the day I used to hate and would clear out of the house to try and find something to occupy myself with in the farmyard.

The necessities of life were brought to the farm by: Alex Terras the grocer, from Arncroach, Bowman the butcher from Anstruther and the baker, Fishers, from Crail. They visited the farm weekly. Occasionally a fish hawker arrived from Pittenweem, on his bicycle! The postman brought the daily paper, the Dundee Courier and Advertiser. Alex Terras used to take me with him for the remainder of his rounds and deliver me back home on the return journey, but he would never allow me a go at driving. The van was an old model T Ford and as far as I can remember there was no gear lever. The throttle and accelerator were levers under the steering wheel./

To get back to the food theme. A 'piece' was always carried to the men, mid-morning, when they were working in one of the outlying fields. This consisted of sandwiches and tea and, during the hot weather some oatmeal in water made a very refreshing drink. At the end of the working day, a light tea was served and supper was at about 8 o'clock, after everyone had cleaned up and had a bit of relaxation. The parlour fire would have been lit and it was there that the local paper, the Dundee Courier and Advertiser was read. The front page did not carry banner headlines and news, but contained all the small advertisements, like Job Vacancies and Article for Sale. It was many, many years later that the 'Courier' changed its format. Occasionally we would play cards, Snap, Sevens and 'Old Maids' or even have a singsong, my aunt Jean being a proficient pianist.

I learned all about the facts of life on the farm; it wasn't the birds and the bees, but the cows, the mares and the sows. A bull would mysteriously arrive at certain times and lived with the cows for a short while. The man with the stallion walked round all the various farms and the old sow would disappear for a while. I have been present at the birth of foals, calves and little piglets. I spent many happy days on the farm.

Oddly enough, it was at the farm I learnt to ride a bicycle. In those not so affluent days not many boys had a 'bike' of their own, as I didn't. My Aunt Jean did, though, and it was on that that I taught myself. It was very handy for a small boy, as I couldn't reach the pedals while seated, but a ladies bicycle in those days didn't have a horizontal crossbar, but a curved bar. This was so that a lady rider didn't have to throw her leg right over the bike to mount it. Instead, she could, daintily, put her leg through to the other side to reach the pedal and then be seated. Of course, it was ideal for me, as I could go the bike standing on the pedals, with no cross bar to hinder me.

I must have just about ruined the bike, as farm roads are not made for cycling, and I did make use of it quite a lot. It was a sturdy, heavy machine, with upright handlebars, coloured green, with no gears and a back pedal brake. The brake mechanism was contained in the enlarged hub of the rear wheel and back-pedalling operated the system to slow the bike down. It also had strings on each side of the rear mudguard to the rear axle, to form a guard against a lady's skirts being entangled with the spokes. On my tenth birthday, I was given a bike of my own. It was second hand and not a full size model, probably a 16” or 18* frame, I think the standard size was 21”, but I was overjoyed at the freedom it gave me and was able to go places which, while not inaccessible, were too far to go on foot. Not only that, it meant I could visit the farm more often, at weekends, as well as holidays. East Pitcorthie farm would be I suppose, about 8 or 9 miles from St Monance, and to get there I had to take the 'bus to Anstruther, change buses there and connect with the 'Over the Hill' service to St Andrews, alighting at Spalefield crossroads, when I had to walk at least a mile to the farm. The local blacksmith and farrier had his smiddy at Spalefield and it was quite a diversion watching horses being shod on the occasions when waiting on a bus to take me home.

St Monans -

Page top -- Home Page -- The Beginning--- Fairlie-- St Monans-- Links Page