Fossil Fuels

Just been round to that Poseur Royale, Farfrae's farm to see his latest acquisition.  He's been smirking for years over his seed drills, and now here he is showing off the new steam-powered threshing machine.

The sight of the poor girl feeding the sheaves in was bad enough - the thought that some beggar in a few year's time will do the same to dear, sweet, Tess Durbeyfield is enough to make me as mad as a bucket of frogs.

But in a cooler moment now, with a drop o' the right sort in my aristocratic cider schooner, I'm having a ponder at what the future will hold.

You see, it's easy to call it "Progress", that false idol of the Victorian and subsequent epochs. But you could argue that, to a degree, it's just market forces. A coal-fired steam threshing machine is just cheaper than getting a load of horses and peasants to do the same job.  And so the horses go to the knackers' and the peasants go to the cities. And in its turn, the coal will give way to oil.

But for you, dear 21st Century reader - maybe you're drawing to the end of that. Maybe for you the day is going to come when oil is so expensive that once again steam-powered is the way to go, at least in the fields. And when the coal comes to an end, or increasingly just becomes too expensive - and given your ever-burgeoning population - maybe one day the workfolk will again be abroad in the fields, reaping and threshing by hand as before. The songs of the field will be recovered, the scythes will shine and people will once again starve in July, as they wait for the harvest to start.

Gabriel Oak Strikes Again - 25 August 1858

Big news from Weatherbury again.

Sgt Troy's little housewarming come harvest supper went well last night, by all accounts, with plastered yokels by the yard staggering home in the small hours to be bashed by respective wives with rolling pins. But - surprise surprise - the ricks were threatened with disaster. This time the danger of the rain belting down in a thunderstorm.

I'm just surprised that Oak gets away with this time after time. My suspicion is that he pulled all the covers off the ricks himself, to give him the chance to climb "heroically" up to protect them. If he thinks this sort of behaviour is endearing Bathsheba to him he's obviously wrong there - particularly now she's the new Mrs Troy. He wants to get a grip before he's finally rumbled and ends up attached to the business end of a rope in Casterbridge gaol.

Unreliable Dorcas - 24 August 1858

I really don't know what's going on with young Dorcas. She was always so reliable. Now she's mooning around the place, sighing all the time and looking tragic every time you ask her what the matter is.
She's hopeless at breakfast time especially, these last two weeks. Constantly rushing off. I suspect she's got a real upset stomach. But I haven't noticed she's up late at night wassailing with some of the servants.
I'd better keep an eye on her. I wouldn't like to think she's gone down with some stress-related illness.

A young Robin - 14 August 1858

To Fanny Robin, a son.

I'm glad to see we've achieved something good in this benighted world, against the whiles of its scheming author and under its empty skies.

Fanny was thinking of names - Troy, was one idea which we managed to dissuade her from.

But I like Hnaef's suggestion. Given that he wasn't wanted, wasn't initially expected to be involved, complicates relationships, reduces Fanny's freedom to do what she wants and causes extra cost and inconvenience - Hnaef has suggested "Nick Clegg".

Not the right stuff - 12 August 1858

I'm really annoyed with Reuben.

Sure, he got me a reasonable supply of stone, but I was starting to be  bit suspicious.

And the delivery of the Heel Stone this morning confirmed my suspicions.

It's all going to have to go back to Wiltshire.  And I don't know what the Antrobuses thought they were doing, selling it to him in the first place.

The Hanged Man - 10 August 1858

Oddest thing, we just met young Tommy out on the heath with his telescope. It was a lovely summer's morning and we thought a stroll around might do us good before Hnaef got off to the important job of watching the harvest coming in. But young Tommy didn't look like anything had done him any good.

Turns out he'd been watching the hanging down at Casterbridge through his telescope. Would you believe it - they're still executing people in public? I mean- this is the Victorian age after all. And poor Tommy has a right case of the shakes.

And he's an impressionable lad at the best of times. He thinks too much, in my opinion.

Maybold Mutters - 8 August 1858

10th Sunday after Trinity

Strong words in the sermon this morning from Maybold. Suggesting that the folk of the field have a habit, when resting from harvesting, to nip off into the hedgerows for forbidden pleasures.

Well, he may be right. But personally I don't see how they could manage it. If Maybold had to spend a fourteen-hour day in the fields, day after day, I doubt he'd be able to dip his pen-nib in his ink-bottle, let alone have his lusty way with the local maidens. As far as I can tell, the main times of the year for this sort of going on are Christmas, when there's not much else to do in the fields, and St John's Eve when the nights are long.

Still, warnings against fornication are very important. That's what we pay him for, so he may as well do his job.  And then we can all get on with ours.

More work in the fields

I tell you, sometimes it just never ends.

Work for other people, that is. Even on a Saturday. The harvest is really kicking in, there's burly blokes with scythes as far as the eye can see, and Thomas Leaf (who's not really trusted with sharp objects) out behind them with the women. The only thing that would be needed to complete the perfect pastoral scene would be the sight of Hnaef with a jug of cider, supervising. Which, needless to say, he's doing.

Meanwhile, Reuben Dewey assured me that, through his stone-masonry contacts (that being the traditional work on his wife's side of the family), he could get hold of just the kind of stone I want. And he's working overtime, pulling the stone up from Casterbridge station.  They're certainly the right kind of shape and size, but I just hope there's enough. I've got the finished drawings from young Tommy Hardy and that mile-long avenue is really going to need a lot.

Co-incidence - 3 August 1858

Here in Wessex, one is constantly aware of the dangers of a co-incidence breaking out in the unlikeliest of surroundings,

Take our stop off at the Buck's Head for a quick one on the way home from Weatherbury.

Who would have thought that the Pope's cousin, the illegitimate son of Queen Victoria by a Norfolk cheesemonger and Miss Dolly O'Grady, "A smile, a song and a glimpse of stocking", Queen of the Music Halls, could have ended up in the same pub at the same time? And who would have thought that the Pope's cousin and the illegitimate prince would have both ended up falling in love with Miss O'Grady? And who would have thought that Hnaef, thinking it a great opportunity to gain some notoriety, would have invited them to settle their differences in a duel on our front lawn?

And, given all the above, who would have thought that a stray bullet would have shot the one-eyed hunchbacked Lithuanian who was crawling through our undergrowth, under the impression that we had Mrs Charmond, of Little Hintock, staying with us?

So Maybold's booked for two funerals and a wedding, we've made the papers, and Hnaef is busy telegraphing to a Mr Francis Wedgewood of Stoke-on-Trent to knock us out some commemorative porcelain tea-pots featuring the death of Ronnie Saxe-Coburg and Valdemaras. 

All in all, we've done quite well there.

Lammas - 1 August 1858

Lammas day - something or another after Trinity

So I bake a special wheat loaf.  Well actually, no I don't.  Why keep a dog and bark yourself?  I get Mrs Morris to bake a special wheat loaf.  And I take it down to church nice and early before Morning Prayer and ask Mr Maybold,
"Should I bring it up during the service or do you put them all on the altar before the service?"
and he says,
"Bring what?"
and I say,
"The Lammas Loaf"
and he says,
"The what for what?"
and I tell him - this is an agricultural community, in touch with the rhythms of nature, with wisdom going back millennia.  The warp and the weft of life, fingers in the soil, sunrise sunset swiftly flow the years.  You've gotta have a Lammas Loaf.  And he asks if I've had a couple.
Turns out they're not as deeply rooted in the seasons as I thought.  In fact, as far as Revd Arthur Maybold is concerned, today's just some Sunday after Trinity.
So we had it toasted this lunchtime.  Quite nice.  Think I'll celebrate Lammas more often.