Picking up the bag of meal to give the dogs their dinner, I muttered as a stream of it poured out of a hole in the side of the bag. Our local supermarket seems to specialise in dented tins, open packets and torn bags.
The torn bag reminded me of the hessian sacks that used to be used on my grandfather’s farm. They would lie in a storehouse until the threshing machine came; and inevitably the odd one would succumb to the attention of the resident rodents. The grain would be pouring out of the thresher into sacks held in place by men who came in for threshing day. The rodent manufactured holes sometimes only became apparent as the sack filled out; suddenly grain would come streaming from the side. My grandfather seemed remarkably adept at plugging holes in the hundredweight sacks with no more than a twist of straw.
At harvest time when the twine around the sheaves would sometimes snap, he was as quick at twisting straw together to bind the sheaves. No matter how I tried, my attempts at binding anything with no more than a few stalks of straw came to nothing.
His ability was in making something from nothing. The straw he used was that which lay on the floor, that which would have no use other than providing bedding for the cattle that came into their stalls each evening to sleep for the night.
He was a master of recycling before the word was invented. Everything was stored away, nothing was wasted; nothing was disposed of without thought. His neighbouring farmers were as frugal in their ways; every bit of machinery was fixed and re-fixed and coaxed along years after its reasonable life expectancy.
The farming life was hard and unrelenting, but it was a life lived in a community where hardships were shared and where there was a common understanding of what daily life was about.
The European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy has put pay to most of traditional farming life; that which is left is hard-bitten business rather than a the tradition of a community. No-one now would have a hessian sack, and if they had they wouldn’t stuff the holes with straw.
Perhaps the world has been gained in the growth of the material wealth of the community, but the soul has been lost.