Friday, 26 January 2018

Let It Slide

It’s January, the sheep are eating hay, and the supply of bales out in the field shelter is getting low – still a few days reserve, but I am about to be away for a couple of days and re-stocking first would be a good idea. This is not a difficult task – I just have to move ten bales from the main barn, one at a time, onto the trailer, drive out to the field shelter, stack the bales there and repeat. Easy. Then make a cup of tea, sit down and exclaim the magic words, Oh, my back.

We will call when we've done with the first course.

Easy stuff, apart from the mud. We have plenty of mud at this time of year and the only thing that makes it manageable is having the temperature drop below freezing and stay there. This year, we are having a warm winter.
So, there’s a bit of mud at the open end of the barn, not enough to cause trouble, unless I’m carrying a bale of hay. Just step carefully. It’s a bit like Dancing on Ice, just a different style, for different weather, and a totally different impact if I get it wrong.
Between the barn and the field shelter... the ground looks like grass. However, appearances are deceiving. It has rained a lot here recently and just under a thin and fragile layer of turf is mud, but not just any old mud. This is special, Cornish mud. All the time the turf is intact, holding it in, the mud behaves like a giant water bed, rippling softly beneath my feet, often so slowly that I can barely feel it. Break the surface, and it can move freely, with a texture akin to grease, a sticky super-lubricant that can snare even an unwary tractor and suck it down to its doom...
Where was I... right, trailer stacked, ATV warmed up, just drive out to the field shelter, very slowly, in full four-wheel drive, because the last thing I want is any wheel-spin to break through that fragile turf. The ATV, naturally, has other ideas. Yes, the steering is pointed ahead, but let’s just take a little excursion over to the left... or maybe the right, and back to the left. Whilst I had a general forward motion, the ATV slid from side to side, forever hinting that at any moment it was going to ignore the whole pointing forwards thing, and really explore left or right just as far as it goes.
At the last stage of the journey there really is a left turn, down the slope to the shelter. I took that very, very slowly. The brakes on the ATV are pretty good, provided the tyres can get a grip, and provided that trailer of hay bales doesn't get ideas of its own.

Me? No! Eat it all?  Hardly had a bite.

Finally, there is the ground outside the shelter, thoroughly churned by the sheep. I have a very fine pair of Dunlop All Terrain Footwear, aka Wellies, but like that ATV I just successfully parked on a muddy slope, they have limitations.
The wellies have a good grip, but when the whole ground under my feet moves, the wellies hold on to that and just slide with it. There’s also the matter of depth. My size twelve wellies come up to a bit below my knees, whilst in places the mud is deep and liquid enough to reach all the way to my knees. Perhaps in the future, wellies will have mud-seals at the top.
According to Newton, what goes up, must come down, but with the mud, what goes down does not necessarily come back up. With the wellies, I use this ingenious auto-release safety device called a sock. The welly plunges down into the mud, twisting and turning through layers and pockets of varying density and then, as I pull back, the sock smoothly detaches and protects my foot from the wind as I balance on one leg to retrieve the lost welly.
Sometimes, the sock acts as an emergency All Terrain Footwear, but rather less waterproof than the welly.
I moved hay. Just twenty bales. There’s only so much slide I can handle before oh, my back and the need to wash my socks put an end to it.


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