I can remember about thirty years ago visiting a distinguished young academic in Cambridge. He asked about the dig I was running and when I told him that the funders had slashed our budget by half he was astonished.
‘So what are you going to do?’ He asked.
‘Do?’ I replied, ‘I’ve done it. Charly and I are doing the earthmoving ourselves. Charly’s driving the dozer and I’m on the 360…’
The 360 is a large hydraulic excavator. Anyhow, he was very surprised. Incredulous, even.
‘But surely, that’s going to take you weeks, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, but it’ll be worth it.’
And I was right: the site, Etton, revealed previously unknown insights into life in the Neolithic, over five thousand years ago. But I could see that something still troubled him.
‘But isn’t that…’ he was groping for the right word, ‘…isn’t that rather…er…dull. I mean boring? You just sit at the controls and drive. For weeks on end. Are you sure that’s a good idea?’ Then he paused and sighed. I won’t forget his final, and rather patronising thought: ‘I know I couldn’t do it.’
No, I recall thinking, as I headed out of his office towards the nearest pub, you couldn’t, because ordinary tasks require skills and imagination you could never acquire. The routine things of life aren’t always simple.
And the same goes for haymaking. It’s always a rush against time and the climate and this year was no different. I first heard that we were expecting at least a week of hot, dry weather when I was in a train heading west for a day’s filming for a Time Team documentary in Cardiff. So I phoned the contractor (our very obliging neighbour, Charles) and he agreed to get mowing immediately. Meanwhile, the anti-cyclone grew in strength and it got hotter and hotter. Then the day before yesterday, they forecast thunder for eastern England and the east Midlands. That’s us.
The hay was rowed-up yesterday morning, and by late afternoon it had been baled. When Charles began the baling I started up my aged (1964) International B414 and started to move bales into the barn. Around five o’clock I could see a slight darkness over towards the south-western horizon. By six the clouds had grown into a thunderstorm and I’d barely shifted half of them. I drove like a maniac and the air around me was getting hotter and more clammy. It had to break. Then I felt the first big drops on my legs around seven. There was light rain for about forty-five minutes, and then it got worse, while I carted the last four bales. Mercifully the eye of the storm missed us, but I could see a second one growing, as I closed all the gates behind me.
It’s wonderful, isn’t it, when you’ve just finished a hard and difficult job? All was safely gathered-in and I was exhausted but happy. Over to the south-west the clouds were still building. This time, now that the threat was off, they didn’t look so much threatening, as glorious. It was a Beethoven sky and I could positively feel the thunderous chords. So I took this picture.
Then I thought about that academic in Cambridge, confined in his ivory tower all those years ago. Poor sod: sure, he’d never get his hands dirty and would publish dozens of erudite works, of the greatest wisdom and truth. Then, as I put my little camera away, I also knew why he would never experience moments like that. Over the years I’ve done many, many tedious little jobs. In fact, I think they’re what I do best. But anyhow, now it was my turn to pity him.
Bring on the rain!