The Countryman Cottage Life Book, a sample
Published 1975 in the UK, this is part of a series which included at least five other books which would make me happy should I stumble upon them. This one was edited by Fred Archer. It seems to be a series of essays and recollections about rural people from around 1832 onward. Some of them cover lots of ground, as for example, the life story of a woman born in 1877, orphaned at age 3, and who lived until 1969. The essays seem to have been written and collected over a similar period as well.
The book shows that people's lives were very hard. Many people strung together multiple kinds of work. Many had a primary education that served them well and added to their outlook. Some of the people presented seemed remarkably cheerful given the toughness of their lives, yet the book is not all sweetness and light; I don't want to give that impression.
I'm not embarrassed to say that I really like all the illustrations in the book. There are photos, woodcuts that are clearly by two different artists, pen and ink drawings.
I want to share a sample, so here is a bit about a man who cut wood for fuel, basketry, and plant supports. My understanding is that he was using pollarding methods. In the first paragraph a hazel stool is mentioned. This made me pause, because, in ornamental gardening, stooling is a method of cutting a large tree to a stump in order to make it respond with roundy-moundy growth with large leaves. But here, it is a type of pollarding and the goal is upright branches, not lush leafiness. Oh, I so want to try making a "with" in the manner he describes. Anyway, here is the sample, "A Wooden Harvest' by Peter Rosser.
Old men who were boys here in Hampshire remember bavins, those bundles of twigs which were lit inside the old brick ovens. After the burnt ash had been raked out, the plump bread-dough was put in. For household kindling today, "gas-pokers is yer bavins," the woodcutter reckoned; "nothing cut now no smaller 'n pea-sticks." All about him were the bundles of hazel; and the stools from which he had cut them stood short to the ground, like sharp yellow teeth.
"These long bean-sticks--twenties, they calls 'em. Fetch about six shillin' a bundle in the market. That's around three and threepence here on the ground when they come fer 'em theirselves from London. About eight year growth, them. Then there's yer fifties and yer seventy-fives, mostly fer the Staffordshire pots. Yer hundreds fer pea-sticks, you leaves twiggy, the others you trims into poles, like. They still reckon the best thing fer pots in Staffordshire is a hazel basket. Don't never mater how much those old goods wagons creak an' shudder, your hazel basket creaks and shudders to it, like. You won't lose a single pot in one o' them baskets. Never found anythin' to beat 'em, not at the price, an' I don't reckon the will, 'cause it's nature, see. You can't never beat nature, not at the price. Like my withs: some bundles up with wire, but what are you goin' to do with a thousand bits o' wire? But you can burn your withs."
He took up a wand of hazel about as thick as a little finger and, setting the butt under his foot, worked four or five clockwise twists in it. The he bent over about a foot of the tip and twisted that round the stem in the same direction. The loop stayed.
"I could do you a with as that as 'ud take a ton pull, they reckon. But the thick 'uns is terrible on yer hands. An' if there's any frost in the with, it don't twist at all--just snaps, like. No good to this job at all is frost. Snap yer bill-hook with a good frost. Can't buy a bill-hook like mine, today. Made local from an old blacksmith's rasp an' keeps an edge like a razor all day. But if 'twere frosty today I wouldn't be usin' it, not on yer life. Get frost i that an'--snap like a biscuit. Today it's just windy. Always windy up here on this brow. I generally has a fire, but I'll tell you somethin' I've noticed an' you haven't: fire's like water fer runnin' downhill. Light one up there, an' within the hour yer fire's down here. Yes, you'd think 'twere the set o' the wind but I've watched, it's the slope.
The woodcutter liked working up here on his own and being his own gaffer. There was always plenty to see, he said.
"I was sittin' with me thermos, an' over there come a fox to sit on the edge o' the spinney. Never saw me, an' I made a good study of him, just sittin' there wrinklin' his nose a bit in the sunshine. Blow me, come tea-time I went fer me thermos an' there he was, up on the very last joint of his hind legs, tall as he could make, havin' a good study at me. Another day I was comin' through the ride on me way here, and there was a fox cub dead. That night, goin' home, I saw its mother, I reckon, crossin' the field with the dead cub in her mouth, an all the way across, rooks was dive bombin' 'em. There's always somethin' to see, if you've got eyes."
"Course it isn't my regular job. I only does this in between, like."
"In between what?"
"Well, like between one job an' another. I can make about twenty twenties a day---cut, trim, count, with up. I've done twenty-eight one day, but that's trying to kill all your own enthusiasm, like."