It was that time of year again when SABI holds its winter meeting- being Health & Safety Officer I had to attend; not a problem as John Letts always has a warm and welcoming house. It’s also nice to meet everyone again and Oxfordshire is reasonably central to us all.
John’s house is like a library, full of his academic work on thatching and arable crops associated with straw etc. I have always had to have a gander through someone’s books and it’s amazing what you can find out about people- subjects that you would never guess they were interested in as well, of course, as loads of subjects associated with their work or hobbies. Boy, he’s got more than me! Much was talked about and, for the life of me, I can’t remember a lot of it… just as well Beth took the minutes. One thing I do remember was changing the title of the Health & Safety Officer to Health & Safety Adviser- probably the right decision as SABI can only offer advice, some guide lines and maybe a model risk assessment for scythes and their use, just the same as the HSE (although they cover a multitude of risky work scenarios) . Having moaned many years ago about the HSE not being very helpful, you suddenly realise that some companies or people seem to want you to do all their risks assessments for them and that’s not the point. The whole idea of risk assessments is to make one think about what you are about to do or get someone else to do: do you need PPE? Is/are the machinery/tools in good working order? What other associated risks are there? Are there other risks that are specific to where you are working i.e. could there be a cliff someone could fall over, is there deep water nearby and is that a bull charging at me?!!!!!! Hopefully this year we will be able to provide an easy-to-use model risk assessment for helping people reach the right conclusions for safe mowing, although they will have to add any site specific risks or hazards.
On to other incidental items outside the meeting: Phil was checking out the new snath ( the handle that the blade/scythe fits to).This had been made by Richard Brown and, it would appear from his historic research, that the AMERICANS (who think that they invented the curved snath) could be completely wrong. It turns out that the earliest documented evidence of a curved snath in America was in the early 19th century BUT, an English painting in the late 18th century clearly shows a number of ENGLISH men using a curved snath. The boxing gloves are on…
Chris brought along some scythe blade makers’ labels he had been given or found- some are from small businesses that disappeared quite a long time ago, mostly because they had been bought out by bigger companies like Nash. A little bit of industrial history.
Jim Mcvittee was far more interested in the homemade rounding plane- a really useful item for the green woodworking/pole lathe group. Will keep an eye out for some suitable planes on ebay.
After a longish meeting it was time to sample some of the goodies brought along to supplement John’s spread (think he must have been cooking all week and his bread was as good as ever). One of the more unusual items was Phil Batten’s homemade haggis- quite apt as it was Burns Night. A haggis is a wild animal with two short legs on the right side and it is caught by chasing it the wrong way round the hill ;0). No, really it’s made from the pluck, heart, lungs and liver (which is cooked before it is minced – mince it raw and it turns to mush uggghhh!) , add spices, pepper and salt and fill the stomach of a sheep (the sheep has to be dead though). A sheep has two stomachs and Phil used the bigger for the SABI meeting and left the smaller one at home for his family. People should eat more haggis, it’s a lot tastier then they think.
Next delicacy was Simon Fairlie’s cheese: “oh” he said “this one is not very good”. Can’t see why he said that- it’s a very nice tasting handmade cheese with excellent bubbles in it. Both Simon and Jill milk three cows at Tinker’s Bubble to the sound of a gramophone playing his favourite music- swears blind it makes the cows far more easy to milk. Having seen the way they make the cheese I can understand how the people of the post-medieval Wimpole parish must have produced their cheeses. Thing is with cheese, it stores all that milk you couldn’t drink within a few days and you can keep the stored milk (cheese) for leaner times. One thing I did learn from Simon was that if milk goes off at around 4C the bacteria species responsible for breaking down the milk produce a pretty horrid, sour milk which no one really wants to eat or drink but, if you store it at around 10C it will go off quicker and a different set of bacteria break down the milk and you can drink/eat it as it does not have the same horrid taste. Modern milk is far removed from the old local milk deliveries- hmmmmm! Not very sure about super dairies; would much prefer small, local dairy producers but they would need support from local people. Can’t believe milk is cheaper than mineral water, seems extremely odd.
Finally there was a bit of a jam session which lasted some time aided by, amongst other beverages, my homemade cider. It was pretty good (if I say so myself) and I have learned that if you use 10-20 % pear juice some of the sugar in the pear juice cannot be broken down into alcohol and therefore is about ten times sweeter then normal sugar, hence you can ferment the combined apple and pear juice completely yet still retain some sweetness.
Richard manages Emorsgate Seeds- so, if you want wild flower seeds he’s your man and he’ll sell you scythes to mow your meadow with once it’s established.
Got to take my hat of to this man- he actually does what I can only dream of doing. He works the land in a very ecological manner in South Wales see Dyfed Permaculture.