At Christmas the village children always came in small gangs to sing, or rather chant, a peculiar and very ancient seasonable greeting:
“I wish you a
merry Christmas and a happy New Year,
A pocket full of money and a cellar full of beer,
A good fat pig to last you all the year.
May God bless all friends near!
A merry, merry Christmas and a happy New Year.”
“Last week came one to the
To preach our poor little army down.”
Though machinery has lightened the labour of manual workers to some extent, it entails much more trouble upon masters and foremen, for breakages are frequent and always occur at the busiest time. What with mowers, reapers, thrashing machines, chaff-cutters, root-pulpers, and grain-mills run by steam-power or in connection with horse-gears; hop-washers, separators, and other delicately adjusted novelties, the master must of necessity be something of a mechanic himself. I doubt if machinery is really quite the advantage claimed by theorists and reconstructionists at the present day. Even the thrashing machine, universally adopted, presents disadvantages in comparison with the ancient flail, generally regarded as obsolete, though still to be found in occasional use by the smallholder or allotment occupier. In former times the farmer reserved his thrashing by hand, for the most part, for winter work during severe frost or wet weather, when nothing could be done outside. The immense barns, which still exist, were filled almost to the roof at harvest; thatching was not necessary, and every sheaf was absolutely safe from rain as soon as it was under cover. Continuous winter work was provided for the men, and a daily supply of fresh straw for chaff-cutting and bedding, besides fresh chaff and rowens or cavings for stock throughout the winter. With the thrashing machine in use for ricks, thatching is a necessity, and is often difficult to arrange in the stress of harvest; the machine and engine demand a day’s work for two teams of horses to fetch them, and the cartage and expense of much coal, now so dear. On a small farm extra hands have to be engaged, the straw has to be stacked or carried to the barns, and the same applies to the chaff and rowens. If the weather is damp, straw, chaff, and rowens get stale, mouldy, and unpalatable to the stock, a heavy charge is made for the hire of the machine and the machine men, and the latter require food and drink or payment instead. The machine breaks and bruises many grains of corn, which are thereby damaged for seed or malting, whereas the less urgent flail leaves them intact.
The sound of the thrashing machine gives an impression to outsiders of brisk and remunerative work, but it is cheerful to the farmer only when high prices are ruling. Far otherwise was it for many years before the War, when corn-growers heard only its moaning, despondent note, telling anything but a flattering tale, only varied by an occasional angry growl, when irregular feeding choked its satiated appetite.