THE “glorious twelfth” of August means different things to different people. When we were lads it meant that, weather permitting, we would almost certainly have started harvest and would be cutting oats with the self-binder and setting up the sheaves in stooks or, as we would call them, “attocks”.

Now, the days of the binder are gone and short-strawed varieties of grain have been specially bred to be harvested by the combine harvester. The short straw means the crop will stand for the combine whereas the older varieties would often go down, almost flat at times, thus making it difficult for the binder to cut. Under these conditions the ears of corn would tend to “sprut”; that is they would sprout and grow making the crop, as they would say, “the very devil to harvest”.

Crops of corn that were harvested with the binder were cut under ripe so that the grain would ripen in the stook. With oats, the straw would have a slight tinge of green so that, hopefully, it would have a higher feeding value and also be more palatable. How different are the modern crops grown to be combined, for they are cut only when dead ripe.

As far as I know the only crops harvested by the binder these days are a small acreage of wheat specially grown for straw needed for thatch. There are still a number of thatched roofs on houses and buildings in some parts of the country so I suppose growing some wheat where you can sell the straw for thatching could be reasonably profitable.

When you think about it the combine harvester has done away with the need for straw that would have been used for thatching stacks because, as it threshes the corn as it is cut, you don’t build stacks anymore and so there are no corn stacks needing thatch. And, as nobody builds haystacks anymore, there are none of them to thatch either.

I don’t want to give the impression that wheat straw was the only material used for thatching, it wasn’t, but it was the most popular, with professional thatchers deeming it the best.

Because we had long lengths of wide ditches where tall reeds grew in proliferation, we used to cut them using long-polled scythes and tie the stems into bundles. They could be up to six feet long, although you had to be careful as the longer the stems were, the more likely they were to snap and then they had to be discarded. Once you had learned the basics, thatching was a pleasant job, but it meant you spent most of your time high up on ladders and I don’t think I would like that today.

Although the “Glorious Twelfth” meant harvest for us lads, it is, of course, famous as being the start of the grouse shooting season. I suppose it still happens today, but I understand that on the “Twelfth” it was always a race to get the first grouse of the season from the moors of northern England onto the dinner tables of top London hotels.

Now here is a thing that has always puzzled me: It was claimed that before they were really ready for cooking, grouse should be hung until maggots dropped out of them. The term was “when they were really high”. So in this race to get them onto some of the top London tables, they wouldn’t be able to be properly hung when they were just talking about hours. So, according to some folk, that must mean the early ones might be first but those that are given time to hang will be the best.

Mind you, if I was in London and grouse was on the menu, I would go for the roast beef. British of course!

Dialect word: Hingin – meaning gate hinge.

Thought for the day: A little girl was visiting her aunt who offered her some left over fragments which she politely declined. “Why dear” said her aunt “Don’t you like turkey?” “Only when it’s new” replied the niece.