Driving over to Dorchester for my scything training course, a scene in Blackadder 2 comes to mind,
Nursie: My brother cut his toes with a scythe and his foot fell off!
Well yes, Ha Ha. But I am mindful of a certain sharpness when it comes to scythes after all they can hardly be blunt when standard practice is to sharpen them-how often was it? -every nine minutes.
So here am I with Andrew and other scythers under the tutorial eye of Clive Leeke who is with us for the day. First we go through the pieces of the scythe the staff or snath, the blade and how to put the two together. Then comes the sharpening stone and its case with water for lubricant and attached to your belt. Whetstone? This scythe is the Austrian scythe not the much heavier English one and now mostly to be found on a pub wall. Prince Charles is reported to on occasion put his hand to an Austrian scythe for the wild flower meadow at Highgrove.
We swish and sway slightly bending the knees with a straight back careful not to raise the blade at the end of each stroke. We try our skill on nettles-lovely sound, on rough grass- more of a hacking motion, on thicker stems taking care to cut these in the angle of the blade and snath.
Later we are introduced to the peening process. This is when you use a peening hammer and a metal ‘dolly’ (the generic term for any thingummyjig bit of kit) to whittle out some metal from the blade to flatten out a nick or a piece of uneven edge. Mmm, I suggest peen could come from the Latin ‘poena’ ‘punishment’ but my dictionary suggests Latin ‘pinna’ or point. No doubt Wim will tell me ‘peen’ is carrot in Dutch. Well I expect you can cut carrots with a scythe, the tops anyway.
So we scythe away and it is tiring but rewarding work and ‘any resemblance between me and Ross Poldark is purely co-incidental’ I tell a stopping- to- watch passer-by.
The image of Old Father Time with horn lantern and a scythe is a powerful one buried deep in our folk lore and tradition. The Grim Reaper. But why the scythe, harvesting souls, cutting through the years, those swept aside and those waiting their turn? Well my research says we are talking about Chronos, the Greek god of time and chronometers and there is a convoluted legend about Greek gods, sickles, various foul deeds, castrations etc so let us move swiftly on.
Swiftly on as this is the last of my present reflections on Green Gymerry in its manifestations pondering on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ and the ‘if’ of our diurnal pursuits in the al fresco of South Oxon.
After all, it is my wont to muse……………………………………………………………………………..
Note from Wim:
Peen is most likely derived from the Scandinavian “Pinne” which is a word used to point out a pointy object. Carrots are pointy too of course.