Day 6: 23 July 2004
Friday. I wake close to 6 o’clock with the remnants of a very, very weird dream – impossible to recount or describe – that I am sure can only have been brought on via an excess of lard.
It seems that I am not alone at still be sleepy after the night before. Atilla, himself, is having a lie-in, after he declares often that “I am very lazy”, and that that phrase, well, “It’s my favourite” (Attila #1). The tractor ride to the orchard soon shakes the remnants of any sleep from us, and by 6.30 we are warmed up and working with our scythes.
Most of the group head down to the lower, more open part of the orchard to finish off from yesterday. Helen, Jessica, Judy and I go with Imre to the top of he orchard and work beneath the old, twisted and knarled plum trees in the more orchardy part of the orchard. Prior to breakfast we are privy to Imre’s Scything Masterclass, wherein we learn how, when held correctly the upper, left hand should be close to the body and should not move much, but rather act as a pivet from which the scythe will move. The right hand meanwhile should be pushed forward, close to the ground, taking small, incremental cuts as you shuffle forwards. It’s also easier to cut grass when the dew is still fresh.
Another breakfast in the meadows and it occurs to me that this is how breakfast should be taken. Early, after an hours work, in the open field, enjoying real food. It’s marvellous.
After breakfast we return to our stations, and with what we have learnt before breakfast still fresh in our minds, Helen and Judy work downwards from where we were, whilst Jessica and I work around bushes and trees, and pushing slowly forward. Slowly, we put in place what we have learnt, and out of awkwardness comes something resembling skill. And when we get the scything action right, we know it, stroking the grass like paper, it cuts first time, and the sound – it sounds right.
Louise joins us after our next water-break, with pitchfork in hand, to work behind us, and turn and lay the cut hay to dry. The time between water-breaks is further broken up, by opportunities to catch our breath, as Imre patrols our sub-group, with his stone and water and his gentle mannerism of the word “Sharpen?”. And we release our scythe to him to be made ready for more cutting. The time between breaks becomes less, as the morning hour gets closer to noon, and the temperature rises. In searing temperatures we finish about twelve and head again, for home.
As I wait my turn to climb via beer crate and towing hook into the trailer, Imre ushers me into the passenger seat of the tractor. It becomes my job to toot on the horn as a warning to the others of overhanging trees. The position is not without danger though, for not once but twice do I look to my left to found a hornet perched in the corner of the window inches, from my face. The tractor door is swung open quickly and it flies off. A little later on, a huge, wild chicken plunges from the undergrowth in front of us, and waddles across the track in front of us.
Back in Gömörszőlős, I am second in the shower, and finish only just in time as Martin makes the call that ‘grubs up’. Chicken soup is followed by a dish of stewed lentils topped rather attractively by a fried egg.
After lunch, a siesta is put behind us for some, time for diary writing for others – Attila, Gabor and Francois are going to the organic farm to press redcurrants and make wine – and they invite us to watch. After Morgó’s attempts yesterday to run off with Louisa’s sandle, his aim this time is to make off with mine. He fails.
The press, old, and wooden is brought forward and remedial repairs are made to it, to get height, angles and leaks sorted. It is this preparatory work that take the longest time, for the pressing is done fairly quickly, into a large bucket.
Wandering back home, we find ourselves in need of a cup of tea. More precisely, a cup of peppermint tea. Ewan volunteers to make the first jug – which turns out to be a bit of a performance, seeings as the smell of peppermint tea brewing appears to have siren-like qualities at bringing out everyone from where they’ve been hiding, and demanding cups. It proves to be delicious – and a real winner – especially when served with a bit of local organic honey drizzled in.
Next up, it is time for felt making. Christine is our tutor, demonstrating to start off with the different things you can do with felt. She show’s us the ‘simple’ rug, to seamless oven gloves, to complicated sculptural models, explaining how whilst the raw wool is fragile and tearable, simply by adding soap, water and lots of rolling and rubbing, makes felt that is strong and untearable.
Then the process, which although Christine, does go through it in brief, is not fully explained until we are actually doing it. First you with a sheet of cloth down on the table you work out your design with bits of coloured wool, working in reverse like you’re going to do a print. Divided across three tables, whilst others work on abstract designs of colour, on my table, I work out a ‘shepline sheep’, Leonie creates a proud, important duck, and Zoë, a flower, whilst Jessica creates an abstract donkey.
With the designs complete, we get squares of fleece, taking two or three squares depending on the thickness, and arranging them in crossing directions on top of your design. Next you take soap and water, lather up and create bubbles, and drip onto the wool. Repeat this, and repeat again until totally covered. We then place our hands on the wool and press down very gently, gradually increasing the pressure. Repeating with soap we rub carefully and gently with our fingers until it no longer feels like wool, but, err … felty. We neaten up edges by pulling out the edges into thin strands and folding it back, rubbing it down, adding more soap where necessary until we have a good, straight edge.
To be ready for the next stage, the felt must not be too wet, and so we must press it out some more and mop up the excess. This can take some time, but eventually we are ready to roll. We roll it very tightly from one side and roll out 100 times. Unrolling it the felt is now washed out in warm water and add more soap by hand. We re-roll from a different side, and roll again for another 100 times. We wash out and the process is repeated for at least another cycles until all four directions have been rolled. The larger the felt, the more you have to roll it and my sheep takes 700 rolls in the end. Finally, near to 7 o’clock I put my felt out to dry on the verandah.
Dinner follows. A simple Hungarian dish of cabbage dumplings, which are surprising tasty. After dinner, Jessica retires to bed for an early night, whilst the rest of us set out of the village in the setting sun, on the 1 kilometre walk to the Slovak border. Following directions given to us by Attila, we break off up the hill to turn left at the sign and walk the 500m to the big oak tree. As it turns out when we arrive at the top of the hill, the sign points right not left, and although we are suspicious of this, we follow it’s directions. Walking down into the wood, to the accompaniment of mobile phones finding their signal, I talk writing with fellow-writer Louise, and we discuss our favourite books.
Halfway into the woods we decide it’s getting too dark. We head for home. At the signpost, we decide that it has been turned around, and in the last light of day, we set out quickly along the ridge. At least 500m further along the ridge we arrive at a point where the land slopes away down to a wood. Some of us think we can see the oak tree – 350 years old and the place where the poet Tompa sat 150 years ago and composed his lines – however the Slovak border running along the hills beyond is undeniable.
Returning home to our base at Gömörszőlős, we are about to head off to bed when Atilla invites us to the office to share in a few drinks and listen to some Hungarian folk music.
The office proves to consist of a fridge for beer, a cupboard lined with apples, a defunct gas cooker and four computers set up on desks and piled with papers, cds, monkey wrenches and junk. We also discover only three chairs, and second room whch contains five weaving looms and is devoid of light – Tamas having allegedly cut out the light fitting before he left… Why? Very strang…?
I settle on the floor, leaning on the fridge with a sleeping Shakira in my arms and write my journal. As I write down these events a couple of days later on Sunday night, she leaps up suddenly and lands in my lap, purring loudly, and intent to check my work thoroughly…!
Day Seven: Scything till noon, cycling in the summer sun, and eating mulberries off the tree…