One of my favourite pictures of my late mother is of her modelling ‘peasant-wear 1980’s style’ in the turkey-plucking shed. In those far-off days (pre-1990s) we’d prepare over 2,000 turkeys for London butchers. For many years we even supplied the butcher at Windsor that produced turkeys for the Queen to give to officers stationed at the castle over Christmas (the shop is now an ice-cream parlour I believe). Local hand-pluckers used to want the work and extra money for Christmas. How times change! The turkey-plucking shed is now devoid of feathers, radio and pre-Christmas chatter, these days Eastern Europeans pluck vast numbers by machine and nobody believes the old stories anymore…
Cyril (in the rear of the photo) was an engine driver on the railways who came to the farm in early December to pluck turkeys on his days off. He worked out of Kings Cross Station, London. His favourite journey was from the terminus, splitting from the main line at Hitchin and running up to Cambridge. Every year he’d ask if he could have a bag of wheat from the farm and we’d provide a sack-full thinking that maybe he had chickens in his back garden. One year he told us the purpose of the wheat: On his way through Ashwell towards Cambridge, Cyril would occasionally throw wheat from the cab of the train. On the way back he’d stop the train, climb down from the cab and pick up any dead pheasants from a local estate that subsequent trains had hit. Quite often angry commuters would wind down the window and in angry tones shout, “What’s the problem, Driver?” Cyril would shout back, “Sorry for the delay sir, something on the track!”
Cyril died suddenly, some years before retirement. He was a kind-hearted man with a cheeky grin and a wonderful way with a story. We still miss him and always remember him at this time of year.
© Baldock Bard 2013
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