Bird Scaring Duty
Click on the audio bar opposite to hear Dennis Pepper talking about scaring the birds out the cherry orchards when he was a young boy.
It was a good thing to have big families in those days, particularly if you were farming because there was so much handwork and all the children were always brought in to help out as much as possible as well as uncles and aunts who used to come fruit picking and that sort of thing. Harvest time, of course, was the most important time of the year and there was always a lot of work to do but it really started in the Springtime with the hoeing and weeding and so on.
Even the children had quite a hard task in June and July whilst they were still at school. The whole family as soon as they were old enough, almost as soon as they could walk, took it in turns on a rota to go and scare the birds off the cherries. The only reward for that was that you could eat as many cherries as you could manage. We were hauled out of bed at five o’clock in the morning in turn every day of the week whilst the cherries were still on the trees. A lot were eaten by the birds so we had to go there until about eight o’clock when the first people turned up to start picking and then the responsibility was changed and we went back home, had our breakfast and went to school. This was a regular thing for two or three weeks while the cherries were vulnerable to being eaten by birds and there were lots of birds then believe you me. You think we’ve got quite a nice lot of birds round here at times but there were all sorts of birds.
We had all sorts of different devices and ways for keeping the birds off such as the old clappers like the Fair people used to have and there were all sorts of homemade devices for making noises plus a 12-bore, I don’t know if it was a 12-bore, it was a muzzle loading gun. We used to go to Royston to what used to be called Halsey and Kestrels on Market Hill and you could walk in there; I could when I was about twelve or fourteen years’ old and buy a pound of gunpowder in a cardboard box and we used to take it home. This is not necessarily only cherry time, we used to have all sorts of larks like splitting firewood and that sort of thing and blowing things up including ourselves nearly on one or two occasions.
I wouldn’t like to try and ride up the village on my bike now with my 12-bore strapped to the crossbar, I don’t think I would get very far before there was a police helicopter or something but it was common then and there were usually a couple of rabbits hanging on the handlebars and people were very pleased to have one.