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Cards and Scythes - June 2023

The insane US war grinds on in the Ukraine where the outcome is extremely uncertain. France is in the throes of massive civil discontent where the outcome is extremely uncertain. The World Health Organisation continues its mission of world domination where the outcome is extremely uncertain. That's enough of the world news for the moment. I want to talk about two other subjects nearer home – the Scottish scything festival (near Blairgowrie) and the great value of teaching children to play card games.

Card Games

I had an interesting conversation with one of my old self-sufficiency students the other day. She's bringing up her young son and we talked about the educational value of “game” to prepare children for the challenges of an uncertain world. I've had a good deal of experience after raising 7 children and a bevy of grandchildren. We are going to make a short book to help parents/adults take on this idea. Here's the opening doggerel. More will follow soon.


All wise adults who know what's best

Know life's a “game” and not a “test”

The best laid plans of mice and men

May have results beyond our ken

The cosmic world has a sense of humour

That's really true, not just a rumour

So when our kids are learning stuff

The boring skills of school are not enough

To read and write is good it's true

But for lessons in life they don't give a clue

The fates can move in mysterious ways

So expecting the un-expected always pays

We can't control the whims of fate

The acts of those we may love or hate

The fickle tricks of the living world

The path of history whether straight or curled

We live in nature's strange embrace

amid great inventions of the human race

But how can we help our kids do well?

So in all trials of life they may excel

They need to learn that life's not fair

To dance with chance without a care

Some days you win but sometimes lose

It's no-one's fault so don't get the blues

The answer lies in their early years

If they can win or lose but shed no tears

In childhood games in small back-yards

or when you mirror life by playing cards

Perhaps around a table or on green baize

Such fun by the fire on short winter days

The Scottish Scything Festival

The Scottish scything festival is always an interesting affair. There were probably 40 or 50 people this year at the even well organised by Rob Brodie. We all had a lovely day with many interesting conversations and the swapping of information and ideas. Yet again I felt there was quite a “culture war” between those (the great majority) who absolutely swear by the wonders of their modern “supermarket” Austrian scythes versus the more traditional minority with their Scottish or A frame scythes.

The supermarket scythes are easy to send by post (hence their popularity with those who sell them) - they are very long and light weight with easy bolt on handles and blade bolted on but without a stay between blade and snaith. The supermarket scything folk have almost a cult belief in the tiresome and skilful process of “peening” - they use a small portable anvil and little hammer to “peen” the edges of their blades in the belief that it makes them sharper with a more long-lasting edge. “Peening” is a well-known technique used in complex metallurgy to reduce the danger of microscopic cracks which might cause catastrophic failure in highly stressed castings (like aircraft undercarriage for example). The surface of these castings is blasted with small ball bearings which effectively hammer out any tiny hairline cracks. Hammering metal makes it become very hard and brittle because the crystalline structure is just bashed out to leave a jumbled un-flexible (not springy) result.

So, although “peening” these blades may make the edge a little bit harder and thinner, it also (sadly) makes an edge brittle and prone to cracking if you hit a stone, wire or tree stump. It's much safer, easier and quicker to use the superb modern hard spring steel blades just as they come from the factory and keep them sharp with a whetstone every 5 minutes.

One gets a strong feeling at these events that the “A” frame scythe folk are treated as something like outcasts because they don't peen and regard the supermarket scythes are simply much too fragile and difficult to wield. You need something shorter and stronger if you are cutting tough stuff like thistles, nettles, bracken, docks, brambles, blackthorn suckers, etc. etc. - which you usually are. It’s pretty obvious when you see the folk trying to cut tough stuff with these supermarket scythes that they have a hard time. They can’t get much leverage because of the long but feeble handle design and the cut material is always getting caught up behind the end of the blade because there is no stay to collect it. When I show them how my A frame scythe cuts so easily, tight to the ground and carrying all cut material effortlessly to the left on the stay they are certainly amazed. “Wow” they exclaim - “that looks so easy!” But of course, they will not for one moment admit they might be making a mistake! Those (and there are some) who want to buy one of my “A” frame scythes (or even try one) generally do it in secret whispers so they don’t face criticism from the converted. I gave out plenty of the leaflets and sold one scythe, one sharpening stone and one Complete Book.

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