“They creep along the hedgerows, waiting for unsuspecting greedy birds. They run at the birds, cawing and flailing their limbs. The birds fly away.” – from “The Efficacy of the Scarecrows on the Modern Farm” (1984)
Each scarecrow is named for their place of residence and their ownner/maker. So the hessian sackhead in the great field of Hamble’s Farm, Cleobury Mortimer became known as Hamble’s Great Cleobury. They have rustic yet grand names, so befitting their status, the venerable tradition of the work they do.
It was Dilwyn Brook Thatcher who first crept from his static spot mid-field to the edges. Under the shade of a plum tree he watched the birds and learned their ways. Before long Old Fred Fallow Chackmore had grown voice, a creak and a crack but it came until at last he could squawk.
Shackleton Square Hathersage got organised, he educated and advised, he brought stealth to the scarecrow and technique. Iolo Bryn Llangeitho was the chair of the Scarecrow Committee and brokered the deal with farmers for better living conditions, frequently replenished straw bellies and carrots for noses, that kind of thing. The farmers, impressed, more than duly obliged and word spread that the scarecrow should be best respected. Whilst some were better than others, the farmers gave ample supplies and each took great pride in caring for their trusty scarecrow.
Bardny Spring Bob bucked the trend and instead of flapping and scaring took up trapping and catching what birds he could. Catching birds is hard, which made the rewards all the greater and few scarefolk could resist such a thrill. This, as scare-history tells it, is the beginning of what would be the end of the scarecrow.
Many lay claim to seeing Hunnerd-acre Clark Muchelney catch a crow, which is not an easy task for a someone made of sticks and sackcloth, and eye-glinting, stuff the bird into his mouth-shaped orifice. The blood of a still live thing is the brightest red and this became quickly a soughtafter thing, like silver to a magpie.
Evans Meadow Rhoose was the first caught out of his vicinity and in town, where terrified shoppers watched him madly profess his love to a disinterested pillar box.
Harris Wood Crundale was caught in the grain store, a guilty look on his face and fur all about him, and Trixy the farm cat, a good little ratter, nowhere to be seen. This was bad news for all scarefolk. The farmers, it seemed, were attached to their cats.
Some made small gestures, Tindall Airlie Shortfield went back to her post and promised not to hop off’t again. These avowals were short-lived. The scarefolk had a taste for blood. Some farmers conceded it was better that the crows were caught and ate, rather than having full fare of their crops. But other farmers worried, what next – this time a cat, next up a lamb, a calf?
A cull was begun. A merciless and regretful hunt, with scarecrows on the lam all over the nation. Often in used tweed and dark clothes, they were well-hid in woodland and brush and many farmers gave up once a scarecrow was chased off their own land.
Other farmers were not so lucky. Yerbury Clay Pewsey was the first to bite the hand that made him. Short of teeth he made up for it in jaw strength and tenacity and old man Yerbury almost bled to death from the chunk missing out of his wrist.
After this the military got involved, SAS, groundforces sweeping the countryside. Scarefolk were flushed into cities and taken down by armed police or brave townies more suited to the art of defence than their country cousins.
For shame, older scarecrows handed themselves in, stumbling back into the farmyards that had once been home to their glorious tradition, standing with dignity in front of farmers’ loaded shotguns. Others went out screaming, their rasping last shrieks echoing across the countryside and vexing all who heard. Farm people who, as children, had painted-on smiles and stuffed sacks and tied sticks to make these once noble bodies, were now locked in houses, peering out of windows, listening for the cries of the scarefolk at night as they were picked off, one by one.
You never forget a scarecrow. Each farmer knows which is where. Down to the last, Harley Windy Warningcamp. This ancient and diligent sentry had stood in his field by the woods for almost three decades. He’d given little shrift to the new ways of working. He’d skulked about the hedges a bit, but without much enthusiasm and he barely caught a bird all his days. He was bound to his pole, by duty and honor (and previously string). And that’s where Hobbs found him, back on his pole, head hanging, humiliated by his race. Hobbs had worked on the farm since a boy and Harley Windy Warningcamp and been there even then. With great sorrow the farm manager cocked his rifle, raised it to the smudgy face of the scarecrow. Hobbs apologised to the old gent and pulled the trigger.
And that’s why you don’t see scarecrows any more.