Friday, 31 August 2012

Tunbridge Wells Festival

Last Sunday I was sitting in the middle of the street in central Tunbridge Wells spinning, much to the curiosity of the general public. No, I hadn't gone completely mad, I was taking part in Tunbridge Wells Festival

This festival is a new event started by Stephen Mason, a local businessman and Chief Executive of Trinity Theatre in Tunbridge Wells. Profits go to a number of local charities, notably Hospice in the Weald. Some of the roads were closed to make way for the many attractions, there were craft stalls, a stage with live performances, street entertainers and fairground rides for the children. 

Having a niche business, I don't do many general events but I decided to support the Tunbridge Wells Festival. We were fortunate with the weather, the day before it poured and I was rather worried but on Sunday the sun shone and the crowds came out. 

I had a lovely day, sitting in the street spinning. A couple of small dogs took fright at the movement and a few children thought it would be fun to grab the turning wheel. Many people who stopped for a chat had never seen a spinning wheel in action. There were the usual reactions: 'how do you sew on that?' 'is that a spinning jenny?' 'look at that lady knitting!'

I was spinning a silk/baby camel blend and I heard many parents carefully explaining to their children that this was sheep's wool. Note to self, when spinning in public - stick to wool. 

I haven't spun much silk, the next day my hands felt puffy, does anyone else find spinning silk hard on the hands? What reactions do you get when you practice your craft in public?

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Joel Barton Sets New UK 9 Hour Lamb Shearing Record

On Saturday 4th August after a few hours sleep I blundered out of bed at 2.30 in the morning. Why? To witness Joel Barton's attempt at a new UK 9 Hour Lamb Shearing Record. He was starting at 5.00am and I wanted to be there.

When I arrived at Walter House Farm, Woodchurch near Ashford, Kent, there was an atmosphere of quiet tension. No one was rushing, no one was talking much, everyone was intensely focused on the final preparations.

Preparing the lambs is a highly skilled job in itself. Shearers had worked through the night dagging the lambs to the strict requirements of the rules. Only an area over the tail the size of a man's fist is allowed to be shorn in advance. This means the lambs have full belly wool and, being Romney lambs which carry a lot of wool, wool between the teats and up the legs. In competition shearing, the sheep are sheared in front of the teats so the shearers can go flat out. Record attempts are supposed to reflect the shearer's normal day at work so he still has to contend with all the fiddly bits.

Three judges were there from the British Isles Shearing Competitions Association (BISCA): Charles Fuggle from East Sussex, Arwyn Jones form Wales and George Graham from Ireland. The judges ensure the record attempt complies with the strict rules. They monitor the quality of the shearing and any injuries to sheep. Quality and animal welfare are not sacrificed to speed and numbers. If the shearing is not up to standard or sheep are being injured then the judges will stop the attempt.

The day was structured with military precision. At 5.00am Joel Barton dragged the first lamb out of the pen. He sheared for 2 hours, losing less than 10 seconds between lambs. Every 15 minutes he paused to change the cutter and gulp a drink but these pit stops lasted maybe only 20 seconds. After 2 hours shearing, Joel had done 119 lambs. Then there was a hour break for breakfast.

The rest of the runs lasted 1 hour 45 minutes each, with breaks in between. This pattern reflects a normal shearing day. In the second run, Joel sheared 110 lambs, then 106, 102 and finally 100. When the attempt started, everyone stayed quiet, afraid of distracting Joel. I switched the flash off on my camera in case it disturbed him. Joel had his music playing and he was in the zone. 

As the day wore on and more people arrived to watch the audience took on the job of shouting encouragement. There was a countdown to the 500th lamb, with lambs being shorn in around 54 seconds each it was hard to keep track. Joel sheared his 500th lamb at 4.22pm.

He needed to shear 522 to break the record, with less than 40 minutes to go and the record not yet broken we shouted Joel down the last side of each lamb. I can't begin to imagine the pain he must have been in by then. At 4.45pm, with 15 minutes left Joel broke the record. Joel finished at 5.00pm. The new record: 537 lambs shorn in 9 hours.

I took my spinning wheel but I had to give up spinning for the last hour - it was way too exciting!

I estimate Joel sheared about 430kg of wool in the 9 hours. He filled a woolsack an hour:
It only took Joel 3 hours to shear all this wool
Joel has a Just Giving Page, money raised will go to the British Heart Foundation.  

I am gradually adding photos from the day to Flickr, I have several hundred to sort through, so it may take a while. You can see the pictures here.

Friday, 3 August 2012

UK 9 Hour Lamb Shearing Record

In less than 12 hours Joel Barton from East Sussex will attempt to set a new UK 9 hour lamb shearing record. Currently the record is held by Roy Collier who sheared 521 lambs in 9 hours on 27 August 2011 in Knockrobin, Co Wexford, Ireland. 

Tomorrow's attempt is taking place at Woodchurch, near Ashford, Kent. Joel Barton has been a professional shearer for seven years. He first started shearing when he was a student at Plumpton College. Joel has been training for the event for the last year.

Joel will be shearing Romney lambs. He will start at 5am and finish at 5pm. Joel will shear for two hours, then take a break. After that he will shear in 1hour 45 minute runs with breaks in between ( a run is a period of time when a shearer shears continuously without stopping, during each run Joel will be looking to lose less than 10 seconds between lambs). This work pattern reflects a normal working day for a shearer. A normal working day for Joel would be eight hours actual shearing broken down into four runs. 

 Supporters have traveled from as far away as Scotland and even New Zealand to assist Joel. Behind the scenes, a team of around 15 people will be making sure everything runs smoothly. The back up team have the vital job of ensuring a constant supply of lambs and taking care of the equipment. The record attempt will be closely monitored by officials from the British Isles Shearing Competitions Association.

Tomorrow I will be reporting on Joel's progress via Twitter @Romneyteg. 

In the meantime here is video coverage of  Roy Collier setting the current record.