One of the things we miss most at the moment is to be able to call in to one another, sit down, have a coffee and a nice chat. True, we are able to talk on the phone and see one another as we do so. Those of us with the technical know-how can even talk to and see several family members or friends at the same time on our computer or laptop. It's all a great advance in technology and a wonderful moment at a time of lockdown and self-isolation. But it isn't really the same as meeting our family and friends in person when we can give them a big hug and welcome them into the warmth of our home.
It set me thinking that in the days before television, telephones and all the modern gadgets we now enjoy, social contact was even more important to people. In Co Antrim, where I lived, the custom was to leave the back door on the latch so that neighbours could open it with a press of their thumb and drop in any time they liked.
Ours was a farming community and during the week some of our neighbours, mostly men, would come into the kitchen for a chat and a cup of tea. There was no coffee in those days.
There was no crime worth talking about either, so those who gathered around the stove would talk about the weather and the crops, hope spraying would prevent potato blight, pray for enough sunny days to ripen the corn, and wonder when the blue flowers would come upon the flax. They didn't call in every night of course, maybe once a week, for in the long, bright evenings of summer - the lull between sowing and saving - there were plenty of other things for the adults to do outdoors, plenty of hours in the day for young people like myself to get up to all kinds of mischief.
When harvest time came the talking was over - at least for a while - as it was the busiest time of the year and involved people of all ages. The grain crops had to be cut and the sheaves brought in for threshing, the potatoes dug and picked, the flax pulled and put in dams, the first stage in extracting the thread for linen. Then the dark nights of winter closed in around us and once a week the neighbours would call again as they had nothing else to do.
There was no television to watch, so on the nights when the neighbours weren't there, we played games like ludo and snakes and ladders, my mother might knit or read and my father might do a bit of carpentry in his workshed.
Exactly when my father and his friend and neighbour William Rodgers decided to build a cart to while away the winter, I don't know. I'm sure they talked a lot about it beforehand, but I doubt if they realised just how big an undertaking it was going to be, for it wasn't a go-cart they had in mind.
During the summer my friends and I enjoyed the days when William's horse Kate pulled the hay stacks in from the fields, the hay as my Uncle Arthur wrote in a schoolboy poem, ''webbing from bough to bough'' as we moved between the hedges of the lane.
At the end of the day Kate would be released from her harness and two or three of us would be helped up on to her back to ride her as far as the stable.
The cart used for drawing the hay was low and sloping and tipped up to enable the stacks of hay to slide on and off. The cart my father and William decided to make was a high-sided one with iron-rimmed wheels, a big lumbering affair that carried anything from turf to turnips.
The old one had fallen apart and construction of the new one began in a shed in William's inner yard.
My father was good at woodwork and he was helped by William's son Jack who was serving his time as a carpenter. William brought other talents to bear and taking their measurements from the old cart, there were endless calculations, sawing and bolting of wood. For the metal parts on the shafts they had to enlist the help of a blacksmith. I don't know who he was but would like to think he was from the forge in the nearby town of Ballymena. A big friendly man called Campbell, he could neither hear nor speak but had a smile that made up for both and a skill in shoeing Kate that never ceased to amazed us.
The blacksmith also made the iron rims or hoops for the wheels, but the assembly of the wheels themselves was another matter entirely. They needed a wheelwright for that, a man who could make and fit the spokes and all the other tricky parts. When that was done, a fire was lit in the yard and the rims laid on it until they had expanded enough to fit on to the wheels. They were then cooled with water so they would contract and hold all the wooden parts together. Tricky as I say, but then it was all tricky work for men who knew nothing about making a cart.
Having said that, they somehow managed to do it and when it was finished they painted it the traditional colours - the sides dark blue, the wheels and other parts a sort of orange. And there they had it. A winter's work and a brand new cart for Kate. Come spring she would pull the plough and draw the cart and life on the farm would begin as it always had done.
But before Kate could be backed between the shafts and harnessed up to her new cart, something else arrived on the farming scene. In fact, one of them arrived in the yard. Kate was brown, but because of its colour and size the new arrival was known as The Little Grey.
Described as the creation of the visionary Irish engineer Harry Ferguson, it was a tractor that suited small farmers like William down to the ground. He decided to buy one and now there was a new horse-power - the little grey mare, as we called it - to do all the ploughing and pulling.
Kate was put out to grass, the cart was left in the shed, and the men who gathered in our house had something else to talk about.
William's son Alfie has preserved the cart, treating the wood and repainting it as required, a reminder of the vision and hard work of the two men who built it - and of the changing times.