Country Matters August 2020

Cereal Harvest

By The Hodge

‘Canaries, caged in the house, do it,

When they’re out of season, grouse do it.’

Cole Porter – ‘Let’s Do it, Let’s Fall in Love.’ 1928

August is the month when summer becomes over-blown and we actually get the urge to move into mellow-tinted autumn. The weather can be overbearingly hot and dry or humid and oppressive. Thunderstorms can arise to spoil the harvest or your day at the seaside. The wasps start becoming pests as their infant-minding duties come to an end and they become eager for a sugar rush, often to be found around a human with an ice-cream or a can of beer.

August is also the main month for the cereal harvest. As predicted in my last column, all evidence is that yields are severely down due to the weather patterns earlier in the year and farm incomes will suffer significantly. This will probably result in price increases later in the year for bread and cakes (wheat), beer and whisky (barley), cooking oil (oilseed rape) and other everyday grocery items; (not that I’m suggesting you buy a bottle of whisky every day but if you do you are certainly supporting the barley growers and the Scottish distillers, so well done).

What I have noticed is a huge crop of hard fruits – apples and pears – with branches weighed down to the ground with fruit and also a massive crop of blackberries, some of which have ripened already in July. As a child of the 40s in the countryside, it was unthinkable to let a crop of juicy, sweet berries go to waste and as children we feasted on the shiny, black fruits as well as picking baskets-full for pies and crumbles. Today’s generation of youngsters seem far more blasé but then, today sweets aren’t rationed so perhaps it’s easier not to go around with juice-stained fingers but call in to the shops instead. But parents, please remember, blackberries are full of vitamin C, are free and no child ever verged on becoming obese from eating the fruit of the briar.

August is also the traditional month for holidays but with the disruptions caused by the pandemic – schools being closed, workers furloughed, air travel curtailed – maybe you’ve had to revise your plans not once but many times. Perhaps you’ve decided to go back to a staycation with a bucket and spade and the uncertainty of the climate. Nobody bothers to watch the weather forecast in Greece or the Costa Brava in the summer months because it’s always the same but back in good old Blighty the weather just can’t be taken for granted so if you’re heading for Bognor or Blackpool or Brighouse, remember to pack your Wellingtons and some indoor games as well as your bikini and sunscreen.

Politicians also go on holiday in August and so it becomes, in news terms, the time for sensational stories and revelations to fill the space normally allocated to MP’s rantings and counter-rantings. Will 2020 and the extraordinary changes to our way of life so far this year result in anything different? We’ll just have to wait until September to see, won’t we. At least if you can afford it and find it, you can indulge yourself by eating grouse from the 12th onwards but do beware of the wasps….

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