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Mud On the Road

Coming to this page in 2017: the perils of loose cows and my expert advice on how to break down in multi-storey car parks, nurture your tiger worms, survive your inner poet, manage your alter egos and wear your black rimmed spectacles with pride. Plus, shaggy dog stories, boxer dog stories and the appalling state of the nation's teeth.

Unripen At Home

Unripening At Home


Apple picking at The Leckford Estate
   I can't see the morning mists of September without being  reminded of the fortnight I spent picking apples a few years ago in the orchards of the nearby Leckford Estate - Mother ship and HQ of the mighty Waitrose.

     I was paid as a piece worker - per filled crate of apples, approved and ticked off by our gang master - though I don't think she called herself that.

     For the life of me, I can't remember the exact pounds and pennies per crate, but I do know it was considerably less than the minimum wage and that it took me two and a half days to get up to the kind of speed and rhythm by which I could fill more than one crate in an hour and thereby hope to make the desired £6.20 - or whatever the minimum wage was back then - for my 60 minutes of non-stop labour.



     Of course, there were several pickers - students mostly - who could pick so fast they could fill a crate and a half in a single hour and so earn somewhat more.

     The experience of picking was wholly physical and, though extremely hard work, never actually gruelling, not least because my stint there was only finite and for fun and the rewards of working very hard in the great outdoors of rural Hampshire, in September, are many.

    If my memories of those two weeks are still vivid I think it must be because picking those Cox apples was such an intensely sensory experience. The downsides of working through a chill wind with cold rain funnelled down the back of your neck or grabbing a handful of spider instead of apple,  or being stung by a wasp and bitten by flies, are more than compensated for by the  smells of the orchard, the sudden appearance of the  sun and even the sound of rain falling on the leaves of the trees.

     One evening, like a mirage, a large guinea fowl appeared suddenly in my row. We regarded each other thoughtfully for a while. Then I blinked and the bird was gone.

     I learned to lock down my brain, to bar any and all distractions, to focus entirely on the task at hand, otherwise my hands would slow and fumble as my mind wandered.

     I picked alone and I can't say there was much in the way of camaraderie with other pickers. Instead, I learned a great deal about the Gap Year escapades of various 19 year olds, all loud, all confident, all about to start their fresher terms at university; all brimming with hopes and dreams and ambition. And sex and drugs and rock and roll.


All saying 'like' a lot.

*****

     Closer to home this September, Shedley and I have contemplated planting an apple tree to replace the apple tree we guiltily cut down to build the man shed. Sadly we don't think there is an area big enough and sunny enough.

     The apple tree we sacrificed was scrunched up in an ugly and slightly scary corner of the garden against a breeze block wall which retains the higher neighbouring land on two sides.

     It's a space which had 'shed' written all over it - especially as the shed it replaced occupied a brighter and far more inviting space which enjoys the last rays of the evening sun long after the rest of the garden is thrown into shade. That's now the choice spot to sit in throughout the summer. So thank you dead tree.

     That murdered tree did surprising well in the ugly corner and the apples it produced were delicious: juicy and crunchy and, like the admen say, 'bursting with flavour'.

     Dammit, they were tasty those apples - neither too tart nor too sweet. And good looking too - they looked like apples should look - a blush of pink lifting the green and skin which was not too thick or rubbery to chomp into but light and fragrant and crisp.

     We have no idea what the variety was - only that we'd never tasted it before, have not tasted it since and probably never will again.

   *****

     English strawberries were great and abundant this summer but so much of the fruit on sale - and I mean from markets and small grocers as well as the supermarkets - has been overpriced and disappointing: apples that look and feel edible turn out to have all the texture of wodgy polystyrene and taste twice as bland; pears remain hard and dry; oranges are somehow nearly always on the turn and as for soft summer fruit like peaches and nectarines....

     This was the summer in which Shedley and I embarked upon the great Ripen at Home adventure. This involved a return journey to that fraught and landlocked country known as Tesco and the selection and purchase of fruit that is Not Yet Ready To Eat. Usually four or five peaches in a punnet. Probably for a pound or two.

     These are 21st Century peaches of course - the ones with the velvet furry skin are evidently a dream I had in childhood.

     The idea of Ripen At Home seems to be that you place your  fruit, let's say peaches, in the fruit bowl and sit back and wait or a few days and then, at some indeterminate, unspecified  moment,  decide that the peaches have attained peachy perfection, pluck them from the bowl and experience the heavenly  assault which is a perfect peach: the distinctive honey flavours, the exploding juices, the oh-so soft but biteable flesh.

     In reality, as Tesco and their peers must know full well, it doesn't quite work like that. In reality it's a bit of a con. Or even a rip-off.

     For one thing, there's the fidget-prodding and finger-poking of the fruit in the run-up to ripening, an activity which bruises and wounds the flesh; then there's the, 'Oh well I'll just try one to see if they're ready,' which they never are; and for another, the climactic conditions of the fruit bowl differ markedly from one corner of the kitchen to another, never mind from one household to another.

     Back in July we had one successful punnet over which we obsessed. We undertook to monitor but never to touch the fruit for a full two days. We banned all other fruit from the fruit bowl. We placed the fruit bowl under a window, well away from heaters and cookers and kettles and water, in the warmth of the sun but not in direct sunlight. We maintained strict insect surveillance and an operated a Swat to Kill policy on all incoming flies.

      On Day Three we ate the peaches. In the space of about five minutes. They weren't that big after all. But God were they good. We had a brief fight over the fifth one before deciding to split it.

     The success of this single punnet was to prove fatal: we were so encouraged  by the triumph of our Ripening At Home adventure we became smug and complacent. We boasted to our friends about our ability to Ripen Fruit At Home:

      'Peaches? Oh yes. We Ripen Ours At Home don't you?'.

     On the basis of those five peaches we began to carry on as if we had not merely taken it in turns to watch them ripen in the bowl on a two hour rotational basis, but had somehow nurtured and persuaded them into an all too brief but ecstatic expression of their peachy selves; had even, perhaps, planted, grown and plucked them from their tree.

      On the back of those five peaches we spent pounds and pounds and pounds on the promise of more perfect fruit only to be dismayed and often disgusted, days later, by the non-event of withered balls tasting of wool.

     By which time it seems a bit late to ring customer service and ask for your money back....


26.09.2013
Apple Picking for Beginners


This is your crate - you won't be paid for it until it's been inspected and approved as being full. 
Glorious Cox apples - you need long arms


This tree's a pollinator - you don't pick these


They look and are delicious but you won't have time to eat them - well, ok,  maybe just the odd one


Grown on the Leckford Estate owned by Waitrose, in Leckford, Hampshire,  - destined, I guess, for the shelves of Waitrose



Straw under each tree


This row is nearly done


A blurry apple spider

No Number 155 - still not quite full

   


Poor, kind Mrs Harris
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