So much – so far – for forecasts of an appalling November after what must have been one of the best November weekends in living memory, carrying on into the early days of this week.
As always, of course, there is the chance that the weather will take a turn for the worse between time of writing and time of reading, but on a morning of light frost turning to sunshine and blue sky it’s hard to believe that heavy snow, as forecast by some for later in the month, is on the way.
Those forecasters do not include the Met Office. After several long-range, headline-grabbing, forecasts proved to be badly wrong in recent years – that “barbecue summer” will probably take as long to live down as Michael Fish’s famous “Hurricane – what hurricane?” – the Met Office confines its public announcements to the short term.
However, that leaves the field open to enthusiastic amateurs and their horror forecasts that have had the publicity that bad news always gets in preference to good. Many of these forecasts, it seems to me, are based on the fact that we had one of the worst winters on record last time, so why not suggest we’ll get more of the same?
I’ve also heard frequent references to the abundance of hedgerow and garden berries as an indicator of a hard winter to come. Sceptics who try to point out that plants react to weather that has been, not weather that is to come, don’t get the same hearing.
I suppose it’s only one more example of the human ability to believe in two contradictory ideas at the same time that some people believe hawthorn bushes can predict the weather, while accepting that the unseasonal behaviour of plants in the past month or two can only be due to weather we’ve had.
In gardens, that unseasonal behaviour includes roses flowering again, and again, summer rasps and strawberries trying to produce more fruit, clematis flowers reappearing, bushes in bud, and much more. In fields, I thought briefly that the remarkable weather had brought some oilseed rape into flower, but closer inspection showed that the bright yellow belonged to a thriving crop of runches (wild charlock.) Unseasonal, certainly, and unwelcome, but eye-catching.
Not only has weather been unseasonal for much of this year, but it has been localised and variable. National weather reports suggest that the west has had less rain than usual, and the east more. But in the Borders, it seems the east has been drier than the central parts for some time.
The results of that are showing up in patchier crops in the central Borders where establishment in wetter soils has been more difficult, though in oilseed rape crops that patchiness is probably also caused by the march of the slugs. Mild, damp-to-wet weather, has been ideal for slugs to breed and eat crops, almost regardless of the amount of slug pellets farmers have been applying. A few weeks of savage frosts and snow might help, but who wants that again?
It would be good to think that the plethora of cookery programmes on television in the past 20 years and the army of celebrity chefs active have improved our eating habits and given us more appreciation of home-produced fresh food compared with processed food, ready meals and takeaways.
On a good day, I think they have. On others, seeing the packaging litter of takeaway meals on roads, looking at some trolleys full of biscuits, fizzy drinks, ready meals and other junk in the supermarket or seeing a tradesman take a lunch break of pie in a roll, followed by crisps and a chocolate biscuit, I wonder.
A report last week that suggested the average diet in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is still poor – I always include the north of England when the Scottish diet is discussed – and a big contributory factor to a number of health problems including obesity. For many people it’s as if Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and other evangelists for healthy food, and the “five a day” campaign have never been.
James Withers, until recently chief executive of NFU Scotland, now chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, suggested that a possible way forward is to focus on the quality and diversity of home-grown Scottish produce and make it more accessible to consumers: “Rather than propagating negative regional stereotypes in the media, shouldn’t we support local food and drink producers to widen the market reach of their products?”
Good try. The trouble with stereotypes is that they can be uncomfortably close to the mark, as anyone who has been in a café and heard a family order with the trademark “chips – nae salad”, can testify. There is also, in these difficult times, cost. Fresh food from a farmers’ market might be healthier than jumbo packs from a frozen-food store, but it will cost more and take more time to prepare.
There’s also the old saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. We can preach fresh, home-grown, healthy, five-a-day, for as long as our strength holds out, but there’s no guarantee a large section of the population will ever listen.