In keeping with the trend for comparing any out-of-the-ordinary event with a similar one back in nineteen-canteen, I have been drawn into the “I mind when” or “its the worst since” frame of mind when it comes to weather.
What happened long ago can only have limited relevance to what is going on now, but it helps to pass the time.
Unless you are a dedicated collector of statistics, recalling any event from the past is almost certain to revert to the good/bad old days scenario.
There is no better example of this than the climate we routinely suffer and only occasionally enjoy when the weather fits neatly with whatever we want to do; a situation complicated by the diverse needs of different people.
This means in effect a bunch of people could be yearning for a fine sunny afternoon to play cricket on the village green while Farmer Giles leans on a gate viewing a crop of barley crying out for rain. You just can’t please everyone.
The vile weather of 2012 was extremely unpleasant but after a certain amount of heid-scartin’ and thought, many of us can recall similar years. At some time during my early teens in Kent, we had a corker of a wet summer and if you think rain in Scotland is bad, try your luck in the southeast with its English Channel-influenced climate.
If I remember correctly, the weather was largely blamed on superpowers letting off nuclear squibs. What price North Korea in those days?
As ever, the farmers bore the brunt of the unseasonal weather; wheat blackened to the point that harvesting the stuff was a waste of time, fields sat under water for weeks, the hop crop really suffered, and the soft fruit harvest was literally a washout.
In those days, my school holidays were largely spent working on a small market garden where summer tasks involved picking whatever produce survived the weather for overnight transport to markets in London town.
In years such as I have described, the market gardener would have a very lean time, his only salvation being the wide range of crops grown on the place, over as much of the year as possible.
We picked everything from strawberries to sprouts. A few porkers helped a lot as they consumed substandard fruit and vegetables, and they seemed to do very well.
One unusual hedge against a poor year was a line of old walnut trees. Some years there were hardly any walnuts, in others the place had a carpet of nuts dislodged by the first autumn gale that had to be gathered before mice and the occasional squirrel nabbed the lot. A day picking up fallen walnuts played hell with my back, so wherever possible I dodged that job.
There were years of abundance when everything seemed to come together perfectly. Often as not there was an element of luck, coupled with a due regard to weather patterns. My boss, Bill, seemed to have a lucky touch with his crops and was always ready to cash in on a glut of anything. Besides, Bill knew an awful lot about the weather and could accurately read the signs to forecast a good or bad summer.
In one lucky season when Victoria plums were hanging from the trees to the point of breaking the branches, The Archers had a bit of a saga about making plum jam and bottling fruit. The cynic in my soul tells me in long-term retrospect that a nationwide glut of plums maybe caused the ministry of something to request a bit of propaganda in The Archers to avoid seeing most of the crop go to waste.
Given that at 6.45pm every weekday, the country stopped what it was doing to listen in, any message reached a very big audience.
This was a stroke of luck as my fellow fruit pickers and I enjoyed an overtime bonus as we spent early mornings and late evenings harvesting plums, often in a haze of wasps; which wasn’t as bad as it would appear as the jaggy bummers had eyes only for a plum feast.
I have always enjoyed eating plums, but for a few weeks that year I couldn`t even bear the smell of them. We all moaned about the extra work although the money was handy, but it could have been a lot worse had the humble damson been the fruit in question. Being a very small fruit, picking a large basket of damsons is not merely time consuming, it is a trespass upon eternity.
So, in the week when I have dodged the showers to plant my early tatties, my optimism is rekindled for another season of weeds, backache, disappointment and, if I am lucky, some nice things to eat.
I suppose there is some form of philosophy to gardening in that gardeners largely attempt the growing miracle every year for the pleasure of doing so. Actually harvesting anything edible is a bonus, given the average flower grower rarely eats anything they grow.
The nearest I can get to green fingers is a couple of impact-blackened fingernails now and then, but as ever, if my gardening methods were good enough for my dad, and his dad before him, they will surely work for me..