Readers of my blog will remember that there is a field along the lane which has been planted with half oats and half barley. When I passed it on my walk yesterday it had still not been harvested, although they both looked very ripe - the barley a pale cream and the oats a deep gold. The reason it has not yet been cut is undoubtedly the weather. All week it has been sunshine and very heavy showers. Today it is cold, cloudy and very windy. But sooner or later the corn will all be cut and gathered in and it will be time for Harvest Festivals. Very tame affairs these days, when most people are not even aware of harvest taking place, but in Victorian times, and earlier, everyone in village life was involved in one way or another with harvest - and it was vital that the harvest was in before the bad weather in those days before modern machinery and grain driers.
Allow me to take you back to around 1946 in the Lincolnshire village where I grew up. Sorry folks, but it is nostalgia time again - do hope you will forgive me!
A Saturday in late September.
The weather is still, warm and sunny with a strong hint of Autumn in the air (well, come on, it is always warm and sunny in one's memories). I am thirteen or so and am up early gathering together produce to take in the wheelbarrow to the chapel just down the road - we are all meeting at ten am.
First, round the garden with the scissors to snip off the michaelmas daisies - they grow like weeds round here so there is no shortage. Then into the barrow go the conkers I gathered earlier in the week - shiny brown nuts still inside their splitting spiny green shells. Dad has nurtured his two best marrows. He cuts them with his knife and mother is on hand to wash and polish them, so that the green and yellow stripes sparkle in the sunlight. Half a dozen of our best potatoes, the ones with red "eyes" will have been washed and carefully dried - they go in too, along with our best tomatoes from the greenhouse, six brown eggs laid that morning, Bramley apples from our old tree - polished until they shine.When the barrow is full to overflowing I push it along the street to the chapel - only a few yards away.
Our chapel had a wooden dado all round the walls and a set of choir stalls in the corner. Already someone has stretched string all along the tops and we are soon pushing Michaelmas daisies into the string with bits of ivy trailing down here and there.
On the big trestle table in front of the altar someone has stretched a gleaming white damask cloth and now they are arranging all the produce. There are cabbages, scrubbed carrots, plenty of marrows, tomatoes, pots of jam made that year. Soon the table is groaning under the weight and the surplus is spread around the chapel - apples, pears and conkers are arranged along the pulpit rail. We do this every year and it makes for an exciting time at the Sunday service, especially if the preacher happens to be one of the "pulpit thumping" vatiety. Each time he bangs his fist down all the fruit wobbles and (if we are lucky) a conker, or an apple will fall off and bounce across the floor.
The eggs (were they really all deep brown?) are arranged in little nests of straw along the kneeling shelf. The best roses are put in a glass vase on the pulpit. Suddenly you become aware of that smell, that smell of Harvest Festivals - michaelmas daisies, new seasons apples, greenery - why doesn't someone market it in a bottle - I am sure it would sell well with the over sixties!
Then it is Sunday - "Come ye thankful people, come" - the chapel full to bursting with chairs in the aisles. After the service we make up the boxes of produce - each with eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, bread, jam and a few other "goodies" - to be taken to the ten Alms Houses in the village.
On the monday evening there is THE SALE in the Sunday School Room, where we all bid for our own produce, or somebody else's - pence, maybe a shilling or sometimes even half-a-crown. That money will go into a fund which will buy a bag of coal for each poor family in the village - to be given before the bad weather sets in.Only one thing remains - that is the wheatsheaf made out of bread and shining a deep golden colour. That will remain in the chapel until Christmas - a reminder that at harvest time we have a lot to be thankful for.
##The chapel - this is a modern photograph but the building and the street have changed little since the days when I lived there. The pink building is the Sunday School Room where we spent many happy hours in the winter playing "Oats and Beans and Barley Grow", or "Spinning the Breadboard" or "Postman's Knock" - games that have largely died out in these days of modern entertainment and television - but boy did we enjoy them in "the old days."