autumn leaves


Autumn leaves - winter begins

As November ended, a wailing wind whipped across the sea, stripping the last lifeless, ragged leaves from the trees. The dregs of the year drag through the mud and mizzle, slouching through the Stygian gloom towards the frenzy of Christmas... but hold on... I hate autumn and I'm not going to write about it!

Summer is my preferred time of year. I'm retracing my thoughts to warmer, sunnier days of family get-togethers, having our grandchildren all to ourselves without the incumbence of their parents and picnics on the clifftops. Purely, because I've had a meeting to talk about next year's annual village Horticultural Show, I'm already thinking about next summer.

The Show is flourishing and is one of those lovely occasions that makes village life the envy of visitors. It is soon to reach its 60th year in the present format. After the War, its predecessor was an agricultural show with classes using heavy horses for ploughing matches and sheaf pitching competitions, and nowadays, several of the exhibitors are a couple of generation down the line from men who took part back then, with the evidence being the names inscribed on some of the slightly tarnished, but treasured, cups. The Show takes place in an old hall in one of the most beautiful positions for village halls anywhere, on a grassy slope above a shingle beach, surrounded by sea on three sides. The wooden walls, provide a perfect backdrop to the exhibits and one's senses are filled with the smell of freshly baked bread and the scent of flowers.

Anyone can enter and exhibits vary from a handful of knobbly beans to 'serious' vegetables. To define a 'serious' vegetable, these are generally leeks, carrots and parsnips that appear to have been genetically engineered to abnormal proportions; whenever the question is asked, 'Does size matter?', the answer is a definite, 'Yes' when it comes to leeks! These are grown in tubes with tissue paper stuffed in the top to keep dirt out until it's show time. The exhibitors have no idea what's going on inside the tube, but if they're lucky, what emerges is a blanched, over a metre long vegetable with the girth of an anaconda, whose fate is to be toted around all the shows in the area and shown off, time and time again.

However, this 'every day story of country folk' isn't always quite what is seems and is surprisingly competitive. There are classes for photography, flowers, floral art, children's art and a domestic section, where traditionally, the emphasis was on Cornish stalwarts- heavy cake, yeast buns, fairings and a loaf of white bread, but due to requests we've moved with the times and include fancy bread with exotic entries of foccacia with rock salt and rosemary and ciabatta and cupcakes and chocolate cake. Now, most women when making a chocolate cake, would make two cakes in sponge tins or cut a deep one in half, fill with butter cream and decorate... how wrong could you be... this would be a sponge and not a cake! According to the 'rules', (and I'm yet to discover who made the rules) a cake must never be cut in half and all those silly enough not to know, were disqualified! And what about the farmer's wife of forty years, whose pasty was deemed "not qualifiable", as it had been glazed and one of the sweetest souls I know, brings her tape measure to check the dimensions of other women's floral arrangements to ensure they're within the regulations!

I'm no anthropologist (obviously) but I've noticed certain characteristics, I have no idea of the reasons, but my observations are interesting. There were loads of entries in baking, preserves and eggs... is this our human instinct to survive when the going gets tough and retreat to basics with a surge of self-sufficiency? Men exhibit bread made in a bread machine and fruit cake made to a specific recipe and while there's no implication intended, I wonder why men grow rigid, erect species such as dahlias and leeks and women enter floppy, fragrant sweet peas and roses!

As autumn leaves us, yesterday's gale has blown itself out. The tide's out and the swoosh of the sea brushing on the shingle is as mesmerically rhythmic as a mermaid's sigh. Wisps of spider's web, spun between leafless blackthorn twigs, are hung with droplets of dew glowing like a strand of amber beads backlit by the lowering sun. I should rejoice in all of nature's wonders and accept the departure of this year: a new one isn't far away.

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