Monday, 18 October 2010

My Harvest

What an emotive word Harvest is. I never fail to be aroused by the word that to me expresses the fruition of our lives, our loves, and our whole purpose for being. I was but small when the joy of the harvest was made clear to me. It was the climax to the agricultural year when crops were harvested, as it was for the horticultural year too when fruit was picked, vegetables gathered and the lazy days of summer seduced us all with all its fecundity.

Our families were not farmers, or workers on the land merely neighbours of such activities. For me the hay grew in the field at the bottom of the garden. My Dad walked through the still dark meadow as a short cut to get to the railway station to catch his train to work. He had a nodding acquaintance with the cows in that meadow that accepted his need to cross their food bowl with the mist still rising in the early dawn, and the night owls returning to nest after a picking up a mouse or two.

Later the local farmer would encourage us boys to gather up the mown hay and build it into stooks that he could load more easily when labour was so short in the war years. Those with the largest stack would get some small prize such as a second hand jigsaw puzzle that we worked so hard to obtain.

One Aunt and her family spent a week or so hop picking. We were enticed once to join cousins our own age on that adventure but soon found that the work was hot and back breaking and small hands were stained for days after and red raw with the effort of plucking the hops from the vine. The pungent smell of the hops however was enticing and no doubt when grown up and drinking the amber liquid older minds would recall the source of the flavour.

Gardens were large when I was small: large enough to grow much of the household vegetables. My Dad grew the basics such as potatoes, carrots, runner beans and cabbages. Other uncles were far more adventurous achieving mighty crops of onions, leeks, Savoy cabbages, broccoli, broad beans and marrows. Naturally we boys had our own pathetic rows of beetroot and radishes which grew well and quickly from our neglect. For adults though their gardens were never big enough. Wartime and the extended rationing period after the conflict enabled those keen enough to garden council allotments. Some fathers spent more time there than at home. They built little sheds for their tools but in reality it was their retreat from everyday life. A place to sit to watch the garden grow, to smoke and chat with neighbours working on their gardens and no doubt as a blessed respite from nagging at home.

My grandfather had a number of fruit trees in his garden. Apples, pears, plums and damsons were nurtured and harvested in due season. My father tended to ignore the fruit trees in his garden but despite this we had one plum tree, a Victoria plum it was, that thrived on this neglect and produced the most luscious fruit. In my minds eye I can still taste them now.

On occasion as I recall that sweet smell of an English summer my mind drifts back all those years and realizes that there was subtle lesson being taught me then. That lesson is so simple; like the crops, the fruit and the vegetables, we too have been planted here to produce fruit of our own making. This harvest, this product of our shared lives has resulted in some very fine fruit indeed.

Monday, 11 October 2010

What is essential in a friendship?

I have been so lucky with friendships in my life. Curiously though, many of the friendships I have had in sport, work or socially have all be marked by one peculiarity. Inevitably each friend has had one or more irritating trait or fault that enhanced rather than diminished that friendship.

Let me expand on this. One great friend of mine in my later teens soon after I started work had the same interests as me. We played cricket and tennis together, we liked the same movies and always found each other company at the local drinking hole at weekends. He was generous in my poverty and good humoured in my naivety yet as I slowly got better at my job, earned more money and started to fulfil my ambitions he stayed as he was always making plans for the future, going to do exciting things but never quite achieving them.

A few years later I befriended a workmate who I socialised with in the hedonistic seaside town of Brighton in England. What a laugh he was, he knew all the right people, knew all the exciting places to visit and clearly enjoyed my company as we seemed have the same sense of humour. Sadly he too was flawed by having been a lover of a married woman who was murdered by her jealous husband. Yet few knew that he was cause of her demise. Sadly that secret was shared by me.

When I first came to Australia one of my first jobs was to supervise some major building work in a country location that took me away from home all week. In the country town where I stayed I became mates with a traveller in smallgoods who delivered his wares to all the country towns nearby. We met playing pool in a cafĂ© and drinking in the local hotel and I was encouraged by him to join him in a game of poker with a local business man and his cronies. So I went, lost the money I could afford and stopped playing. Not so my friend. He lost his money and some of his employer’s cash, and then borrowed from me. Surprise, surprise, he was a gambling addict!

I could go on, but I think I have illustrated my point. Friendship is forged by the ability to relate to another person, to enjoy their company, and to forgive their faults and help them out when it is necessary. What is essential is to like a person for the good qualities they have but accept that like yourself they are not perfect and that hopefully they can forgive your faults too.

Sunday, 3 October 2010


Do you have recurring dreams, well nightmares, really? I have an awful one that haunts me constantly. The trouble is that it is true!
In my dream I am a much younger person, barely twelve. I had just started a new school and was what they might call a mediocre student. To teachers back then that meant “He could do better!” This was certainly written on my reports.
Perhaps I can tell you what continually comes back to me at night. There was a deputy sports master, a tall, strict, sarcastic man who clearly had army experience. He chose the first session he took with our class to do some competitive boxing. Sparring might have been appropriate but in his wisdom he elected pairs of boys to don the gloves and to really box. He encouraged each twosome to land punches and be aggressive.
I hated boxing. Sport in my juvenile mind was kicking a ball in soccer, hitting a ball in cricket or running around the oval getting puffed out or jumping up or along wherever the inclination took you. The sports master paired off the boys in some haphazard way and I found myself putting on gloves with my best friend Bertie.
Bertie and I did everything together at school. At weekends I often rode my bicycle out to his Dad’s farm to stay the day where we did all the usual adventurous things boys do at that age. We explored the woods and streams, got wet, tried to avoid playing with his younger brother, kicked a football on a miniature soccer field his Dad had mowed for him in a paddock with real goalposts and ate with his family at lunchtime which was real treat as his Mum seemed to cook everything, better and richer than what I had at home. It was heaven.
So there we were with gloves on facing each other. We were both nervous and apprehensive but were told to go ahead and box. So with careful indifference to this supposed sport we sparred a bit but avoided hitting each other.
This was a big mistake as the sports master then urged us on to land our blows and so we did. I clearly had a longer reach than little Bertie and managed to land few on his body and arms then one punch slipped through and landed on his face. Tears immediately sprung to his eyes and I was appalled. I had hit my best friend. The bout was soon over and I apologized profusely to him.
After that our friendship should have returned to normal, but it didn’t. From that day on we drifted apart. I no longer went to his farm, and we both found other friends. I was however left with sometime far more worrying. It was that recurring dream of that day. That blow has been magnified a hundred times over the years. In some dreams I knock him out, in others there is blood and gore and yet others I am arrested for assault.
May you be free of a flashback as awful as that of mine.