Time for another nature walk today, to see what delights the late days of summer have in store for us. And who better to explain the workings of nature than our old friend, Uncle Geoffrey, as he takes his nephew and niece, young Robert and Susan, through the lanes of the unique English countryside. (Note: readers in Wales and Scotland should read that as “unique Welsh countryside” or “unique Scottish countryside”.)
‘Everyone I have talked to says it has been a good year for wild fruit,’ said Uncle Geoffrey, as they strode past a hedgerow glistening with blackberries. ‘Not just the blackberries, but the elderberries and apples, and there are loads of sloes this year. And look – do you see that tree up there? Some years it produces hardly any, but it’s thick with them this year!’
And he pointed to a tree on which hung clusters of small yellow cherry plums.
‘Why do you suppose that is, Uncle Geoffrey?’ said Robert.
‘Well, because the rain came at the right time to water it, and then the sun came at the right time to ripen it.’
‘You mean, we had a rotten May and a hot June?’ said Susan.
‘Something like that,’ said Uncle Geoffrey, whose short-term memory wasn’t what it was.
‘They certainly look wonderful, these blackberries,’ said Robert, picking one shiny, bulging specimen and popping it in his mouth. ‘On the other hand,’ he said, spitting it out immediately, ‘looks are rather deceptive, because in fact it is tasteless mush.’
‘You’re right,’ said Susan, spitting out another one. ‘It’s rather depressing to think that the blackberries are already going over in August. This should be their peak time. Yet these ones have no zing or bite at all. They are big and tasteless, like the fruit you see in posh greengrocers, flown over from America out of season.’
‘Those gross Yankee plums,’ said Robert.
‘Those overfed cherries,’ said Susan.
‘Those pampered and force-fed strawberries,” said Robert. “Those huge, tasteless, red American apples. Obesity in fruit is as bad as in humans. You can almost see American fruit wearing Bermuda shorts and waddling.’
‘Overfertilised, overpriced, and over here,’ said Susan.
Not for the first time, Uncle Geoffrey wondered how his two young relatives could take a conversation so far from the starting-point in so little time.
‘Well, yes,’ he said, ‘there is considerable evidence that the seasons are coming earlier and earlier. I heard on the news the other day that global warming has made spring in Europe come an average of 6-8 days earlier than thirty years ago.’
‘I can’t say that worries me unduly,’ said Robert. ‘Rather nice, in fact, to think that we don’t have to wait so long for the warmer weather to arrive.’
‘Yes,’ said Susan, ‘but then if spring comes earlier, there will be a knock-on effect and summer will come earlier and autumn will come earlier, and winter . . .’
‘That’s where you are wrong!’ said Robert. ‘Of all seasons, winter is the only one that depends on cold weather. But cold weather is getting in shorter and shorter supply. So winter won’t get earlier. It’ll get shorter! Autumn will prolong itself at one end, and spring come earlier at the other end, and winter will gradually vanish. It will be like Pluto! It will be downgraded. Winter no longer a proper season, says Season Classification Board, only a dwarf season! We are going to have to get used to one fewer season than before. . .’
‘No more winter breaks,’ said Susan.
‘No more winter sports,’ said Robert.
‘The Autumn Gardens, Blackpool,’ said Susan.
‘If autumn comes, can spring be far behind?’ mused Robert.
Uncle Geoffrey, feeling unaccountably melancholy, said nothing, but picked a wild damson and put it in his mouth. It managed to be over-ripe and sour at the same time. He sighed. Suddenly he felt very old.
Don’t miss the next exciting nature ramble with Uncle Geoffrey and the two children!
The Independent Tuesday Aug 29 06