By “The Photographer’s Assistant”
Harvest is always pictured as the idyllic pinnacle of country life. On television hoards of extras indulge in vast flagons of cider in clean flowing robes. Even in Thomas Hardy’s often gritty portraits, there is time for love among the haystacks. This is not so. Harvest is a time of total exhaustion and incredible determination. It is the most tiring time of the year and procreation is the last thing on anyone’s mind.
Out on Dartmoor the activity never stops. There are farming contractors at work barely squeezing their kit up the lanes. Fields are scalped to within an inch of their lives, the tiniest imperfection which would bust the machinery has been missed by only inches. At all times of day the great machines can be heard with a thrilling buzz. Industry has come to the country. The harvest is almost in. A few crops of corn remain, proud survivors waiting for autumn.
At the Photographers house, there is a strange fevered silence as every hour is occupied. The Photographer has spent the summer rebuilding a wood wormed and shaky porch, which might not have taken another Dartmoor winter. He has judged the work, not to be finished, but to be water tight and has turned his hand to the large garden, which now needs taming. During the hot weather, the Assistant and the dog could only venture outside for a couple of hours at either end of the day. The garden is deep in weed and vegetables and the Assistant is only seen at a distance distracted and deep into the harvest.
There are wonderful beans of all types, the Assistant is under a mound of them at this minute armed with what looks like a large machete and a fruit box. The Photographer eyes up his mowing and strimming task in wonder. It is some weeks since he really looked at his acre of grass and he is bowled over by its wonderful rampant and wild appearance. He has discovered that the Assistant, who has a craze for serving up scones to friends in the summer, has been showing friends the new “wild garden” and they like it. Apparently, they particularly like the wild grasses. The Photographer retires to his tumble down tool shed and eyes up the decrepit machinery. His eyes stray particularly over the six year old mower with some fascination. It has its own temperament and will either perform or not as the fancy takes it. Bravely, the Photographer trundles out the elderly machine, it has some oil and fuel. He dares to ask the question and the machine has enjoyed its rest. It starts first time and positively enjoys the task. With a sigh of relief, the Photographer trundles along behind his master.
The elderly dog very much enjoys harvest time. Rabbits are too fat and can be chased easily, though, he is a much better squirrel chaser. At this moment the dog is warily eyeing the fruit cage. For some weeks now he has been engaged in a dice with an experienced blackbird. No one can work out where the bird is getting in and, anyway he brings no friends with him so the lost fruit is trivial, but the dog’s pride is hurt, so in odd moments of the day, he is to be seen tiredly parading around and around and around——
The Assistant is a mass of scratches from the gooseberries, of which there are a mass this year and as there were none last year, they must be stowed in the freezer. There is such a fruit harvest and the colours are wonderful. There are dark red gooseberries for breakfast. There are raspberries and blueberries for tea. In the freezer there are redcurrants for sauces and to top porridge in the winter, and beautiful glowing blackberries for Nigel Slater’s blackcurrant trifles, which are to die for.
The Photographer and the Assistant have now been visited by family aid. Their daughter has popped in with a beautiful meal and a sermon about the harvest exhausting her parents.The Photographer and his Assistant know that she is right and that they have become the children.That is such fun, the return to childhood, as the raspberry juice oozes down their chins!