Saturday, September 14, 2013

Apple Day

Such a bumper crop of apples this year in our shared allotment orchard! Tomorrow we are having a barbecue and share-out of the fruit there.
This makes me think of the first part of my novel, set among fruit orchards in Leddington, and the September of 1914 when Edward needed to leave to pursue an article about the war and responses to it in the industrial Midlands.

They would miss seeing the September cider pressing, but there was no help for it.

In the Oldfields orchard the cider apples were showing rosy red stripes against the yellow. Mary had told him that they flourished because of the wassailing each New Year day. Well, perhaps, but the effect of such a perfect summer must have helped. He thought of Shakespeare’s Justice Shallow, those comical ramblings in a Gloucestershire orchard – that sense of an eternal rural England. Animated by cider, surely? Ah, a long drink of cool cider on a day like this; what could be more delicious?
Later Robert and Edward are in Dymock enjoying the previous autumn's cider in the Beauchamp Arms. They have been talking about the plan for Edward to come to America.
The cider has the effect of prompting each to show something of his values and the differences between them:
‘I sense from what you say that your people and ours – our country people anyway, are quite different,’ Edward said. ‘The people in your poems too; they seem to me to be rather without tradition and they don’t quite trust themselves or each other. They show a good deal of competition and suspicion, you must admit.’
‘Sure, of course – how else could it be? Each man for himself and his family.’
‘Well, up to a point. But in England I believe there’s a sort of native wisdom binding people together. My old Dad Uzzell from Wiltshire, who taught me about country life and started me off on Jefferies; no-one was more trusting and good to his neighbours than he, but no fool, far from it. Without the Dad Uzzells around me I think I’d find the country a sterile place to be.’
Robert was baffled. ‘You’re a strange man, Edward,’ he said. ‘I used to think you were a real solitary, thriving on being separate, like me. But maybe I was wrong. Even though it doesn’t come easily to you, you really want to be connected to other people in a way I just don’t understand.’
 The talk took them through their cider-drinking at the Beauchamp Arms. They poured it from a height of a foot into their tankards to aerate the golden liquid with its faint tinge of green. It tasted of late summer and of ripeness, smelled of apples, grass and honey.
 Edward leaned back in his chair and stretched happily,
‘Ah, cider apples – to think, the centuries it took to arrive at this perfection. Those iron-age men in the Malverns would only have had crabs. Then by the time of Robert of Gloucester they’d got as far as apple-jacks, the same as those Falstaff ordered, you know. And today, this. Perfection. Did you know you shouldn’t tap the new cider until you hear the first cuckoo of spring? ’
 They both emptied and refilled their tankards.
‘Does this Beauchamp guy own everything around here?’ Robert said. ‘Sure looks like it. I know he owns Abercrombie’s place. Abercrombie’s sister got it for him. She has that sort of pedigree, by marriage anyway.’
‘Well, the Beauchamps somehow managed to keep their land in spite of Cromwell. Truly landed gentry. They’re welcome to it, though, don’t you think. Don’t envy them, Robert. I know I’ll never own land and I don’t want to, always troubling yourself about it, putting up petty notices, do this, don’t do that.Keep out. The land is mine to enjoy without any of those troubles.’
They got up rather shakily and held on to each other laughing.
‘We’d better sit back on that seat by the church for a while. No hurry,’ Robert said. ‘There’s all the time there is.’
Apples appear chiefly in Edward Thomas's prose, but of course there are the Blenheim Oranges in the sad, late poem:
Gone, gone again
Gone, gone again
May, June, July,
And August gone,
Again gone by,

Not memorable
Save that I saw them go,
As past the empty quays
The rivers flow.

And now again,
In the harvest rain,
The Blenheim oranges
Fall grubby from the trees,

As when I was young—
And when the lost one was here—
And when the war began
To turn young men to dung.
Blenhein orange apples were named for Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, though discovered in the 18th century in Woodstock village.

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