Suffolk and proud: Seasons to be cheerful
PUBLISHED: 17:19 03 July 2013 | UPDATED: 18:18 03 July 2013
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At each of the last two Suffolk Shows, I've spent an enjoyable half an hour or so taking part in a "chat show.'' It happens in the stand of the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, and participants are asked for their views on a certain topic.
This year, I was caught slightly unawares by the subject matter – the seasons.
I grew up deep in the Suffolk countryside, where farming dominated every aspect of life, so we lived and breathed the seasons. At the risk of sounding like a very old man, we were not sheltered from the harshness of cold winters the way most of us are these days. Only one room in the house was heated. And yes, we really did have to scrape ice from the inside of the bedroom windows in the mornings.
One of my earliest memories goes back to the cruel winter of early 1963. I remember seeing lots of dead birds lying on the roads, after starving to death, or perhaps dying of thirst. No-one appeared to be particularly shocked by this. I suppose these were days when the deaths of animals or birds were simply part and parcel of the harsh rural way of life.
The big event of the year, of course, was the harvest. My grandfather, a stockman, would take his one week’s holiday of the year in early July – a caravan at Clacton was the favourite destination – and he would be back at work ready to help with harvest. Looking after the herd of pedigree Friesian cows would start at 6am and finish at 5pm. Then there would be time for a bite to eat, and maybe a ten minute nap, before heading into the fields.
These were hugely labour intensive days, when great teams of men would work long, hot hours, getting the harvest in while the going (and the weather) was good. Dust seemed to fill the air for weeks, followed by the sight, and smell, of stubble burning slightly later on as autumn encroached.
Another seasonal memory is of the chilled early mornings of late September, when I would be heading fearfully back to school, to face either a whole new place of learning, or a new class.
So, what of the seasons now? Are they still relevant? Of course, harvest remains a huge event in Suffolk. The county still feeds a big chunk of the UK, and many livelihoods depend on the success of the annual harvest. Big machines have taken the place of many of the men.
For me, the seasons seem to overlap these days. This is not a debate about global warming, but I do think we have seen a merging of the seasons. Winters aren’t so cold, summers aren’t so hot, and both spring and autumn seem to have disappeared altogether.
We’re just as likely to get a scorching hot day in October as we are in July, and our summers seem to (how can I put this politely?) take rather a long time to get going. Do the seasons matter as much as they used to? I think not.
Or, perhaps all of the above is simply the view of someone looking backwards through rose-tinted glasses. Maybe nothing much has changed at all. What do you think?
Terry Hunt is editor of the East Anglian Daily Times and writes every month in Suffolk Magazine