Sunday 30th March
The verges are full of flowers, mostly daffodils but a few lily of the valley and crocuses too. Some have been planted by local councils but there are occasional bunches of self-seeded flowers springing up along the sides of the road. Together with the yellow gorse, the white hawthorn and many trees now coming early into blossom, it is a real riot of colour everywhere. And not least because of the rape, whole fields are blooming a bright yellow. This continental plant was unseen when I was a child, but now many fields are planted with it, making a patchwork pattern of green and yellow spread out over the fields. And where fields had been planted with rape, many seeds escaped, or have self-seeded and the verges are now rapidly filling up with wild rape.
They seem to ripen later and are growing in bunches not in serried rows, and so even the verges are changing too. When I was a child there were cowslips and cow-parsley and thick tangled hedgerows. Many of these hedges have gone now or been thinned out. And the little spinneys have been cut back too, the fields made larger to accommodate the combined harvesters, and just as in France there are acres now covered in plastic sheeting to promote faster growing. We take the countryside for granted, but it is a business, and the business of farming is rapidly changing too. I used to work on a farm as a teenager, cleaning out the pigs, collecting the eggs from the hen-house and best of all, helping with the harvest. My job was riding the wagon behind the tractor and stacking the bales of hay being tossed up by the men walking alongside. I had to scramble higher and higher as the bales rose until I was perched swaying some ten or twelve bales high. That has all been mechanized now of course, and farms run on only a few workers, all of whom will have been to college to study animal husbandry and crop rotation and the liked. When I was a lad you needed no knowledge just a strong pair of shoulders and a willingness to get your hands dirty and do whatever the farmer asked of you.