A report from Dorset's damp frontline by Melissa Harrison
Nothing says the party’s over like a downed Chinese lantern caught in a wet hedge. I’ve seen four since I’ve been in the West Country, sad, torn tangles hiding lethal wire or bamboo frames that prove all too irresistible to curious cows.
There are other signs, too, that the year’s high point is behind us. The hedgerows are full of sloes and blackberries, and here and there mushrooms stud the dew-soaked fields. As I walk, my boots send pale moths fleeing from the thatch like dolphins attending a liner’s driving prow. Autumn is in the air.
Why do we insist on thinking of August as high summer? After all, the long holiday was originally timed so children could help bring the harvest home: it was the end of the farming year, a time to store up food for the winter ahead. You want summer? That was late June and July, when the air was thick with pollen and everything was in bloom. It can be easy to miss if you spend your days in an office thinking about the summer you’re sure is just around the corner.
Nevertheless, August is the season of music festivals, despite average rainfall figures being higher than July. Here in Dorset, though, the kids were out in force at the local Agricultural Show. Farmers’ sons in wet tweed and wellies hung around the big seed merchants, their arms hung with goody bags from the John Deere tractor stand; others, relative urbanites from Shaftesbury or Dorchester, sported Jack Wills fringes, the girls in bare legs and eyeliner à la Kate Moss – but they were watching the terrier racing, not the main stage at Glastonbury. As the heavens opened every man-jack retreated into the tents: prize poultry, fancy rabbits, the county’s biggest vegetables, home-made cakes and jam.
It’s raining again today, and in the dim, drear light it’s clear that here in Dorset the year is on the turn: the trees’ leaves are darker and leathery, the nettles are limp, the grass is slowing to a stop and most of the native plants no longer in flower. The spring lambs have long been eaten, though hanks of wool still dot the fields, and the summer weddings, with their aerial flotillas of flaming lights, are over for another year.
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