"It's Harvest Vegetable tomorrow!" Hilary announces on the way home from school.
"Harvest Festival you mean, stupid," Anne says, scathingly, "She's wrong, isn't
she, Mummy? It's not Harvest Vegetable, is it?"
Reluctantly I lend my support to Anne's correction. Personally, I find Hilary's mistake both appropriate and appealing. Harvest Vegetable sounds deliciously
like a new variety of packet soup.
"We've all got to take food for the old people," Hilary carries on undaunted, waving under my nose a polite note requesting my "generous support." "If I was in the
top class," Anne mourns, wistfully, "I'd be allowed to take the food round to the old people."
"You will be next year," I comfort her. "Yes," cheering up, "Harvest Festival is such a good idea, isn't
it? We had one last October as well."
"We have one every October," Hilary claims, "My teacher said so." A vague doubt crosses my mind. "Do you know what Harvest is?" I ask them.
"We told you, Mummy," impatiently, "We all take food to school for the old people and Class 1 take it to them."
"But what is a harvest?" I persist. There is a long
and thoughtful pause, then Anne says, doubtfully: "It's something to do with farmers sowing their seeds. We sing a song about that."
"And we sing a song called This is October, Good Old October," adds
Hilary helpfully. Drawing a deep breath, I proceed to acquaint them with the full facts of the yearly harvest and its importance in farming. But even as I bring my impromptu lecture to a close, I am struck by the realisation that, however well I explain, none
of this can mean very much to Anne and Hilary.
Town children, born and bred, they only know about farm life from books and television, or brief and superficial excursions into the "country". They can
hold forth at length on the subject of the aeroplanes at Heathrow, but a combine harvester is a machine from a different world.
I had a private mutter myself, only a short while ago, when reading
in the newspapers two separate reports, one declaring that we were enjoying a bumper harvest this year, the other dolefully predicting that bread prices are likely to rise in the near future.
take my place in the school hall for the Harvest Festival service, I find myself seriously considering the relevance of this old and much-loved custom in our lives.
Inevitably I mellow during the
service, under the influence of the gloriously colourful display - fruit, vegetables and tinned goods stacked high in mouth-watering array - and 200 voices singing sweetly about "furrows straight and deep." I have to prod myself into remembering that Hilary
didn't have the faintest idea what a "furrow" was when I asked her.
The spirit of thanksgiving and the pleasure of giving to others are worth encouraging in our children - but I wish the theme could
be varied somehow according to the circumstances, so that it had more meaning for little "townies" like Anne and Hilary.
Anne has her own ideas on the subject which are worth repeating."It's funny
having this sort of thing in the Autumn, when everything is dying off for the winter. We ought to have a festival in the Spring when everything comes alive again."
She may have something there.
Even town and city children know that leaves begin to sprout on the trees when the spring comes, that the days grow longer, and flowers venture out in pocket handkerchief-sized gardens.
would be easier for these children of our times to understand. A thanksgiving for the spring.
A kind of "Spring Vegetable", if you know what I mean.
Slough Evening Mail - October 1972