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East Dean Grammar School - Oak Leaves July 1957

East Dean GS - Oak Leaves July 1957
East Dean GS - Oak Leaves July 1957

This is an extract from Oak Leaves, the magazine of East Dean Grammar School from VOL VI, No 37 July 1957.:

PICKING THE PLUMS
During last year's summer holidays we helped my father to pick the plums in the orchards at Blaisdon. There was a heavy crop and some of the villagers helped as well. Pickers arrived at any time between seven and nine o'clock in the morning, and worked until dusk.
The orchards stand on a gentle slope between the road and a shallow brook, with a high brick wall at one end, and high black paling at the other. On the side nearest the road stand the buildings-a large red barn attached to a covered-in cattle yard, and a very old black wooden building, with heavy stone steps leaning against the wall on the outside. These steps are covered in delicate mosses, some of which have fine. brown spikes growing out of them, like a beard.
In the morning everything is fresh and bright. The trees throw crisp lacy patterns, which look as if they have been starched. Long grass grows between the trees, and in the early morning light this grass is wet with dew, which silvers it, and makes it look as if it is covered with frost. The leaves are damp as well, and one's hands become wet, reaching for the plums which feel like cool stones between the shadowy, dappled branches.
From the top of the ladder, looking over the domes of the trees, it is possible to see the railway line, already shimmering in the heat, and, miles and miles away, the blue Cotswolds to the left, and the dark Forest glowering down the hills on the right. In the next field the last of the hay is being cut, the old tractor, clogged with grease, phutting around, the smooth swathes swaying to the bristly ground over the bright blade of the mowing machine.
After mid-day we eat our food, sitting on fruit boxes beneath the trees, and calculate how much money each one of us has earned, the amount depending on the number of boxes filled. The day has now fully warmed up; the leaves and grass have dried out, and the rich bloom on the plums, like a dark blue dusk, shows the prints of the fingers and thumb that have plucked it. The sun, shining upon the trees, heavy with heat, causes the plums to glow red, and the leaves on the outer branches to become almost yellow, the veins thicker with a tiny line, thinner than the rest of the leaf, showing like seams. During the afternoon the whole pace slows down. The boxes are filled more slowly, the dust in the road seems to settle more slowly after being whirled hectically by an occasional car, and the cattle on the hillside no longer race to rid themselves of the flies, being content lazily to swish their tails in the shade of the hill-crowning wood.
In the evening the pickers start to go home, once more hurrying up the ladders, as in the morning, to fill the last box. The hampullers, picking baskets, now seem to be much, much, longer, and to hold much more than when you started. Your feet feel as if the rungs of the ladder are stuck to them as you walk on the flat ground, and your hair, clothes, and body feel as if they are absolutely plastered in bits of leaf, twig, and the dry greeny-grey dust that is on all the branches.
My brother and I climb on to the trailer behind the tractor as Dad drives around collecting the boxes, entering the number filled in a small book, beneath the picker's name, comparing it with the previous day's totals, ducking beneath the branches of the trees, now thickening with the dust, and watching the shimmering distorted view of things seen through the narrow bluish band of the exhaust smoke.
As we cycle home there is the smell of the freshly cut hay, the dew already rising, and the pale sky surrounding an even paler moon. .
JOAN SARGENT, Lower VA

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