And lo, the vines began to grow, marking the start of another season’s toil in the fields. And the people gave thanks and crossed their fingers, unsure exactly what a burned offering was, and hoped that the next seven months would treat them kindly so that they might have something useful to pick from the vines at the end of the season. Things had certainly started well for them. The sun was shining and the wind had dropped, their winter hats and coats were safely stowed away, never to see the light again until the other side of harvest. The people paid homage to the sun, digging out the garden furniture and taking their meals bathed and warmed by its magisterial golden glow. Imbued with its healing power, the people turned off the central heating with wild abandon, gleefully pressing the off button for what must surely be the ultimate time before next winter. They rushed out to buy ice and cider, and tossed their drinking glasses into the freezer, for it was up hill all the way from here! There were shorts and discounted hay fever medicine in the shops (for summer was in the air), blossom on the trees and positive, colourful people everywhere. Devon was warmer than Cyprus!
You can probably guess what’s coming next, can’t you? After a small break in the wall to wall sunshine – for which I take full responsibility* – and some extremely pleasant temperatures to go with it, the vines took the hint and started to a do a spot of growing.
*The only drop of rain that we had in the two week period of dry weather that we have been enjoying in Devon fell out of the sky, past my telephone and its lying weather forecast and onto me, my knapsack sprayer and all over the weeds that I had been applying weed killer to, washing it off nicely. I think that we can reasonably extrapolate from this that there would have been nary a drop of rain had I been doing anything that didn’t necessitate dry weather.
I’m the first to admit that my knowledge of things that grow is fairly zeroed in on vines, but I understand that some overwintering plants are canny enough to use sunlight as their prompt to start growing. This ensures that a warm snap (can you have warm snaps? Let’s pretend that you can) in the middle of winter doesn’t kick things off prematurely, causing the delicate new shoots to be zapped by the next bout of frost that comes along.
And do vines take this brilliant precaution on board? No, they do not. Vines cleverly kick everything into gear the very moment that the ambient temperature reaches a particular point for a period of days as it assumes that it must be spring time, and that any risk of frost must have therefore receded northward. And the problem with that is that unlike the bare chested football hooligan waving his shirt around his head in the middle of January, vines are very much susceptible to the ravages of winter. A good dose of frost turns the delicate and joyous new growth into a stunted black, and very much dead, thing. But only after it has teased you with a hiatus of about three or four hours, just long enough for you to think that everything is going to be okay.
In fairness, this has only happened to us once and only in a tiny part of the vineyard when the vines were very young (and therefore growing nearer to the ground). I’d like to tell you that this is entirely due to us picking a stellar vineyard site and burning through ruinous amounts of money on frost prevention measures. But I think that it has rather more to do with the elevated position of the more mature vines (which keeps them away from the ground frost) and our location in the South West, where we may enjoy much of the benefit of the Gulf Stream; which does the frost protection measures for us at no additional cost. Other than being in the vanguard when that self same system dumps storm after storm on us through the winter; but hey, the roads are mostly still here after the storms, and I haven’t seen a single canoe on Chudleigh high street for weeks.
As the weather vane (okay, it’s a wind turbine, but it makes almost exactly the same amount of electricity as a weather vane) swung around to the north and we started to dig out the winter attire again, further unpleasantness was heaped upon us by the man who was attempting – and failing – to attend to the generator (more on this next week) and the news that we lost our solar powered dog on the very same day. I don’t think that the most upsetting part of this is losing our constant companion through virtually all of our married life and the entirety of our ‘Mancunian career in IT to Devonian vignerons via Brighton adventure’, or working out what to do with all the time that we will save by not having to chase her around the valley and apologise to the people from which she is demanding attention. Nor is it explaining what has happened to the children – “Going to live on a farm” doesn’t exactly cut it when you actually live on a farm – and watching their innocent faces crumple in horror at the realisation that sometimes things go and don’t come back. The absolute worst part is watching the other dog charge through the front door looking for her partner in crime before collapsing in despair. If she didn’t still have a chicken to terrorise, I don’t know what she’d do with herself…