Mrs Ryes Harvest 23 Musings

To celebrate the end of Harvest 23 we will be doing a selection of posts to celebrate a successful harvest season and to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of our workers and viticulture partners.

Kim Rye worked for us during the 2023 harvest. Here she gives you an insight into Harvest life, the types of people that work the harvest and how enjoyable it can be.

Mrs Rye’s Harvest 23 Musings by Kim Rye

There are few things I find more pleasurable than exploding the kinds of misguided myths that float around on social media, and in the last few weeks I experienced a very revealing example of this phenomenon. During my euphoric fortnight at the grape harvest at a Vineyard near Appledore (please see separate story in this issue) I enjoyed the company of people from a range of backgrounds: there were retired people who were bored with sitting at home, students earning extra cash for their studies, housewives, retail workers, graphic designers, chefs, office workers and gardeners. There were also, as you might imagine, people from other parts of the world as far flung and far apart as New Zealand and Romania. However, the biggest revelation of all was that the popular idea that British (and particularly English) people do NOT do fruit picking is a total misconception.

The large majority of pickers present were English/British, a mixture of local people and those who had come from further afield, some from other parts of the south of England, some from the London area and one chap, David, whom I mention in the separate story, from Halifax in Yorkshire. The usual line disseminated is that we Anglo Saxons are a lazy bunch, so fruit pickers have to be hired from elsewhere. This is yet another example of the prevailing divisive narrative, pigeonholing British nationalities into personality types and traits in order to make them appear uncompromising and lazy.

Quite apart from enjoying the experience of the grape harvest, it has to be said that it was not only the fact this kind of work takes place outside in the fresh air, but there is a whole different ambience that comes from a lot of people in one place: from older people on their own, to retired couples, from students funding their studies to housewives earning extra cash. There is something rather special about working in the Great Outdoors. There is a kind of conviviality that you don’t find in an office environment. The usual rules (apart from health and safety) do not apply and people quickly fall into the happy pattern of working in the bosom of the earth, along with the associated sights, scents and sounds of nature, the like of which can NEVER be achieved from working indoors.

There was NOT ONE argument, ticking off, or any of the kinds of conflicts normally associated with working indoors, particularly in the modern day office environment where people are now subjected to all sorts of imposed rules, “courses” designed to help you not to “offend” others with “microaggressions”; nor was there any of the usual nonsense of “management” propaganda and indoctrination that now seems to be present in many indoor working environments.

The happy days I spent consisted of physical work involving constant movement, yes, but the fact that we were all busy outside surrounded by rich, luscious fruit, wildlife on the wing and the occasional encounters with frogs, interesting spiders – and I am convinced I saw a rare Monarch butterfly – shows how much we have lost contact with the outside world by being cooped up inside metal and glass boxes, and regularly force-fed high doses of electro-magnetic field.

There is something about working outside amongst a lot of other people that is unifying and therapeutic, and the fact that we were working during the summer/autumn overlap brought sharply into focus the warmth of the shortening days – the last hurrah of the summertime: and yet the lingering business of the insects, including the ladybirds I found myself rescuing from the inevitable fate of the wine presses gave me a fresh appraisal of the circle of life and how we must respect the creatures we share the planet with.
This also applies to human beings and, given the horrors in the news of the past few days, a lot can be learned from an outdoor working environment and a fresh appreciation of those who may be older or younger and the friendships and the humour that can be shared among the backdrop of nature. The alliances I saw being formed among my fellow harvest workers as we walked through the fallen horse chestnuts and the acorn nuts from the mighty trees that bordered the estate, are what we need in an age when the digital technology that is meant to unite is anything but a unifying influence. To lose touch with nature, the seasons and particularly the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, is to lose touch with life itself.

What my experience taught me is that I spend far too much time in digital communication and far too LITTLE time communing with the natural world – and real people – AWAY from the horrors of the daily diet of distress and disharmony. When we look back at the distant bucolic lifestyles of our ancestors and marvel at the way they coped with a life WITHOUT the intrusive gadgetry of the 21st century; when we revisit the photograph albums, diaries and novels of those times, we can see at a glance what WE have lost. THEY were the ones rich in REAL LIFE! It is my personal belief that human life peaked in the middle of the 20th century – with just enough technology to make life more comfortable but WITHOUT the constant prattle, confusion, one-upmanship and pure bile of the internet which can convey toxicity across the planet within seconds.

Let’s not pretend that outdoor work isn’t HARD work but it is surely a far better option than the mind pollution we subject ourselves to with the so-called labour-saving technology of today. If anything, we have made life HARDER for ourselves with the gadgets and gizmos we now surround ourselves with – and even allow to dominate our lives.

I have to admit that the brief spell I spent totally immersed in the leafy tranquillity of the vines came as somewhat of a re-awakening of the side of me I feel I left behind at the turn of the 21st century. I now need to tear myself away from the horrors of the increasingly depressing news agenda and the toxicity of the internet and reacquaint myself with the pastimes I once enjoyed. I don’t read enough; I don’t write enough (I really must get around to writing that book sometime soon) and I don’t spend enough time doing rewarding tasks outside. I want to reacquaint myself with some of the simplicity of the lives of my ancestors. I even seem to have strayed away from the topic I originally intended to focus on in this intended diatribe – the myths surrounding the English/British reluctance to work outside.

This in itself is indicative of the fact that my sojourn at the vineyard had the effect of slowing down the racing thoughts that are often exacerbated by too much use of social media, enough to recalibrate myself. Sometimes we ALL need to stop the world, get off and press the reset button and remind ourselves that REAL life was what we left behind when we sold our souls to the calamitous and cacophonous racket of the social media platform – and the Orwellian “telescreens” that have engulfed us.

After the rigours of the last three years in particular, I personally feel an overwhelming need to bin the “new normal” philosophy – and the cluttered paraphernalia and brain fog that goes with it. I want OLD “old normal” – and our old life – back. What about you?

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