Working our way through the year, trying to assess the seasons, month by month, August
is a strange month. In the garden it can be a riot of colour and a time of bountiful
harvest. This year particularly, trees have been laden with apples, pears, cherries,
damsons and goodness knows what else. Soft fruit bushes have been covered with strawberries,
raspberries, black-currants, red-currants and gooseberries. Tomatoes, beans, potatoes
and the like say this has been a good year for vegetable gardeners. Flowers abound
and yet, while some are coming out, others are needing to be dead-headed and cleared
But look again and you realise there are a scattering of leaves under some trees.
Look again and some bushes and hedges are showing signs of turning yellow or brown.
Are there signs that Autumn is coming? Earlier in the year, some suggested that
garden life was several weeks early because of the unusual Spring. Will we find the
same is true of Autumn? Usually we don’t think of August as an Autumn month; it
is September, October and November that constitute what the Americans call The Fall,
but that can be a stretched out season! So here we are in the midst of abundance
while at the same time there are occasional signs that it may soon be passing.
Try to assess the season by the climate and you are really in trouble. Autumn is
a confused month! One week it is sweltering hot and the large DIY outlets have fans
and barbecues stacked high to entice those of us who are easily led astray into rash
purchases. Rash? Well yes, for the following week the skies can be grey and the bringers
of inches of rain. One minute we are basking in the sun and the next minute fleeing
from the downpour which nastily decides to stay around for a while longer and turn
the baked brown grass into the bed for a flood. I have known years when August skies
have been cloudless blue throughout, and others when grey has predominated and rain
been the word on most lips. This year has been a pleasant mixture.
But it is when you start listening to people that August takes on a feeling of its
own. Where have you been? What was it like? And then as good Brits, did it rain?
It is the month above all other months that collects stories of holiday escapades.
There are visits to zoos and stories of the massively stolid rhinos, or the lumbering
elephants. “In the one went to there was a young elephant no more than five feet
high, obviously pretending to be a teenager, roaring along as fast as its stumpy
legs could carry it, screaming with what seemed anger – or was it just showing off
– flapping its ears wildly.” Then there were the regal tigers moving with such control
and power. It is only a sign paying tribute to the memory of a keeper killed by the
tiger that makes you realise that this is not a friendly creature on the other side
of the wire.
It is also the month when families return from a day out at a theme park, pink or
bronzed and considerably lighter in wallet, with tales of rides that made even dad
scream with terror. What a weird bunch we are, to pay an arm and a leg to see how
scared we can get. There are tales of camping, caravanning, cruising, wonderful beaches,
sailing, canoeing or boating holidays, sky diving, ballooning, abseiling, paragliding,
parascending – the variety of holidays is almost unlimited today it seems, as are
the stories that are told on return. Whether it be day trips out or a four week trek
around Europe, the tales are still there to be told.
We titled this month’s ponderings, “A Month of Questions” but perhaps it could equally
have been titled, “A Month of Stories”. It is clearly a month of activities, activities
that are different from the things we usually do. It is the month when we break loose
from the usual humdrum or boring or stressful things that so often fill our lives,
and create memories that will sustain us – we hope – as the days start to shorten
and the mornings greet you with a cold nip in the air. But that is to jump ahead
so let’s not do that. A month of abundance, changing weather, extremes of weather,
unusual activities, questions, stories and memories; this is August.