Olives, pickers and rowers

Stuck at Granada airport before boarding a three-hour delayed British Airways flight to what was originally London City Airport, but became the somewhat less glamorous “London” Southend (as owned by Eddie Stobart), I reflected that the presence of the Great Britain men’s rowing team among the gloomy passengers provided at least better company than the drunken hen party I had endured on my previous Easyjet trip back to the UK.

Nice lads. Very tall. Very strong. They’d been training at the high altitude pre-performance centre in the Sierra Nevada. I eavesdropped on their stories about Olympic medals won and lost and exchanged brief small talk with the ones who sat around me on the plane. We arrived in the early hours in the wretched Rochford, endured a miserable coach trip back to a freezing cold London City Airport, and I thought little more of the rowers.

Until now. As I make up a pitifully small olive picking team, I so wish I’d got the GB rowers’ numbers.

The annual olive harvest has been going on for a few weeks, but we’ve worked on it with a neighbour for the last three years between Christmas and the New Year. It’s when the olives are at their best and, in theory, when there are people with a bit of time on their hands.

This year, both olives and people are thin on the proverbial ground. It’s biennial, but the additional impact of drought and higher than average Spring temperatures has resulted in a much depleted crop. A grove we worked on last year has nothing at all to offer. Our own tree, which produced 60 kilos of olives last year, struggled to give us one. The price of Spanish extra virgin olive oil has been going up year on year due to shortages, but is predicted to rocket now (how will my north London friends cope?).

Yet there are some trees still dripping with fruit. And so I stand, head, neck and arms painfully straining upwards to reach the precious purple and green treasure, watching others precariously perched on top of ladders, chain saws cutting the highest branches, and I yearn for those men of oars.

Tangerine dreams

During a recent trip back to London for work, I became trapped in a wine bar with a friend by an army of yummy mummies. It was mid afternoon and perhaps we should have anticipated that a roomy, women-friendly venue in an affluent part of Clapham would be a favourite for green tea and cake-fuelled debates about the relative merits of different brands of organic baby foods. But as increasing numbers of well-dressed young women manouvered their designer baby tanks through the double doors and assembled next to and around our comfy sofa, we began to share a mild sense of discomfort, soon to be displaced by incredulity.

Having failed to suppress our giggles over “she’s a little bit special about yogurt”, we lost it when one yummy asked another: “have you tried George with tangerines and if so, do you peel the skin off every segment for him?”. Yes, and yes.

We received benign, no, patronising smiles in response to our sniggers. Time for us to clamber over the all-terrain baby mobility systems and return to our cynical sanity.

It’s not that I’ve been away long enough to forget about the posh buggy clubs that operate in certain parts of the Capital (in our little bit of north London, baby jogging and “walkie talkie” groups on Hampstead Heath are what the new, or not so new, mothers who don’t need to work do to pass the time). But it’s so far removed, and offensively so in these straitened times, from the day-to-day reality of parenting small children here in √írgiva, or indeed in any working class community, anywhere.

I was reminded of gorgeous George and his perfectly peeled tangerines as I sat with my daughter on our decking a few days later. Off sick from school, she had decided that sitting in the sun and attempting to relieve our loaded trees of their burden of fruit might help clear her aching head. “Vitamin C mum, vitamin C.”


I sampled one, winced at the hit of acidity and nearly choked on the pips. I don’t have the knack of spitting out the stones that my daughter acquired as a baby and has finely honed over the years. Not for her the peeled segment. Call social services.