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.

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