Autumn Surprises


Have you ever grown a luffa? I suppose that once I thought they were a sponge from the sea. But no, you can grow them. They hang like cucumbers from a vine-like plant. This year we have two which will be enough. There is only a limited number of things you can do with a luffa and only so many friends you can give pieces to.

First the ‘fruits’ must be dried then the brittle skin comes off. Inside are the fibres which we all recognise. I shake the big seeds out, then rinse and dry again. It is interesting to provide our own bath scrub.

The other unusual fruits which we have grown very successfully this year are spaghetti marrows. We ate one last night after boiling it for twenty minutes. The flesh on the inside wall comes away in strands and is a tasty alternative to pasta.

Another autumn surprise is the horse chestnut. My tree here soon shows yellow leaves and this year it has produced cockers for the first time. Those shiny mahogany-coloured fruits were so loved by me in childhood.

I lived in a big farmhouse with a gravel carriage drive which was shaded by a massive conker tree. It is still there and is probably hundreds of years old. We loved to climb its smooth grey branches that held us so firmly just as if we were climbing a ladder. But the best thing was that in the autumn, around this time, it began to drop its spiny cased fruits. Often the fall caused the cracking open of the shell to reveal the shiny precious conkers in silky-lined cases. We hammered a hole through with a nail and then threaded them with knotted string.

We had competitions in the playground to see whose was the longest lasting, taking it in turns to try to smash our opponent’s conker with ours. I once had a tenner, which means it was a champion and it had destroyed ten others. I could go on, but I am sure that all people of a certain age will remember their own stories and traditions of competitions in the October playground.

Our October nightly visitor, the hedgehog, is still putting in appearance. We are feeding it on our patio and watching in the dark (9pm precisely) but last night we saw a cat which devoured all the food. Now we have devised a hedgehog feeding station with a brick tunnel which the cats will not enter.

There are so many great troubles to think about at present in the world, but today I have been momentarily distracted by some small autumn comforts.

(Taken from my column in the Shropshire Star)


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