Meanwhile in the Countryside: Smells Like the Countryside

Ah that fresh country air!  It’s what we all look forward to when we come out to the countryside, right?  New-mown hay, the scent of wildflowers … breathe deep and enjoy.  However, there are some variations on this theme.

Source: Jon Hill

At this time of year, it’s time for the farmers to enrich the soil with errr … humus, a commodity once supplied by the muck heap or slurry tank on mixed farms but not so widely available in these days of arable-only enterprises. The answer is to source it from you and me so yes, the solid residues from your local sewage works will likely be spread on your neighbouring field. It’s all safe and treated, great for the soil and A1 for recycling, but if you ever doubted that humankind was justified in spending millennia trying to distance itself from its own poo, this will change your mind. 

You start by thinking there must be something wrong with your drains, decide there must be something VERY wrong with your drains; then realise no-one in your family is capable of THAT, run indoors, shut all windows and pray for the breeze to pick up. This year we’ve been out of luck as muck-spreading time has coincided with a spell of unseasonably warm and settled weather. Just think of the fertility, grin and bear it.

Meanwhile, in this neck of the woods, ‘tis the season for the B52s of the US Air Force to carry out their annual “exercises over Serbia” and we have six in residence. It’s a little-known fact that these mid-century icons are in fact steam-powered but I can vouch for this as they can be heard getting up steam for at least an hour before take-off each morning. I imagine burly stokers shovelling coal. Strangely though, they still manage to add a tangy note of part-burnt kerosene to the brew we call our local atmosphere when they finally do lumber down the runway. I have it on good authority (the man in the local shop who seems to know about these things) that they are to be “re-engined” before next year’s visit, so they will presumably sound like a fleet of lawnmowers as they purr skywards. Things just won’t be the same.

Looking to the past, it is but thirty years since it was pretty much universal practice to burn the stubble at the end of harvest. Great clouds of smoke and smuts drifted across the landscape and, if wildfires didn’t break out, that was because our climate was a soggier matter back then. I recall the centre of Cambridge, in the midst of the arable prairies of the Fens, filled with smog and black debris over all the cars, houses and people. Hard to imagine now isn’t it and yet great was the lamentation over loss of weed control and “an autumn flush of nutrients” when the practice was banned.

Even further back, in the ‘70s, our rural Derbyshire garden was swamped on misty autumn days with clouds of vinegar-flavoured fog. This came from British Celanese, miles away across the valley, where apparently making the Crimplene for your suits and Courtelle for your cardis (younger readers, refer to Google) involved quantities of vaporised acetic acid.

If we’ve left behind these examples of gross and casual pollution, we still have a way to go on such villains as the internal combustion engine before we can rely on breathing freely.  In the meantime, when you can, smell the flowers.