25 November 2008
Getting by: grow your own fruit
I first met Jed, as I shall call him, in early 1983. We both signed on at the same time and fell to talking one fine morning. Jed was about five years older than me, so I suppose he must be about 60 by now, and he had worked as a lathe operator at a succession of east Manchester factories all his working life.
At that time I was heavily involved with the Labour Party, and spent many a happy hour with my friends as we told each other just how nice our political revenge was going to be. Jed, who could barely read and write, was far more cynical about Labour's future prospects - and his own come to that. For Jed had already realised that since no job was ever going to come his way again, he had better do something to supplement his dole.
What he did was plant about a dozen dwarf apple trees in his garden. Two of them produced baking apples and the others gave off an old English variety which Jed assured me were "great eaters". I asked him why he had chosen to grow fruit trees and he made the quite valid point, which I knew already, that the clay of that part of Lancashire was useless for pretty much anything else. Trees, however, will thrive in that heavy, permanently waterlogged soil.
Jed's plan was to sell apples to his neighbours. Alas for him, they didn't want to buy his weather stained, bird pecked fruit, preferring instead the perfectly rounded, totally tasteless Golden Delicious, that were on offer at the local Morrison's supermarket.
As we sat and smoked our cigarettes, Jed remarked that he had heard that people in Cheshire were keen on home produced fruit, and he planned to take his pretty massive crop and try and sell it at a car boot sale.
And lo it came to pass that this what he did, and that is still what he does for a couple of months every year. He also discovered, much to his delight, that people in that home county in exile will also pay slightly more than supermarket prices to boot. He doesn't slap the price very high, so he can usually sell up what he takes with him on every trip.
Since we had that conversation, Jed has added a couple of pear trees to his collection, and the last time that I spoke to him he was investigating the possibility of turning his front garden into a plum orchard.
Obviously he is always a bit worried about council pen-pushers because he doesn't have this or that European bloody Union form all nicely stamped, but up to the time of writing he has managed to escape without hindrance. He also has to watch out for the social security people as well, but given that he is working on Sunday mornings in another county, they have never bothered him.
Now the thing that Jed discovered was something that my mother had already learned during the Great Depression, which is that you can get by if you are in a position to give the punters what they want. As we have seen, in her case it was repairing almost unrepairable clothing, but for Jed it was home grown fruit. The people in his area didn't want his weather beaten crop, but people in Cheshire did - and do to this day.