OLIVE HARVEST, DAY 1: Not so much a baptism of fire, more an anointment with oil. If that sounds a shade biblical, the route from Jerusalem to Bethany passed over the Mount of Olives – where Jesus preached to his disciples – so olives have been an important crop since biblical times, at least. The only route to pass my olive patch is the track that joins Orgiva to the settlement of El Morreon. No disciples, but three herds of goats and a school bus twice daily . . .
I learnt how to harvest olives last year. The process is simple: place nets on the ground beneath the tree; hit the branches with poles; gather the olives when the tree has yielded its fruit; drag the nets to the next tree. This year I’m on my own, like Forrest Gump on his first shrimping trip.
My land is divided into two equal parts, with 25 olive trees on each, which is uncharacteristically proportionate for Spain and much more suited to somewhere like Germany. The first 25 trees are youngish and easily accessible; the second 25 are older, gangly, and interspersed with other species, which renders access problematic.
I embark on the easy 25, and by the end of the day I’ve enticed the olives from 21 trees. Actually, the true figure is 15 because I harvested six trees yesterday afternoon just to warm up. This is really Day 1.5, but that complicates things unnecessarily.
My friend Fiona (main picture) helps to bag the olives. Fiona looks more Spanish than the Spanish but she comes from Barnet. That’s the Barnet north of Granada and south of Luton.
As the sun goes down I have four-and-a-half sacks of olives – about 135 kilograms. That’s not so good from 21 trees. I was expecting more, but it’s a bad year for olives in Andalucia, apparently. How did Forrest Gump fare on his first shrimping trip? Can’t remember.
OLIVE HARVEST, DAY 2: The sun rises after 8am in Andalucia because General Franco ordered Spanish clocks to tick-tock in Berlin time, Hitler being such a good friend and all that – and despite Madrid being a sizeable distance to the west of London. By 10am I’ve finished the first 25 trees, just as my friend Bruce arrives to offer assistance.
By the end of the day we’ve stripped six of the big, gangly, overgrown trees, administering a serious pruning as we go. By nightfall our tally of sacks has reached ten – approximately 300 kilograms of fresh olives. Two of the trees yielded more than a sackful each. That’s more like it.
It’s 6pm in Orgiva as the sun sinks behind the mountains, and 5pm to the east in Darlington. Strange old world.