"Nice weather for it."
Every day that Jeb Ritstetter could remember, his father had ridden out with him through the cranberry fields of East Carolina and had said that it was nice weather for it. He never varied his sentiments, even when the tail-end of Hurricane Mitch caught East Carolina. Nor had he ever said what it was nice weather for. Jeb thought that maybe it was a remnant of old-style Southern courtesy, and maybe his dad thought of the weather as a lady who had to be humoured no matter what mood she was in.
"Sure is, Pa," he said.
Every day that he could remember, he had agreed with his father, even if in his heart of hearts he disagreed. But he in turn treated his father with old-fashioned Southern courtesy, and his father had never objected.
"Cranberries coming on well," said his father.
"Sure are, Pa."
Before them stretched many a mile of cranberry fields, the little flowers winking and nodding in the sunshine. The hired hands bent low over the bushes, also winking and nodding in the sunshine. They knew their place.
"Any news from England, son?"
Jeb dreaded this question. Last year had been a record season for the cranberry exporters. Miss Delia Smith (his father always referred to her as Miss Delia Smith, as if about to ask her to step out on the dance floor for the next quadrille) had recommended the good people of Britain to rush out and buy cranberries to cook with, and the good people of Britain had duly rushed out and bought cranberries, and the good cranberry exporters of East Carolina had rejoiced, because they had moved a whole lot of cranberries across the Atlantic and made a whole lot of money.
Indeed, in anticipation of another good season, many an East Carolina farmer had planted new cranberry bushes to increase his crop...
A reader writes: As a matter of interest, are cranberries really grown in East Carolina?
Miles Kington writes: I have no idea. This whole episode is symbolic.
... and Jeb's father had even converted a small chicken farm which had been in the family for ages into another cranberry field. And now the crop was ripening, but the orders weren't coming. And as the cranberry fields lay glistening red and green in the sunshine...
A reader writes: As a matter of interest, do cranberry fields glisten red and green in the sun?
MK writes: Yes, they do. They stretch for miles, until you reach the rich orange and green mango fields of Virginia, where cheap chutney is made and then exported to National Trust properties all over England and sold expensively to unsuspecting fans of the late Nikolaus Pevsner...
A reader writes: You're making all this up, aren't you?
MK writes: Of course I am. Mangoes actually grow on trees, not on bushes in fields.
A reader writes: So you make it up, even when you know the truth?
MK writes: Of course. This is what journalism is all about. Now shut up.
... and as the cranberry fields lay glistening red and green in the Carolina sunshine, news came from Britain that Delia Smith was no longer recommending cranberries. She was recommending eggs. Jeb thought of the chicken farm they had torn up, and reckoned the news would just about break his father's heart.
"As I was saying, son, any news from England?"
Jeb was just about to utter the dreadful tidings when a sound in the distance made him pause. Far away a lone horseman was raising the dust. As he came closer they could see it was the foreman, Lance, waving his hat and whooping. He drew to a halt right by them.
"Good news, Mr Ritstetter! We had a huge advance order for cranberries come in this morning!"
"I jest knew the good people of Britain wouldn't let me down," said Jeb's father.
"That's the funny thing," said Lance. "It ain't an order from Europe at all. It's from Australia."
"It's a mystery," said Jeb's father.
As a matter of fact, it wasn't a mystery at all. The thing was that they had just started showing a rerun of Delia Smith's last cookery series in Australia and everyone had gone mad about cranberries down under...
A reader writes: Is that true ?
M K writes: Does it matter?
A reader writes: Yes.
M K writes: I beg to differ.
Normal service will be resumed tomorrow