Today, the coach took a different route home. Because of the bank holiday weekend and the high temperature, the A40 to Oxford was gummed by traffic, so the driver decided to go on an another route, which he said was slightly longer but should get us there much quicker.
The last half hour of travel to Oxford is usually along the motorway and A40. It’s normally quite nice just after you pass the Welcome to Oxfordshire sign (which is just before an interesting arch-shaped bridge and a wood with eagles living in it), the road comes down a hill and you get a good view of miles of countryside on either side. If you’re travelling at the right time of day it can be stunning, and in March and April you can see some achingly yellow fields of oil rape seed, slowly soaking up energy from the sun and the EU common agricultural policy. Apart from that, though, it’s just your average motorway through the countryside and soon enough the road sinks back down to the ground and you’re back in the embrace of other cars.
Instead of all of this, after we passed the bridge and the eagles we peeled off onto the A349 (I think) and spent twenty minutes threading through mostly-deserted country roads. Today, there wasn’t a wisp of white in the sky and because of the unusual design of this company’s coaches, we were about two or three metres off the ground and could see over the hedges lining the road and into the fields beyond. What we were green, everywhere. Green fields, green crops, green trees – no brown, grey, blue or yellow, just bright green. Everyone on the coach gazed out of the windows, woken up from their usual reveries of travel. I think they were enjoying it.
It was around then, when I was soaking in the glorious green colours (about fifteen minutes ago from now, as I’m typing), that I thought farming and growing crops was surely the most marvellous type of skill; such a subtle use of biotechnology, selecting and breeding organisms to use solar power at an enormous rate of efficiency to produce food. Imagine it – you can basically make food, such an essential substance, more essential than books or clothes or computers or cars – from nothing. To do this well, though, you need a vast and understated body of knowledge that knows what an extremely hot or cold day will do to the plants, what the seasons mean, what the soil needs, what it means when the plants have small spots on them, how to cope with the random walk of the weather. You don’t need this any more, not as much, and in any case the way you learn it is rather more regimented than it was in the past.
I’m not nostalgic for the old ways of farming, since advances in technology and knowedge have brought us so far. Still, at that moment I thought it was the most fascinating thing in the world, a skill just like writing, a potion of intuition and experience and knowledge and patience. And now I am back in Oxford, stuck in traffic next to a supermarket, but it’s OK because I’m nearly home, the sun is still high, the air warm and I’m going to see my girlfriend in a few minutes.