No harvest in my house

Harvest Festival isn't what it used to be. When I was young, it was a celebration of nature's bounty, a time to share the fruits of the field with neighbours, a time to offload all the suspect tins in your cupboard to local old people who, it turned out, would far prefer to struggle on a state pension than eat the rubbish we'd been rejecting for years.

When I was at school, we were encouraged to raid our mother's larder to collect a bumper crop of tins, packets and cartons to add to the Harvest Festival collection box.

Inevitably, the box used to contain the kind of food that first world war soldiers would have shunned in the trenches.

Arthritic vegetables, rusting tins of fruit salad, sun-bleached boxes of semolina, runner beans in brine, dried custard powder, some old bracken from the bottom of the school field, tubs of Ecoli, suspicious jars of luminous chutney: it was like a stock-take at Satan's mini-mart.

Once gathered, the harvest produce would be split into boxes and sent out into the community to spread joy amongst those who had little of their own.

Having been chosen as one of the lucky few sent out to deliver crates of crud to 'deprived' senior citizens with the misfortune to live close to my school, I swiftly realised that only the first few houses on our list got anything resembling a good deal.

By 'good deal', I mean an Angel Delight packet with more than a week left on the use-by date, a breakfast-in-a-can and a withered carrot.

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Everyone else was left with the collected dross of hundreds of gleeful parents, all of whom were delighted to take the strain off their wheelie bin and feel smugly benevolent all at the same time.

It came as no shock that many potential recipients turned us away, far preferring deprivation to nature's bounty.

Having realised that the doorstep committee was being met with a fair degree of apathy and, in some cases, downright rudeness, the school decided to remove the issue of choice.

Rather than a door-to-door drop-off system, it now shipped in residents from local retirement homes to endure a nerve-shredding hour and a half long Harvest Festival at which class after class of tone-deaf tinies would murder All Things Bright and Beautiful and We Plough the Fields and Scatter on the recorder.

If this wicked assault on the eardrums wasn't punishment enough, they were then sent back to their Sunset Retirement Home with a sealed cardboard box of toxic waste and expected to feel grateful.

I can only imagine the autumnal feasts that followed Harvest Festival – who needs plaited loaves, hand-churned butter, an abundance of fruit and vegetables and handmade preserves when you can have rhubarb from a can with out-of-date Dream Topping?

These days, schools have cottoned on to the fact that ruthless parents were viewing Harvest Festival as a kind of 'horrible food' amnesty at which they could purge their cupboards: now, they cut out the middle-man and ask for hard cash.

At my son's school, things take a step in an altogether more sinister direction.

Not only do we get to keep the vile foodstuffs in our cupboards, we also have to produce our own craft projects for the annual 'Country Show'.

I live in the city because I want to avoid this kind of rural hark-back to Norfolk's illustrious past and also because I know there are lots of old people who might possibly want the tins of lychees in syrup that are lurking at the back of my cupboards.

They're free to a good home. Or a bad home, frankly.