This may be a little rural for some of you but it’s that time of year and it’s everywhere.
I’m talking about rape.
You see, straight away that’s going to cause confusion. Some of you may be alarmed that I’ve dropped the R word in such a casual way.
I’m sure many have already surmised that I am referring to oilseed rape, or rapeseed or even Brassica Napus.
The name originally comes from the 14th century, the Latin ‘Rapa’ or ‘Rapum’ meaning turnip, the two plants being related.
In my book ‘News from Gardenia’ the hero, Gavin Meckler makes an emergency landing in a field of oilseed in chapter two. I refer to it as oilseed, a big yellow field of oilseed.
This wasn’t a mistake; it was a deliberate editorial decision on my part, I did not want to write ‘as the prop came into contact with rape my whole world turned bright yellow.’
I grew up surrounded by rape at this time of year, vast fields of bright yellow flowers stretching to the horizon but I always found the term confusing.
When I was eight years old I had no idea what the word rape meant other than it was ‘rude.’ My parents were very strict when it came to bad language but confusingly we were allowed to say rape if we were referring to the big yellow field at the back of the house.
It was much the same with the word ‘bloody.’
My parents would have been horrified to hear such an offensive word leaving the mouths of their offspring but when we visited my Aunt and Uncle in Tewkesbury who lived near ‘Bloody Meadow’ the sight of a brutal Wars of the Roses battle in 1471, we were suddenly allowed to use the word.
This joy was heightened if the family visit was around the time of year when the oilseed had just flowered.
‘Mum, we’re going for a walk to Bloody Meadow, just the other side of all the rape.’
Two rude words in one sentence! Result!
Yesterday our lovely neighbor mentioned that during a recent journey she noticed “Leicestershire is already covered in rape.”
This observation was relevant because where we live, high on the Cotswold escarpment; we have another few weeks before the crop flowers.
Just in case you don’t know what those vast yellow fields produce, it’s oil.
In 2010-11 we produced 58.4 million tons of the stuff worldwide.
It’s used for animal feed, biofuel and cooking oil. The vast majority of it (68% in Europe) is used for biofuels, it’s added to petrol and diesel and uses vast amounts of nitrogen based fertilizers to grow, and enormous amounts of electricity to crush and refine.
The rapeseed meal (what’s left after the oil is extracted) is a by-product used in animal feed.
Oh yes, and it’s 90% genetically modified in the USA, a bit less in Europe.
But aside from all that, what I am suggesting is that we move on, we ditch the 14th century term and start calling it something else.
I used ‘oilseed’ in my book, but that’s slightly misleading as there are other varieties of oilseed.
It’s called ‘Canola’ in North America, other common terms are ‘Hannover Kale,’ ‘Siberian Kale,’ ‘Swedish turnip’ and in Japanese, ‘Nanohana.’
I vote for Nanohana.
Of course other equally common names are ‘annual rape,’ ‘summer rape,’ ‘Swede rape,’ ‘winter rape’ and ‘rape kale’ so I think I’m onto a loser.