A dark, wet, and windy morning in a field near Tenbury Wells. Surrounded by piles of cut mistletoe, trussed up in round bundles.
Yes, it's the first of this year's mistletoe auctions – and yes, the scene is much the same as previous years. So much so that I've not even bothered to get the camera out of the car – the pic I've put here is from last year.
The familiarity is actually very reassuring – as we need this auction to continue unaltered for so many reasons – local traditions, local economy, putting Tenbury Wells on the map, helping manage the mistletoe infestations in old apple trees and, not least, bringing pleasure to so many people. That pleasure isn't just a few kisses at the end of the retail trail – it starts here, today, where media interest is high and newspapers and TV rush to get pictures of mistletoe to show that Christmas is coming, and that we Brits are still eccentric enough to continue with this ancient seasonal trade.
The amount of stock today is relatively low – but that's normal for the first sale of the season. Buyers are here from all over – Suffolk in the east to Ireland in the west. Everyone wants their genuine English Mistletoe from Tenbury. Condition is good – loads of berries – though colour is still a little opaque in some bunches – should be more translucent/pearlescent in a week or so. Prices fairly good – about £18 per lot. That may sound cheap compared to retail mistletoe – but there's a lot of wastage in those bundles, and their shelf-life may be short (some may have been harvested a week or so ago) so there needs to be quite a mark-up to make a profit after transport and processing. The wholesale price also barely makes a profit for the seller – who has to harvest, bundle it up and bring it here form across the Herefordshire & Worcestershire areas – there are long-term issues here for the sustainability of the trade – but more about that another time.
News photographers from several papers and agencies – so should get some coverage in the next few days. The dominant media presence today is BBC TV Countryfile who are filming the auctions and later on, some harvesting. A long day for them – starting at 0730 at the auctions and not leaving the orchard location until after 1600. Their presenter today is James Wong, best-known for his recent Grow Your Own Drugs series. (I'll post some info on his GYO Drugs Christmas special, which features mistletoe, soon). Today's filming is for this Sunday's programme – 1900 on BBC 1 I think.
Swine flu came up in conversation a lot today! Will say more on that soon…
Mistletoe Promotion of the Day – Tenbury Wells Mistletoe Festival
For an update, and overview, click here for a pdf news release.