Archive for January, 2015

Generally Mild …

It’s not necessary to be surprised by the weather. It is what it is and it does what it does. Of course … but winter so far has been mild. Very few frosts in this middle-of-England part of the world. Frosts that are supposed to come along, weather down the roughly winter-dug soil and kill off any germinating weed seeds.

But we have had – generally – wet and mild conditions since October. So far.

Burning day today and I had built up a pile of debris to be burned. Split plant pots, one-too-many seasons pea-sticks, tangled string, weeds that I rooted out over the past four weeks and raspberry canes. I was determined to have a go at burning them today, after an unintentional lie in.

Took some timber from home, firelighters and a box of extra long matches. It’s an allotment right, so there was an hour or so putting the new-year world to rights with other plot holders; inevitably perhaps. But the skies remained clear blue and a drying wind rode across the plots.

Perfect for burning: once the fire was going. A lot of smoke while I was digging around the burning mass, loving that fizz and crackle of burning raspberry canes and the orange flames that suddenly leap across the face of the pile.

Cut a couple of cabbages, a bit of general  tidying up; realising I am going to have to dig over again my earliest digging: healthy coloured soil simply covered with freshly germinated weed seedlings like groundsel and chickweed. No worries, it’ll be easier this time round.

But then the clouds closed in and it started to rain. I forked the remaining, smoking pieces of fire into the pick-punctured oil drum, put a metal cover, salvaged from a lawn mower over the top of it and, locking the shed (which also needs tidying up) headed for home.

Quite a few gardening programmes on TV at the moment: Great British Garden Revival and a second series of the Allotment Challenge. Like the first one, good magazine format, but don’t recognise the second as “allotment”. I imagine that there will be people watching on TV who might be inspired to take on an allotment, but are not prepared for the challenges that will face them if, or when they take the plunge.

Allotments need new members, need the interest generated by such programmes in order to continue to evolve. But that programme makes it seem far less labour intensive than it really is.

It’ll be what is traditionally called “rent collection” here soon (last two weeks of February) and by then we should have collected the seeds we ordered (bulk buying means we make savings), including potatoes and onions.

On the plot the over wintering onions are shooting green and tall already. So are the broad beans. A last few carrots, grown in an old metal dustbin remain to be harvested: they were tasty with our Christmas dinner and surprised us by how long they have kept in the ground.

Later, I’m sitting upstairs in what was one of our daughter’s bedrooms (both still known fondly as so-and-so’s room). I’m reading. Away from a TV programme downstairs and the small room with the computer in it. The book? His for hawk by Helen MacDonald. Bought it with a Christmas gift book token (along with two others: Station Eleven ( by Emily St John Mantel) and the Bees ( Laline Paull)). I am disturbed, then reassured by the tiny plopping sounds of the demi-johns of wine brewing on the window ledge. They have been dormant for some time – no fermentation, but in the warmth, seem to have revived. The strawberry we bottled and have been consuming over Christmas was delicious.

Now, it’s only January, so plenty of time for cold weather to wipe out the slugs and weeds. Because it surely can’t be this mild until spring, surely?


Nan Knows Best ??

We’re at the pub/restaurant. My mother’s birthday (happy birthday mum!).

Talk turns to New year superstitions.

“ … hope nobody’s done any washing yesterday; your nan always used to say “wash clothes on new year’s day, wash a member of the family away”,”.

We’re all smiling. Some of us are poker-faced, trying not to give away the fact that, er … well, you know … laundry might actually have been committed  our very houses … and, yes, yesterday.

We can remember that and lots of other things she used to say, bless her.

The kettle won’t work because the plug is too heavy,”

“A wet bird won’t fly at night,”

“A fool and his money are soon parted,” (well, she can’t have been wrong every time eh?).

A couple of days later, after a shower I notice the water isn’t draining as quickly as it should. I have a choice, of course: ring a man-that-does, get some of that miraculous gunge that promises to clear pipes – or take the risk of fixing it myself.

The ladder comes out. Goes up the wall.  The outside pipes disconnected. They are easy to get at so, logically (I am capable of it every now and then) the best place to start. No blockages there: well there wouldn’t be would there … oh no, that’d be too much to expect, wouldn’t it?

So, unfastening the side panel and grovelling about. The trap beneath the plug-hole is where the problem lies I discover with the help of a three thousand candle power torch. Hmm; the hardest to get at. The most obvious place. But it comes apart of course.


… then I get all squeamish. It looks horrible, revolting.  Days, weeks and even months ago, it was looking great on my head, or my wife’s head. Just natural hair is all. Some soap residue, bits, inevitably of skin, a blue catering plaster (!) and all mixed up into an unholy, greasy paste. All kinds of conditioners, bath salts and shower gels go down this pipe; my sister in law has her hair dye applied with her head over the bath. I hesitate, then “cowboy up” and, using wads of toilet paper and an ancient screwdriver I gingerly set to. Trying not to contaminate myself with by letting it come into contact with my skin. Then washing my hands in overly-hot water and scrubbing them harshly. Just in case.

Today I was up at the allotment. Carrying bags of stable-clearings on my shoulders: urine-soaked  and heavy with dung. Bare-handed. Dropping them onto the compost heap, brandling worms busy at the surface. Stirring up the contents to keep the bacteria working, surrounded happily by the sweet, sickly aroma. There’s ants in there, buried deep, centipedes and ground beetles. Later, digging, pulling weeds, tossing them onto the ready-to-burn pile. Hands covered in sticky, cold soil. Uprooting three squelchy turnips, rotten, damp, wireworm  and slug infested. Carrying a couple of disturbed toads – to a safer place – and disturbing woodlice and spiders  settled in neglected-until-now piles of plastic pots. Some slimy black slugs leaving that mucous lining on my hands.


And I am suddenly struck by the fact: I have absolutely no problem getting immersed in these types of “dirt” but had my knees turned to jelly by what was in that short section of pipe a day or so earlier.

A couple of other things my nan used to say;

“It’ll be all right when the pain’s gone,” … and

“Don’t worry; if that doesn’t kill you, something else’ll come along that will.”

Where did she get these things from?

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