Archive for February, 2017

Rents ?

So, not possible to hum and ahem any longer. Time to bite the bullet, make a decision and find some money: the last scheduled day for rent collection.

Another year of allotmenteering?

Seems a wonderfully masochistic time of year to be taking on the tasks again. End of the financial year, traditional labour markets, agricultural workers seeking employment ? (there you go: more procrastination … or was it just simply playing with big words?). But also the time of year at which it may be easier to give up on a plot. You haven’t been up there over the winter, there’s been no need; you haven’t really missed it (have you?) so easier not to begin again ?

That time of year again. In our particular case, however, there is also the background tension brought on by the “boundary dispute” and the lack of definitive action on the parts of the allotments committee – and decisive action by landowners, the local parish council – either they can prove they own the land – or they cannot. (Isn’t it really that simple?). Every time we are on our plots we are confronted by the issue. And the neighbours in the house who put a very credible case. But, as simple plot holders we cannot give them an answer. It is literally out of our hands.

The allotment committee, for their part, seem to be dismissive and altogether too blasé about it all: it isn’t happening to them and it isn’t their responsibility – yaddah yaddah blah blah. Can they not see the wider ramifications of the breach: there is literally no barrier for a good ten metres, a flimsy hedge for a further thirty metres and access to anyone with the gumption/desperation/energy to hop across a lawn to what will be a wonderful picking ground (crops, machinery, vandalism)? With an opposite hedge taken out the way is clear right across to the next road. I imagine someone running away from the police. Up the Wolverhampton Road, quick dodge into Cemetery Lane, whoops a dead end ( see what I did there?), so I’ll leg it across the lawn, on to the wide rolling allotments, get lost among the shed s and compost heaps …

So, until this actual morning I am not sure we were a hundred per cent convinced that renewing the plots was the way to go.

Fast forward. We are up at the site, drive past the (now three) shipping containers that stand for shop/storage buildings at the top of the hill, park at the bottom. Three? There were two (a shop/admin space) and a store for bags of compost (bought in by an entrepreneurial committee four years ago) opposite a sectional concrete garage holding garden chemicals, bamboo canes and the like. The third is for … ? We then walk back up the slope to pay the moneys. And make the points – once again. It really is like talking to a brick wall sometimes. A brick wall? Ironic that; in a few weeks’ time it might be all we have to talk to*!

But also to catch up with those we haven’t bumped into since, er … last October-ish. A real shame the committee didn’t keep up the idea of a fire-pit, bacon sandwiches and a cuppa; which made socialising easier – and kept the hunger away.

Who isn’t paying for another year? Why are we now blessed with another container? What has happened to So-and-So ? I do a bit of horse trading: exchanging four lengths of timber for a couple of blueberry bushes. Mutual benefits there. Find out about the container: it is to store tools in; apparently we have an apple juicer, a patio heater, a strimmer, a marquee available for hire.

We bump into Tadpole Bob. He shows us photos on his phone (amazing that we now take these gadgets for granted) of the damage Storm Doris did to his greenhouse on site. Panes of glass lifted out, carried up to twenty metres away and smashed against posts and sheds: one shard was actually driven into the planking of a shed at about eye level. Good job he spotted it, it could have caused a nasty accident some time down the line. We discuss the serendipity of the lady who – sadly – was killed by flying debris in Wolverhampton during the storm. But he also has a warning about today’s storm (Ewan) which is due to hit at one o’clock. He has some work to do, since, he smiles, he was bracing the glasshouse against westerly winds and these will be from the north east; he has more glass to replace too. We beetle, non-too subtly, away.

We have digging of our own to do. Tidying up. Replanting the fruit bushes (there are three rows of them don’t you know!) that have come from the threatened “disputed ground” and I think it eminently sensible to move them now – before the real growing season starts) and raised beds to weed out. An hour (or so) later we have completed the turning over of the thick, gloopy soil on the plot. Taking out the pernicious weeds, burying the annuals (a native kind of green manure?). It will dressing with lime, and raking out flat and even, but, for the first time since harvesting it feels like we are up to speed. A lot of the plot dug, seeds ready to be planted, the challenges of anew spring heading towards us. Time to plan ahead again.

That time of year …

… and we’ve taken the plunge: still in it!*



*The house owner plans to build a high wall to replace the mixed hedgerow that currently grows between us.


Storm Doris!


Dateline 23/2/2017

10.00 a.m.

I had a good night’s sleep.

I wake up hearing the wind. The skies are clear so far but high, high clouds are being driven across the heavens. Out of the front bedroom window I look to see what has happened to the house at the end of the cul-de-sac that is having roofing felt replaced: it has stood overnight without the shell of tiles (now as I look stacked on the scaffolding alongside the house).

Within ten minutes the contractors are there, up the ladders, without, I notice in some alarm, hard hats. They sway about like sailors in a tropical storm and, when next I check, are nowhere to be seen. The roof, sans tiles will have to look after itself it seems.

But, made of sterner, if less sensible stuff, I am determined to get up on the plot. There’s digging to be done after all.

In the warmth and shelter of the car cabin – heated seats available, reversing camera, air conditioning, rain sensitive windscreen wipers – the radio is defaulting to BBC WM (local sports news/comments).

The Scouse presenter is talking about the discovery of seven planets discovered by astronomers that seem capable of supporting life and giving out news of the impacts of “Storm Doris”:

“Our road this morning, ‘cos it’s recycling day there’s bins, plastic bags, cans, tins all blowin’ along; people chasing their stuff, tryin’ to get it back …”

“… like a scene from that film … you know the one, they show it every Christmas* … stats off in black and white, then bursts into colour …”

“… guy called Steve has lost his blue bin and his garden shed. Poor Steve, wonder where that shed’s ended up …”

It hasn’t started raining here yet. At least not enough to activate the wipers. I pull in to the approach to the “top gate”. Just getting out of the car is a trial, the wind charging up the hill. I push the heavy gate open, drop in the peg that’ll hold it open, turn to go back and drive the car in … the peg has been torn out, the gate is blowing towards me at a rate of knots … I stand back as it bangs loudly against the post. Hmmm, I might have had the car part-way through that gate … this new car that I’m not allowed to carry dirty stuff in (yet)!

I decide to go in through the bottom gate; noticing as I do that there’s a new container on site. I drive around. This time, at the bottom of the slope there is a) less wind and b) the wind should be blowing the gates open rather than shut. I drive through, inspect the plots. No further depredations/progress with the boundary dispute (he has now cut off the concrete fence pots and removed his gravel boards (meaning that the soil from the allotment will, inevitably cascade onto his side of the established boundary).

But the wind is wreaking some damage.

By the time I have “inspected” the plots for any wind damage/effects my hands are freezing. And it has started raining. Discretion being the better part of valour I scuttle back to the car and leave with a screech of tyres that has Jack wondering if there’s a Hollywood get-away going on. Jack owns the nursery opposite the allotments, is an acquaintance, is oiling the hinges of a metal gate as, quite accidentally, I scream away past the school fences.

The guy on the radio is now talking to new people.

“Who’s to say there is no other life out there?”

“And how can you prove there isn’t?”

Another, more urgent voice comes on.

“Just to let your listeners know there’s a tree down in Westbourne Avenue. By the Botanical Gardens. It’s blocked the entire road. A van driver was involved. His van got crushed, but he’s OK …”

I am pulling into our drive now.

Next door a whole trampoline has blown through a fence panel and into our neighbour’s garden. It’s upside down, hooked on a fence post apparently. The two trees nearby crowned with nests are being buffeted, this way, that way: a true test for the durability of the nests.


Watch this space …

* turns out it’s The Wizard of Oz.

The Unladen Weight: A Soap-Box Moment.

All those planting seasons ago when I ventured to start this blog I had no real plan other than to have a bash at describing events, effects and reflections generated by renting a standard allotment plot in South Staffordshire; lazily thinking that, surely a lot of human life and the human condition might be reflected within the confines of those hawthorn hedges.

Image result for allotments images

The title is a nod of the head to a sage comment made at the time by my friend, co-gardener and wife (often referred to in the blog as the Plantation Owner’s Wife. You see, at the time allotments were nowhere near as popular as they are at present and the plots I was offered (“Take it or leave it!” were the exact words) was over shadowed by a monstrous, thick hedge over flowing with pernicious weeds (squitch (couch grass), mare’s tails, docks and nettles) and hadn’t been dug for at least a decade. A ramshackle ”greenhouse”, bodged together from window frames and plywood and held together by hope and gravity stood in a sea of comfrey, next to a three feet high pile of stones and scraps of industrial carpet. Now I knew that I could make something out of it, but my wife simply sighed and said:

“They saw you coming if you’ve said yes to that!”


Hook, line and sinker became Muck, Line and Thinker. I hope and apt description for some of my ramblings. And the overgrown mess became a very productive, inspirational plot alongside the beginnings and developments of friendships, banter and experimentation with new crops and techniques.

Image result for allotments images

But the blog is salted with asides from my other lives and connections and bits and pieces picked up (books read, radio programmes heard (or misheard) observations on life and – hopefully – an injection or two of humour).

Indeed only last week I heard a comment by a primary school teacher in passing.

“I think it was on telly …” she was saying as I overheard unintentionally “… they were saying every child ought to b taught to recognise every British bird. I though t what a great idea. I couldn’t do it; I don’t know ‘em all.”

There was a pause. Neither of the two people she was with passed comment.

“Then I thought,” she went on, “that’s not enough. Maybe they should also be taught to know every kind of tree …”

At this point they were walking out of earshot. I was intrigued. By her honesty (in admitting her lack of knowledge) and the concept. I can recognise a lot of our bird species. I began to learn them from my grandfather, then from field guides and by asking. Trees too.

I have often been accused of having a grasshopper mind (ever tried to catch a grasshopper?) and of divergent thinking. As if either of those things is in any way wrong!

On hearing this snippet I am thrilled (“what a great idea, I love it!” a tiny fraction of my (tiny, let me say it so you don’t need to eh?) brain is cheering. But another part is remembering, and applying, something I heard on radio some years ago;

“Why not do both … and more!”*

It sounded so liberating: teach the kids the names of the birds. But how to do it? Show ‘em pictures of a chaffinch, a snowy egret, a marsh harrier. Copy out the names underneath? Just not appropriate. In my opinion – and my experience – I learned the names of the birds that were in the garden, in the farmyard, in the fields, on long, rambling no-purpose walks. I don’t remember setting out to learn the names of every bird, or every tree. Such knowledge as I might have crept up on me. And I didn’t learn the names in isolation, but linked to their behaviours, their location, their habits and habitats.


Because I was curious. Because I am curious still.

I learned as a result of what I happened to be doing: chopping kindling, getting the cattle in to be milked, fishing for tadpoles in the local brook, collecting conkers. A kind of sympatico osmosis, because I wanted to.

Now it is true that if we want to conserve today’s wildlife and landscapes we have to engage youngsters, show them the delights of the countryside, the web of inter-relating causes and effects. “if it’s not important to them, if they don’t have knowledge and a perspective they won’t vote to save it in the future” argument is absolutely valid. And the schools starting to get involved in the Forest Schools Initiative are going some way towards it but there is a deeper role for parents and families to play. Because, it seems schools are straitjacketed and delivering a very narrow assessment-driven curriculum. So ..…

… and anyway:

What about species of flowers, breeds of farm livestock, models of cars … the unladen weight of an African swallow ?

* It was a question asked of a theatre director – what should drive theatre programmes: bums on seats or eyes on stalks?


Snow Moon: Pause for Reflection?

I’m learning such a lot from social media (though I realise it may not all be correct, know what I mean fellow conspiracy theorists?).

For example every full moon, apparently has a name, so last night’s February’s full moon is known as the Snow Moon*. According to a U.S. almanac web-site this tradition dates back to the native American tribes during colonial times, but has an element of prediction:

“And the Native Americans were right. On average, February is the USA’s snowiest month, according to data from the National Weather Service.”

N.B. I am living in central England, and the names of the full moons have graduated across the Pond. Last night this coincided with a penumbral eclipse. However both were invisible as flat grey clouds blanketed the skies.

And, sure enough Cochise, snow was falling gently this morning when I raised my head. First thoughts were about whether the football game at Bolton (I am a long-standing Walsall fan) would still be on and what travel arrangements did we need to make?


But then logic and wonder (not usual bed fellows) took over. Stock up the bird feeders. Spend a calming few minutes watching from the back bedroom window. Grateful visitors swarm in: chaffinch, goldfinch, long tailed tits, a single robin, blackbirds that spend more time squabbling than eating, a pair of crows, their would be neighbours the magpies, a house sparrow looking brightly coloured against the snow.

A whole blizzard of starlings drop in; their ability to feed from every single piece of equipment becoming obvious. There is a wood peckerish quality about these garrulous birds: their bills, their ability grasp a vertical surface, the fact that they will nest in tree trunk holes. Blue tits, the same pair I speculate that are working on the entrance to the new nest box high in the lime tree have ceased their courting and visit the table: eager and greedy.

Over the eight foot fence a cat that has been sneakily sheltering beneath a no-longer-used trampoline, slinks away between broken fence panels.

There is a sense of déjà vu here. Facebook has reminded me of a photo I took in 2013. Scarily similar.


The crow versus magpie saga continues as I watch their WWF tag-wrestler-style behaviour on the lawn. The smaller magpies trying to exert some kind of dominance repeatedly fail to do so. The crows are wary, but not even slightly intimidated. This magpie pair have conceded the existing nest site to their larger cousins, but still visit it regularly, while also starting to build –from scratch – a new platform nest. On two separate occasions the crows have popped in and, literally picked it apart and dropped it from a great height. It is, after all, no more than thirty feet from their own nest-to-be. The mags cannot take the hint and, to date, have re-built it twice.

I am reminded of the Spy v Spy cartoons that appeared in Mad magazine.

Image result for spy v spy mad images

But, doesn’t this behaviour also mirror the “boundary dispute” in progress up at the allotment. No malice between ourselves and the house owner, but dispute between official parties (of course it is not quite so simple) that is going on and on. Most recently the house owner has removed his front hedge and intentionally or not the contractors doing the job have also taken out some of the hedge between the allotments and the Wolverhampton Road. Again we have a case of watch-this space as arbitration/discussion/resolution are at least as far away as they were before.

I am brought to mind of a “small talk” conversation with one of The stewards at Walsall Football Club last Saturday. We were discussing the weather (usual topic for English people – we have so much of it after all – and I said we needed a sustained cold spell to get rid of snails and slugs. Wise chap, humouring ing the paying customer, nodded sagely. Is today the beginning of a cold snap?

By the time I am setting out for the traffic marmalade that passes for roads between here and Bolton, the snow has turned to rain.

*Other web sites are available and one such talks of the green comet which should, cloud permitting be visible from earth for a couple of nights. Green Comet? My mind is racing; surely a DC super hero? Whose alter-ego is a mild mannered allotmenteer?

Super-powers ?

Hmmm …

Any suggestions ?

The Magic of Trees?

Image result for cannock chase images

Returning happily (we won!) from a home game I am pleased that the wide, pink skies are still light at half past five. This must be spring getting closer I’m thinking. Encouraging! Longer daylight hours, more time for outdoor evening activities. I’m also brought back to a time I spent with friends in Bergen – and an experience in the primary school where they worked.

A group of ten year old children at dinner time ere hauling the standard two inch something fire hose along the main corridor.

“You should see this,” they told me, as they pushed and pulled the anaconda nozzle out through a classroom window – and dragged it towards a ring of pine trees growing in the play area. Now the play area I should explain was not a level playing field, but sloped, included outcrops of the mountain rocks, the ridged, toe-trap roots of trees, lawns and copses. A child poking a stick down a lidless storm drain raised no eyebrows and there were never teachers – visibly – on duty.

A cleared circle at the centre of the spinney had a fire pit and around fifteen or so of the children had prepared a classic wig-wam of kindling. Which they duly set fire to, then added additional fuel. It was all very well organised. Next, to my surprise each of them sharpened a fifteen inch or so long ash skewer (with sheath knives) and used this to cook a sausage over the flames. Someone else (they took it in turns I was told) had brought bread (but not everyone wanted bread with their sausage).

“This week I bring the meat, next week the fuel …”

Together they sat, talked and took their responsibilities so very maturely. Something in the experience had me thinking of my own childhood in-charge-of-fires, another part had me thinking how very far removed from the reams of health and safety paperwork this was from a child’s life in an English school: the playground surfaces, the fire … and, please, nobody mention those knives!

It was all so very normal for the Norwegian kids: part of the marvellous forest schools that also had them spending half a day every week in the local forest (you are rarely far away from a forest in Norway) and granted permission –if not actively encouraged – to have a fire while there.

Then, completing the twenty five minute journey from the game I look at a blog that, coincidentally links with the flashback:

The post is well worth a look, but is essentially about a Norway-wide philosophy that time spent out of doors is beneficial, even more so if it can be spent with nature. It doesn’t require great wilderness treks, but relieves stress and helps the mind to concentrate. The Victorian town planners with their parks and arboretums, the model-factory owners were visionary in their grasp of this concept it would seem, even though the word “friluftsliv” had yet to be coined.

Image result for friluftsliv images Image result for friluftsliv images

The same can be said for time spent up at the allotment – though, during winter’s dark passage this is done dutifully, rather than with any actual work going on (for me at any rate). The plans to lay the hedge, to set out paths, to repair retaining banks has been put on hold while the border dispute goes on.

However, the time usually spent up there is liberating: just enough work to employ the muscles, enough repetition to not tax the brain – and fresh air and, sometimes, the craic. Friluftsliv indeed!

Image result for the man who made things out of trees

There is yet another serendipitous coincidence; I am currently reading a book, The man Who made Things Out Of Trees (Robert Penn) in which he mentions shinrin-yoku (or “forest bathing”) practised in Japan:


“… basically going for a stroll in an ancient forest – is a standard form of preventative medicine. Inspired by ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices, nearly a quarter of the Japanese population still enjoys forest bathing today. There is also a field of study that tries to understand not just why walking in fragrant, old-growth forests is good for us but also how the magic of trees works on humans at a molecular level, in our cells and neurons. The data is compelling: leisurely forest walks reduce heart rate and blood pressure, decrease sympathetic nerve activity and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.”

Image result for shinrin yoku uk

“Research has examined the relationship between trees and the perception of safety in inner cities, the effect of gardening on the quality of life of people with disabilities, and how the use of wood in interiors can reduce levels of stress in schools. The effect of wood in hospitals has been studied in many countries, including Finland, Norway, Austria, South Korea, Japan, USA, Canada and Denmark. The research is far from conclusive but seems to show that humans react positively to wood in interiors both psychologically and physiologically. The findings correspond with research that suggests spending time in nature improves cognition, helps with anxiety and depression, and even enhances human empathy.

The polymath American biologist EO Wilson first propounded his theory of biophilia – that we have a deep affiliation with other forms of life, like trees, which is instinctive and rooted in our biology – in the mid-80s. Around the same time, Professor Roger S Ulrich completed one of the first and best-known studies in the interdisciplinary field now known as environmental psychology. Ulrich’s conclusion – that patients recovering from surgery in rooms with a window facing natural surroundings took less medicine for pain relief than patients with a window facing a brick wall – was ground-breaking.

The magic of trees works on humans at a molecular level, in our cells and neurons. The data is compelling.”

Certainly we felt better, having completed a steady four mile walk across Cannock Chase, From Marquis Drive to Birches Valley and back, sharing the forest trails with cyclists, walkers, dogs towing adults, horse riders and three outdoor classes (two for off road cycling and one for orienteering). The Chase is a popular place, deservedly so – and on Sunday morning neither of us, unusually objected to the company. There may be a little Norwegian in all of us I suspect.

Image result for cannock chase images

20 Vertical Gardening Ideas for Turning a Small Space into a Big Harvest

A wide range of ideas here, from a prolific blogger, Rachel Falco.

How to Provide

Is acreage still but a dream for you?  Consider Vertical Gardening!

Vertical gardening is nothing more than using vertical space to grow vegetables (or herbs, or flowers, even root crops), often using containers that hang on a sunny wall. Traditional gardeners have done similar things with climbing plants like squashes and beans for centuries by building trellises. Vertical gardening takes it one step further by giving non-climbing plants a space on the wall.


Paul Clarke , November 24, 2015

Vertical gardens take up less space, are easier to harvest, and easier to maintain. However, they do have their own limitations:

  • You need sunny wall space
  • If they are built too high, they can be difficult to maintain. Don’t make them taller than you can reach
  • The support system must be strong enough to handle the weight of everything
  • The supporting wall must be able to withstand a lot…

View original post 1,256 more words

Elf and Softie


You may recognise the above from a recent post (pallets ferried up to the allotment with a very generous neighbour.

What a coincidence then, when, worried as I was that someone might mistakenly approach our plot (because access is possible as the neighbouring houseowner had removed his fencing panels) and climb on the assorted timber*, during a local walk the notice in the photo below was blown against my legs.



* because I wouldn’t have been able to resist – in truth might have to try it anyway. Some things are just too, too tempting, don’cha think?

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