Archive for May, 2019

The Weekend Starts ..?

Once upon a time some genius – almost certainly in advertising – had this brainwave:

 The weekend starts on Friday.

Never more true than when the Monday is a Bank Holiday.

I’m preparing for a long deferred day’s graft at the allotment; the TVs on: Teresa May has announced her retirement date, there’ll be a feeding frenzy of idiot talking heads and I’m looking for a weather forecast. Surfing the channels I come across some horse faced woman with a toothy smile saying that Bank Holidays should be banned. Because people are forced to take time off work at the same time as the rest of their family, their community. Where do they get these people? More to the point why do they get the air time? It’s as if (conspiracy theory approaching, beware) there’s some campaign to give the public something to debate.

And, gods dammit, it just worked!

English Bank Holidays, enshrined in Parliament in 1871, seem to have originated around existing agricultural practice and church festivals. We have eight now and the reasoning behind them is lost in contemporary life. Community means something much different today. As do work and leisure.

In the real world, people are finishing work early (or feigning illness), heading to the airports, jamming the roads as they seek to escape to the grass on the other side, where everything is greener.

Our site is not too far from the M6, Britain’s busiest motorway. Not too far, either, from the M6 Toll Road (our biggest white elephant to date*) and the rather sedate M54. And a major local road (the A5 Roman Road/Watling Street**) has roadworks/ diversions.

So, from the top of the site I can look at the chaos of traffic shoe horning itself onto journeys. Of trade, delivery, of import, of recreation?

And I am about to have conversations with my allotment neighbours. I love travelling but, this morning, am happy to be getting about simple –if overdue – tasks.

The greenhouse and lean-to cold frame have been full of (and beyond!) trays of seedlings that need pricking on – or pots of pricked on plants that need planting out.

We’re shamefully late with sowing runner bean seeds (White Lady) but hope – once they germinate – they’ll catch up.

Metaphorical sleeves rolled up then. Here we go.

One (of three) compost bins, made six or seven years ago from the sawn down walls of a re-purposed shed and bent nails, has been emptied; the contents filling a bean trench, making mounds for the courgette and pumpkin plants and top dressing a raised bed. The bamboo canes the plants will hopefully use to pull themselves toward the sun are also in place.

We would have liked to get new ones from our own site shop, but opening is sporadic and we’d heard from a number of plotholders about the wonderful service and range of fertilisers, gadgets, seeds and sundries at nearby Bushbury allotment. So we took a drive, found the place, paid a two quid membership fee and handed over a few more pounds for sulphate of potash and thirty bamboo canes (eight feet long).

This structure is worth spending time on; as the beans grow up the canes, they can catch the wind and act like a sail, so it needs to be secure. I granny knot various bits of string to hold it all soundly in place. These new canes are sturdy and should do their bit.

The old raised-bed timbers are burned (what a glorious conflagration that was!) and parsnips and cauliflower planted out, with sunflowers to make a full row. Caulis have the ground limed, then slug pellets added to deter the opportunist molluscs. I also place baker’s trays over them to keep our local population of woodpigeons off the new leaves. They’ll need proper netting but I am happy to get them into the ground at this stage.

Courgettes are planted and watered in. the pesky, but cheerfully inevitable annual weeds that crop up (literally) are hoed down (again!).

And, after a welcome and, dare I say it, well deserved, cup of tea from the trusty Thermos, I take a slow stroll back towards the car. Our plots are as far as you can possibly get from the central roadway and parking. I can see Sailor Dave. Through a veritable wizard’s fog of smoke.

I can also see a lady I recognise at the door of the toilet. She is hovering there. I hope she’s all right.

Ah, I realise where all the blue smoke is coming from: Dave’s using one of those weed wands that burns off the foliage. We laugh as I tell him it reminds me of black and white film footage of American troops storming the beaches of Japanese occupied Pacific islands during World War Two. Those flame throwers didn’t look at all safe … or particularly easy to use.

While these light hearted remarks have been tossed about, I notice the lady is still hovering by the toilet. I know her husband has some mobility problems. Maybe he’s in the toilet and in trouble. Stuck?

“There are no Japanese snipers here,”  Dave says, “I hope,”

I’d dropped my bits and pieces I the car on the way over to talk to him. I offer him a few cauliflower plants I didn’t use. This is one of the great things about allotments: we have a few spare bits and pieces, somebody else can make use of them. At a different time, we’ll take advantage of someone else’s generosity. What goes round goes on sharing.  Altruism in action.  Cooperation and contentment.

I stroll back to get them, they’d most likely have ended up in our compost bucket at home. En route I walk down to the lady by the loo. It’s a water free one, installed when I was on the committee. Tanks collect the solid waste, which is meant to then compost down over a five year period. Ingenious.

“Is everything all right?” I ask

“Oooooh yes,” she reassures me, “he’s just fixing the door so it’ll lock from the inside.”

Indeed, there he is, screwdriver in hand smiling up at me from a – thankfully, fully dressed – kneeling position.

“Yes,” he adds some detail, “She was in here yesterday and the door blew open in the wind!”

“I didn’t mean to interfere,” I say, “but I thought you might have been stuck and wanted to know if I should get my camera!”

We all laugh quietly.

His wife asks if I’d like some lettuce. “To eat,” she explains, “not to plant.”

I cannot refuse. Fresh lettuce, how very tasty. Ours won’t be ready for a couple of weeks yet, And, bonus of bonuses, they’re crisp Little Gem lettuce. Sure enough, freshly washed, they taste bloomin’ marvellous on a crusty cob in the evening with a cold beer and that elusive sense of satisfaction that comes after a day spent well. .

* I suspect HS2 will be the next.

**Various names for a road that existed pre-Roman times, running from the south coast to Anglesey.


Pea – Risoners ?

Bitter experience has shown that once we have sown the peas (we use Hurst Green Shaft as maincroppers) unless we protect them, we don’t even see them: the large and opportunistic flocks of wood pigeons descend and the pea seedlings are gobbled up.

We have taken to adding a defensive ring of this building site protective netting like some kind of horticultural castle keep wall. It was scavenged off a skip by local roadworks.

OK, so it’s plastic. But I reassure myself that it was heading for landfill/incineration any road up (see what I did there?) and this gives it another useful life.

the few and various sticks you see are to support the seedlings more will be added once the little beauties show their distinctive heads.

Lobbed over onto site from the roadway: some wings would be welcome, but no sign yet.

So, all done for their own pea rotection.

Fwamed: Tales of Wooderwick.

There’s a lot to organise.

Some much needed TLC for the more than drunkenly listing scarecrow known as Wooderwick. He began life as a bit of fun, a have a go attempt or the Scarecrow Competition; brilliantly organised by the then-committee as part of a wonderful community Open Day . But, once I started creating, well one thing lead to another and, though he wasn’t meant to last this long, he has become a fixture. Much admired by neighbouring plot holders. But, in truth, in danger of taking somebody’s eye out as they pull rhubarb. Not going to be  a pretty sight is it. And, imagine, you’re at Accident and Emergency and you have to tell them “a scarecrow did it!”

Then, there’s all  of the scrounged, scavenged and otherwise – legitimately – acquired timber (fresh with at least two lashings of a number of Timberlife products – yes it is possible to mix them together, makes interesting colours that, by the way, you are unlikely to ever be able to mix again -) to be cargoed to the site. I have been at this point before, enough timber to create the walls of the raised bed primed and ready up on site; but it got nicked. No other word for it, has to be nicked! It was there, then gone. No idea who, nor where it ended up, but a –as you can imagine – significant mass of timber nicked. Committee didn’t seem interested (“send me an e-mail about it,” and “ that’s happened to Old Blinkers as well you know!” being the most I got out of them).

Mein Krafter is coming over to lend a hand. And a combi drill. And expertise. And, as it turns out, enthusiasm. Plantation Owner’s Wife heading over to the daughter’s in exchange. A day with the grandson.

Over three weeks or so we’d patiently barrowed the topsoil from the first of the raised beds, exhaustingly riddled three years ago to get rid of stones, to a “storage spot”. The strawberries worth saving are in the vegetable plot and already showing flowers. So there is some urgency about, finally, getting the task completed. We need the “storage space” ground for parsnips and the strawberry ground for salad crops (lettuce, radish, outdoor cucumbers).

Two car loads (and I do mean LOADS) of timber, corned beef sandwiches, tools, Thermos, gloves and the ubiquitous compost buckets (kitchen waste) later and I sit waiting for Herr Krafter.

Who duly arrives. The plan is explained, measurements made and plotted out and we’re off. The width of the bed shall be that of one cargo pallet (coincidentally because Matters supplied, for the family bonfire, durable, well made pallets). And the measurements fitted the space. Perhaps there’ll be room for rhubarb, perhaps not. That’s an evolution; time will tell.

Well-practised with tape measure, combi drill and enjoying the activity, Scotters becomes a veritable whirlwind of creative carpentry. There’s a lot of bodging together on our allotment (for me it is part of the whole allotment ethos: replace, reimagine, re-use reblah, reblah, reblah) but especially on large scale projects like this one. I’m sure he would much prefer to be using brand new ordered for the job timbers. But that ain’t gonna happen, so he bends himself to the work. Combi drill (how useful would one of those be, I think to myself, planning to research the very thing. Later).

We put the thicker pieces at the base. They will be in contact with the most moisture. It’ll be the moisture from the soil that eventually finishes the frame off, of course, so putting the bulkier bits low down seems to make sense. Doesn’t it?

Measure, saw, try, fix, repeat. The crow bar jabs holes for the supporting uprights, persuaded into place with the little sledge hammer. String marking lines are replaced by timbers. Clearing the space between this new bed and its neighbour we discover a long lost, massive sheet of weed proof membrane. That’ll line the new bed. Brilliant idea. Plans are better than faith, a wise man once said; you can change plans more easily.

With some time to spare, but cutting it fashionably close, while I begin to load soil and compost into the void, Mein K, almost effortlessly puts a frame together to take to shed-side thornless blackberries.

All in all a great day’s work.

Even if, unfortunately, the following match sees my team relegated at the end of a rather bleak season.

On the bright side, no more distractions from football. A much deserved break.

And, within two weeks, the bed is filled, strawberries planted with a dash of sulphate of potash, ground cleared and onion setts embedded.

Chalk up one for the refreshed Wooderwick.

Trees ‘n’ Things

Spring, high temperatures and the chance to stretch the legs, relax the little grey cells and, surreptitiously, check out neighbouring gardens for new ideas, plants, features. A bit of a walk. Not too far, pleasant pace, we usually have an unspoken agreement about this.

Local fields fluoresce like Hollywood-neon sheets under a pale blue sky. I think of the IKEA sign, the Swedish flag and realise that, hey!, most things I know from Sweden have four letters{ ABBA, Saab, Oslo*)

We’ve been to Boscobel House, one-time hunting lodge the woods of which fleeing from detection Prince Charles (later King Charles II) hid. Hence the name of many a local public house (God bless ‘em!) :Royal Oak. It’s just up the road, certainly not far out of our way and it rekindles fond memories of taking our own kids there, many moons ago.

But this is a different day and we’re determined to get out and about it. We haven’t gone far, when we happen across a guy, with two young children, pushing a wheelbarrow. It’s filled with logs. Silver birch logs. Clearly the bits and pieces of the silver birch that finally got cut down over the weekend. I watched a little in awe, a lot more in trepidation, as a man clambered unsteadily up a swaying extension ladder, balanced on a branch and set about sawing at the branch one handed. The whole tree was moving as he to and fro-ed with the saw. Simple harmonic motion? Very simple, not very harmonic. I tore myself away from the scene, and – up at the allotment – re-built, with  a great deal of help and sophisticated toolery, the raised bed I have been going on about for far too long.

Back to the man with the barrow which is itself a marvel. The body of it looks something like one of those amphibious DUKW critters they used on D-Day to land troops and tanks; slope fronted. It’s made from sheet iron about a quarter inch thick (that’s 6.35 mm in new money), welded together and must be heavy even before loading. These sections of tree are two foot (60 cm) or so in diameter and about eighteen inches (45 cm) deep.

The man is wheeling them round and dumping them in the front garden of a house just around the corner.

We exchange nods.

So,” I say, encouraged, “that’s where it went?”

He smiles. I introduce myself and he explains. He’s a police dog handler, wants to house the dog outside and needs the space where the tree was to build a run. Aaah, that makes some sense. Not just an act of wilful vandalism then. Destroying environment and bio-diversity; these actions usually aren’t of course, once you scratch a bit deeper.

The lumberjockeys were his brother-in law and his father; “ a cross between crazy and brave,” he says. He must have watched them, then.

He’s more than happy to let us have some of the logs, but has run out of energy and will simply be putting the reminder out with a sign saying


I pass the word on to Mr Plummer and between us we take every last little scrap. I might burn some of this***, but also have a plan to use the rounds as a rather unusual edging to a new garden bed I’m planning to create at home. This’ll take up some lawn but add interest (at least in my head). It will also create habitat for minibeasts and opportunities for some rather interesting fungi.

Any road up, I have another – perhaps mitigating – chapter of the Hi-Ho Silver ( story and am glad that the wood will find at least one more use as opposed to simply going into landfill.

*OK, that’s a whole different country, but close ???*

  **I can almost hear my Norwegian friends sighing as they read this (but then again, perhaps they won’t.

*** It’ll need drying first, of course.

You Will Make Sure …

She’ll say it every year. I know she’ll say it. She knows I won’t take any notice.

But still she’ll say it.

It’s a kind of pre-strmmer ritual.

“You will make sure, won’t you (imagine the raised eyebrows at this point in the script?) …”

“You will make sure, won’t you, that the grass doesn’t go everywhere?”

I’d really rather pretend that I don’t know what she’s talking about, but the evidence is, at least, compelling.

The Otterbury* Strimmer

I suppose it all starts with the strimmer.

Although, in reality, it starts a few weeks ago with me looking at the burgeoning grass paths between our allotment paths and thinking (vaguely):

“Somebody needs to do something about that grass …”

But, to all practical intents and purposes, it starts with the strimmer.

Which, er, won’t start!

Of course not; why would it? It’s been bunged, probably the wrong way up, in a disorganised, dark, cold shed since I last had cause to use it. When that was I really cannot recall.

So, pleased that I can still (I persuade myself) remember the sequence of striking up the two stroke motor, I gamely prime the fuel, squeeze the trigger and pull on the cord. I didn’t expect it to spark up straight away, for all the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph, plus –maybe – a few more. It didn’t.

I continued, working up quite a sweat, becoming, embarrassingly, breathless, while stooped over it, and it continued to refuse to go. I hit it lightly, used a screwdriver to clear some dust and dried grass from various nooks and crannies (none of which were going to have any effect on ignition, by the way, but at least I got my breathing back to normal.

“Check the fuel,” a little, intelligent-sounding voice in my head suggested. I checked. Looked like there was sough in there, but I topped it up anyway. Shook the whole thing to –in my little world – dislodge any blockage in petrol line filters (I don’t know that this machine even has such sophistication). Is it best to store these things over winter with petrol in the tank? Will/ Can the petrol lose it’s ignition qualities?

An hour and a bit later I’m still trying. The Plantation Owner’s Wife will be home soon from her gym time and I haven’t put the washing out. Because I’m pleading with this piece of machinery, determined that “it” won’t beat me (while admitting that it actually – you know – might!) and telling myself that it’s an inanimate object: it doesn’t do competitions.

My final gambit is to threaten it with a service.

“If you haven’t started by the time I have to stop to breathe in again (do you find yourself, unconsciously holding your own breath at times like this?) I’m driving over to Buxton’s** and dropping you off!”

Whther it’s that particular threat, the persistence or just plain simple mechanical logics the thing fires, catches and roars aggressively. I feel something like I imagine a Spitfire pilot back in the days would have felt like when the smoke chops out of those stubby little exhausts on either side of the engine. Or a MotoGP rider. That roar is beautifully frightening – and it means the strimmer starts.

I check the self-feed line mechanism and, just in the sheer joy of the moment, strim the edges of the home lawn.

Yes, yes and yes: all in good working order.

By the time the Chief is back I have the washing pegged out, the kettle on and my breath back.

  • *Back in the day, when I was at school,my younger brother’s class was reading a book, The Otterbury Incident. He suggested I read it too. A voracious devourer of books I did just that. It was the first book I remember to explain that stories actually never really begin where they begin. To paraphrase the first paragraph of the book went something like:”It all started when we were playing wars on the bomb site. But it didn’t really. We wouldn’t have been playing wars if we hadn’t been in a war, there’d be no bomb site either. And there wouldn’t be a war if Germany hadn’t gone and invaded Poland. And that wouldn’t have happened if the Germans hadn’t voted Adolf Hitler in as their leader. But the story has to start somewhere.”

 ** Buxton’s: an excellent, so far, lawnmower and horticultural machinery stockists and repair shop (well recommended).

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