Archive for the ‘Dave’s Wheelbarrow.’ Category

Work Hard or Starve*





The things we do as allotmenteers must have the local residents** wondering.


The Plantation Owner’s Wife and I recently took reams of newspapers and old supermarket apple boxes up to the plot and painstakingly pegged them out over our growing potatoes: Arran Pilot, Desiree and Roosters. We also used ripped fleece but didn’t have anywhere near enough to do the whole job.

It was an emergency measure to keep off a predicted late frost as we simply don’t have enough fleece (which is, if anything a redeeming sign of some sanity perhaps). The rows have already been earthed up and the haulms looked really healthy.

On the way out, stopping to introduce ourselves to some newbies we spotted a stack “stuff” piled against the “dungeon”. The dungeon is our name for a concrete sectional garage that was initially used as shop, store, rent-collection office and general “dumping ground” by the committee when we first took on a plot.

Since then, go-ahead, community minded committees (and, yes I was a part of these committees, so forgive a certain lack of modesty) acquired a couple of freight containers, expanded the site shop and community involvement so that the dungeon is becoming “surplus to requirements”. The current committee, it appears had cleaned out this old kit and what was leaning against the wall was free of charge (ask anybody who knows me: my favourite price!)

The newbies were, in the finest of allotment traditions, grabbing tools that they didn’t already have: reminding me of a time when we only had a spade with a wonky handle, a shovel (with no handle) and a digging fork with a bent tine. We encouraged them to take whatever they thought they needed: they could repair or cannibalise it, couldn’t they?

And the application of a wire brush and a lick of paint can, after all, make such a difference … and next time you come to dig there’s maybe a spade each; and the work gets done so much faster!

We pick up a spade (for our daughter who, even as we swoop, is setting up raised beds at her house), two Dutch hoes (which will find their way to both of our daughters), a stiff-bristled broom and an unusually shaped tool that, held onto a stave that looks too spindly with two bent nails and a Posi-drive screw, looks something like a draw hoe with a cast iron blade that comes to a point. Ideal, I am thinking, for making furrows to plant peas.

Back at home the spade takes very little effort: some earnest hammering to remove lumps of concrete, a wire brush, some emery cloth, some left-over Hammerite (gold of all colours!) and hey presto!


I am more circumspect with the “hoe”, removing the nails and screw first (easy enough), then wedging the blade securely before beginning to remove the rust, which is more advanced than on the spade: years of it rather than months. Looking closely I can see letters (?) appearing. My default metal cleaner comes into use, half a cupful of gone-flat Coca-Cola brings a sharpness tot he metal (goodness only knows what it does to your insides then!).

Yes, definitely!


I recognise the  “broad arrow” symbol as that of the War Department. The numbers then, presumably, a date. The penultimate year of World War Two. Why on earth does a horticultural implement have this stamped on it. And Brades? Somebody’s name?

I fire up the computer and simply type the whole thing into a search engine. Following one or two diversions to selling sites I come across the following information:

BRADES is a brand name of implements cast by a Birmingham company William Hunt and Sons (WHS is another of their brand names (not the bookshops, by the way)). The following from Wikipedia:

“The founder of the company, William Hunt, was an edge tool maker at Rowley Regis, near DudleyWorcestershire, in the late 18th century. In 1782 he purchased the Brades Estate at Oldbury, near Birmingham, and established a new works there known as Brades Forge, or simply as The Brades. By 1805 they were also manufacturing steel on the site, which was now known as the Brades Steel Works. Around 1793, Hunt took W. Cliffe into partnership, and for a short period the firm was known as Hunt and Cliffe: this name appears in the company’s first ledger, dated 9 May 1794. This partnership dissolved around 1803, and Hunt continued trading on his own account until 1809, when he took his sons into partnership and the firm became known as William Hunt & Sons.”

While on the internet I also find this striking, if somewhat chilling, image:


Vintage Military Tools & Equipment Gallery

The Implement, Intrenching, pattern 1908 – Head, Mark II replaced the Mark I issue with List of Changes entry §15905, dated 4th August 1911

Note that this is similar to the Mark 1

Stores Ref. J1/JA 6022 Implement, entrenching, Patt. ’37, helve, Mark II, complete with bayonet adaptor. This version had an adapter fitting on the end, so that a “spike” Bayonet from the Lee-Enfield No. 4 Rifle could be fitted to it, for use as a mine probe.

This picture (one of many), I found particularly fascinating. Looking closely at the rear of the “business end” of the blade I have been renovating it is clear a piece has been, accidentally or deliberately removed. Perhaps the stave it is now fastened to is not it’s original either. And, clearly, given this most peremptory of research, this is a military entrenching tool; for digging in, latrine digging, sandbag filling. Once I know this I view the thing in a far different light. The pattern is from 1908, so similar tools would have dug trenches in the Great War.

How would they have been carried: one per soldier? Strapped to the turrets of tanks? By certain troops only?

Was the one I have involved in the D-Day invasions? What, if any campaigns did it witness?

Was it still in military use beyond the end of the Second World War? My own father-in-law (God bless him, no longer with us) was a post-war conscript stationed in Egypt (where he learned to dislike tinned pineapples because they were served ad nauseum) and, ironically, one of his tasks was the routine clearance of minefields.

And the sixty-four thousand dollar question: how did it get to our allotments site?

A real shame that the current committee didn’t look more closely at what they wre about to discard. The “entrenching tool” would have made an excellent addition (a “shed prop” maybe) in what was conceived as a “World war One Legacy Garden, meant to commemorate those from the parish whose lives were changed by service in the ’14 – ’18 war and any subsequent conflicts. In fact a couple of wooden D-handled forks that were also part of the clear out would have helped to set the scene, just stood in the plot.

I am sure the local historians*** would like to have a gleg at this, so take it along to their regular open morning. I – unfairly – permit myself a smug smile as they, speaking too soon, identify it as a potato hoe. They are, however, intrigued by the little research I have done and I leave it with them for a while. They may be able to add more to the knowledge …

… and, hopefully, it still has years of functional work left in it. They knew how to make things back in those days.


* WHS was also a brand mark: the piece-workers there referred to it, perhaps only jokingly  as “Work hard or Starve” (Trust me this’ll make more sense when you’ve read the whole piece!)

**especially the house directly next door where they have fake, plastic flowered globes suspended from a wall as hanging baskets and impossibly green artificial grass around their outbuildings.

**Cheslyn Hay and District Local Historical Society




“Who’s going to be the first in the audience to ask a question?”

Marvellously high temperatures here this weekend (around the twenty Celsius mark: compared to April averages of 13 C) had us up on site: dismantling the old fruit cage around the Ben Lomond blackcurrant bushes – or what is left of them – , final rough digging of the last twelve or so spits of plot land in preparation for sowing/planting out, tidying up the raised beds which hold our strawberry plants and enjoying cups of shed-made tea. Coming back home today, Sunday, it is usual to listen to BBC Gardener’s Question Time, but today, rather than a programme answering questions it was a look-back at highlights type of show. Very interesting and anecdotal. But at the close was a “trailer” for the on-line recording of the first-ever Gardener’s World programme. Since this year celebrates the seventieth anniversary of the show (which was originally titled How Does Your garden Grow: A Gardener’s Question Time and was a spin-off of the World War Two Dig for Victory campaign) the BBC are being very inventive in showcasing the history. 

I challenged myself to listen to that 9th April, 1947 broadcast. Why not? I could imagine myself as a gardening version of Dr Who ( a long-time time-travelling hero (sometimes anti-hero of the BBC currently played by Peter Capaldi). Thinking this I wondered how the language of gardening, the culture of horticulture, so to speak, might have changed – and how does Dr Who cope with all of the linguistic changes as he travels from Metebelius III to Shakespearian England, never mind comprehend the technology (and, more importantly, what has not yet been discovered/invented).

Over to one of the marvels of the twenty first century: the internet! BBC on-line, indeed; no TARDIS required. The advertised, unedited episode was chaired by Bob Stead and was recorded at the Broadoak Hotel, Ashton-Under-Lyne and featured a panel of Bolton Park Superintendent Tom Clark, he marvellously named gardeners Fred Loads and Bill Sowerbutts, and Manchester University’s Dr E. W. Sansome. An audience of local gardeners put questions to the panel much as they still do today. The panellists represented, as they do today, a wide range of expertise and did not always agree on their answers. Indeed, the show seemed interestingly, refreshingly ill-rehearsed and the beginnings of banter were obvious, if a little stiff.  Given that food rationing was still in place – two years after the end of World War Two – indeed had even seen the compulsory reduction in the amount of milk allotted per person, that beer was one shilling and four pence a pint (about 6p in today’s money), petrol was two shillings and 2 pence (the approximate equivalent of eleven of our decimal pennies) and a Mars bar cost five pence (or 2 of our 2017 pence)  the programme provided a fascinating insight into the problems facing amateur gardeners of the time. 

Questions included: how to combat red spider mite, how best to pollinate tomatoes, and uses for soot. It was notable that the oldest questioner was eighty, the youngest was sixteen and that all were allotment holders, including women, who were quite happy to challenge and joke about stereotypes … … and the dated references: one guy asking telling how he had tried to deal with red spider mite that blighted his carnations: “ … I tried nicotine, Derris and DDT … naptha treatment cleared out all the red spider mite … and all of the carnations!” DDT!? My brain was screaming as I listened (knowing retrospectively that the stuff was probably responsible for a number of species becoming all but extinct (especially raptors as it persisted in the food chain). While familiar with he chemicals from stories (Agatha Christie) and historical non-fiction I smiled at the move away from them. I also reminded myself that an Edwardian gardener would have been using lead and perhaps arsenic in the garden.

How to ensure apples didn’t suffer from early dropping from the trees ? One of the “experts” said, bluntly that “the best way to keep apples on the trees was to make sure young boys stayed in their houses!”. Which raised a laugh from the audience and reminded me of traditional “scrumping” raids of my own. 

There was, as could be expected in straitened times, tremendous support for composting; one of the panel responding that “you would never get the corporations (councils) to take garden waste.”

Having listened to the recording I was hooked, wondering about the context of the show, about what else was going on in April, 1947. I was fascinated to pick up the following, most of which, forgive me, have little or nothing to do with gardening:

*1947 was the year our current queen, Elizabeth II married Prince Philip;

* One of the worst winters on record was followed by floods in the Spring and the hottest summer in 300 years

*one in ten train services cut

*Britain lost the jewel in its imperial crown as India gained independence on 15 August 1947

* Coal industry nationalised and the first atomic reactor opened at Harwell, Oxfordshire

* Divorces hit 60,000, ten times pre-war figures, as hasty war-time marriages were dissolved

* At the same time there was a baby boom, with 20.5 births per thousand people, a fifth up on 1939

* Newspapers were restricted to four page issues; making me wonder at the percentage of news as opposed to advertising.

Meanwhile, up at the allotment we had the sad news that “Ken” has passed away. While he has not had a plot for many years now, Ken was a great gardener, always interested in what we were trying, ready with advice and always had some fine conversation. I remember well when he asked us about where we had been on holiday one year as we  were particularly sun-bronzed. “Kenya,” we replied (a super holiday taking in the Masai Mara, a dawn take-off balloon flight and so many game drives, including one at night: oh the glorious Milky Way skies!).

“I was in Kenya,” he told us, “with the army. Bit of trouble back in them days (what became known as the Mau-Mau uprising here). “While we were there we spent some time by a river. There was a film being made at the time. Saw this bald chap in the water. Thought we recognised him. Victor Mature it was. Himself and in person: bald as a coot! Yet in his films … “ he had to pause to ask if we actually knew who Victor Mature was, “he always had this head of thick, dark black hair. A wig, that’s what it was. He was bald, plain bald!”

Image result for victor mature images

He also told us of how shocked he was, when being addressed – and supposedly inspired – by a top officer – was asked where he was from.

“Staffordshire!” he said, “I he said it proudly, like you know. The colonel seemed to take a moment, like he’d never heard of Staffordshire. Then “really,” says he “and what does your father do?”

“He’s a miner sir, said I. He looked at me again, Then shook his head and said  “I’m sorry lad, like my dad being a miner was something to be ashamed of!”

Rest in Peace Ken.

Maybe it’s just me: but there’s something about having an allotment that links you to history: all of the people and lives that have been “on the plot” before – and, hopefully those that will follow.

“Gotta Have One O’ Them!”

I’m looking across the roughly dug allotment plot wondering if it isn’t all just a waste of time. Too, too late, of course: we’ve just paid the allotment rents for another year in one of those rush of blood to the head moments; all fire, plans and enthusiasm. None of which is there as I lean awkwardly on my spade. Predictably my elbow slips and I smack myself on the chin in a most undignified manner. Thankfully nobody seems to be watching.

Back at home, inside a centrally heated room, looking out at the heaving-with-mating-toads pond last night, everything was going to be so simple. Rake out the soil, level it off, sprinkle some lime, line out the rows …

In those marvellous trouble-free visions there hadn’t been a biting late February wind and Storm Doris had never been conceived, then arrived and shattered and distributed three quarters of the greenhouse glass across neighbouring plots, driving one thumbnail sized shard into the side of a shed at eye-level. And the soil had obeyed even the slightest nudge from the hoe blade which sparkled pristinely in the heavenly spring sun. The sun which, this morning, was nowhere to be seen, being masked by racing clouds which every now and then leaked showers of lacerating hurled at the face raindrops.

I had managed to use boards salvaged from skip-dived pallets to make a reasonably – to my eyes, at least – level edging to the plot, neatly, for a while at least, containing the soil and anticipated crops. And I’m in the middle of consuading* myself that the edge actually is spot on when I am joined by a neighbour: Stewpot.

“Nothing like a straight edge to set the plot off well, is there?” he asks, politely, patting me on the shoulder, smiling when I shake my head.

“ … and, er, that is nothing like a straight edge is it?”

Did I think he was being polite? Just a moment ago?

But this banter is the stuff of allotment relationships. At least here, in this part of the UK. Staffordshire that is.

“Well,” I reply, “I was always told nature abhors a straight line!”

“Well ,Nature would be right comfortable on your plot then I reckon.” Suddenly there are three of us; Biker Bob has wandered over. Is looking over my shoulder, squinting, smiling broadly.

Bob and Stewpot have never met: I do the introductions. There is talk about Storm Doris (of course there is, this is England and, as an Italian friend of mine says “it is no surprise you talk about the weather, you ‘ave so much of it!”).

Mobile phone cameras are used to show photographs (and a video) of the wind in action. This technology is truly amazing isn’t it.

Stewpot confesses that he’d love to have a motorbike: preferably a race replica that’ll do nought to sixty in science fiction times and sound like a beast!

But with a partner expecting a child in about six weeks he realises it’s a dream that’ll have to wait.

“Rubbish!” puts in Bob, “you want one, get one now.”

“If they say no, it’s too dangerous then do what my neighbour did. Since he was thirteen he’d wanted a motorbike. Kawasaki’s were the thing then: green meanies we called ‘em. Shit-hot on the tracks but all of ‘em standard green. Bit like your Model T Fords. Any colour … as long as it’s black.”

“His mom said it was too dangerous; his dad’d come off one and had to have a leg amputated. Kept the bikes he did, but had to adapt the controls and had a helluva job balancing for a while. Yu can imagine!”

Then he was sweet on this girl and she wouldn’t ride one ‘cos it’d mess her clothes …”

“… and, if you’re not careful – actually even if you are careful – one thing leads to another and, like him you’re a grandfather and you don’t know where the time went.”

“So, now he’s ready to get a motor bike.”

“But what about the grandkids,” says his daughter, and don’t be so bleedin’ daft says his wife and his mates down the pub laugh and talk about incontinence. So he tells ‘em he’s changed his mind; that he wants a micro light instead. Buys himself a voucher on some web-site thingumajig and they all troop off to the old airfield. It was busy in the Second World war but it’s a massive out of town warehouse site now, like so many of ‘em.”

The find he place. A blister hanger left over from the War. Filled, floor to roof with wings, frames, tools, cabling, karabiners, a couple of broken propeller blades, helmets, sick bags and about twenty certificates in frames on the wall.

Turns out this guy has been a world champion. Stunting, film work, a dozen or so crash landings that he confesses to and a smile as wide as the Amazon in flood.

His daughter takes the pilot guy to one side, gives him the be-careful –with-my- dad spiel. Adds “he’s too old to be doing this kind of thing really but he wanted to try …”

Next thing he knows he’s suited up, sitting in a canvas seat with his butt near-scraping the ground and heading towards a fence at a rate of knots. Then he remembers he can still breath and air whooshes out between his pursed lips. The front lifts up and the fence, the ground, the roads are falling away below him … and he loves it!

He gets talking, over this inter-com thingy to the pilot. Fact is, they get on like the proverbial house on fire. He gets told about the daughter’s “word in your ear” and can’t resist it:

“What can this thing really do?” he’s asking, eagerly.

So he gets thrown through a couple of curves and to cap it all off – a wild, exhilarating loop the loop. He can’t believe he’s actually asked for it, let alone done it: but he has. When they land on the ground his family’s faces are carved from thunder clods; if looks could kill the pilot would be six foot down and long forgotten.

“Gotta get one of them !” he keeps repeating on the silent drive home, “gotta get one of them for myself!”

Next birthday his family buy him …

… a motor bike!





 * That’s a little more than persuasion, with a large dose of con-trickery thrown in (of course!).

With an Axe …

On a recent run up to the allotment I am reminded of a song my grandmother would smile at when it came on the “wireless” when I was a lot, lot younger. Based on a dialogue between two characters (I always assumed they were married, for some reason), Henry and Liza the narrative is a humorous deadlock. Henry is asked to fetch water, asks how to carry it, is told a bucket, replies that the bucket has a hole in it radio. Liza tells him to repair it. But to fix the leaky bucket, he needs straw. To cut the straw, he needs an axe. To sharpen the axe, he needs to wet the sharpening stone, he will need  water. However, when Henry asks how to get the water, Liza’s answer is “in a bucket”. It is implied that only the leaky bucket is available, which, if it could carry water, would need no repairing in the first place.

My grandmother used to say, with a characteristic grin, that it was typical of men to try and get out of a task*, or to make it more complicated than it needed to be … but, back in those days I couldn’t see that complexity, just wondered how the singers could remember so many words.

So …

A recent e-mail from the Committee Secretary told us that the gate locks were going to be changed; that new keys would be issued on Sunday morning between early o’clock and sometime later.

For those uncertain about allotment protocol suffice it to say that security is important: some plot holders keep significantly expensive equipment in their sheds and theft and vandalism are, sadly, frequent interruptions. Every plotholder is provided with a key to the gates on joining the association. (we have two gates, same lock, one key fits both gates).

Apparently earlier this week the bottom gate had been found unlocked, the site container broken into, spare keys, cash gone missing and six or more (details not specific) have been raided.

Best solution? Change the padlock, give out new keys to all plot holders.

I put two and two together and get a number more than the total. I am curious: is it, for example possible that the intruders entered – or left the site by way of the house next door? The house whose owner has taken down the fence. It would take a few steps across his yard and out of his gate onto the road. Nobody on the committee seems to have even considered it. Nor thought of asking the owner if he noticed anything on the night it happened. Elementary, I would have thought.

However, smiling wryly we take our keys, check the plot and go about our January business.

Hmmm …

The following weekend I am taking up the kitchen waste for the compost heap and notice, attached to the allotment gate, just above the new padlock:



Now, bear in mind that the said plots of “Colin” and “Mick” are both on-site. That to get on-site you have to go through the gates. Which are locked.






Any advice Liza?

*Phew: good job I got around to fixing the new lights in the kitchen this morning then.

Christmas TV ?

This is meant as an observation, rather than in the nature of a complaint – much too after-the-horses-have-bolted for that, this being the 15th day of January!

Over Christmas there was very little inspirational TV. A gap where once TV was filled (wasn’t it?) with programmes to entice and entertain the viewers.

There; now I’ve typed it. Opening my ether self up to all kinds of –perhaps deserved – criticism:

Yes we don’t have the latest catch up TV technology with three thousand channels that has a new premiere on every night, no wall to wall sports channels and …

Of course I know Christmas is not all about what’s on the box.

Oh and Dr Who was topically interesting in an age where most film blockbusters are either Marvel or DC superhero franchises.

But, bloated by too much trifle, turkey and tinsel I couldn’t get terribly excited over programmes I had been looking forward to.

Sherlock, for example, usually a fine re-working of the Conan Doyle character, re-imagined and definitely re-purposed and essentially nothing like the original but filled with allusions. Over Christmas I found this too pompous and overly packed with trivia: magnificent in a clinical way that had me caring little (or less) for the plot lines.

But along with the tosh was a glimpse of something that had me thinking. At least just a tiny bit. On one hand a bit of an ego trip (the sort that worked for me with characters like Billy Connolly stranded in the Arctic) with one Robson Green (actor of the Geordie parishes and sometime world fisherman) having a chance to fulfil his boyhood dream of being “marooned on a tropical island” – albeit with a chicken, mosquito net and outrigger canoe – in the style of Robinson Crusoe.  Hence the might-be cringe worthy title – Robson Crusoe. And, after all, didn’t the central character in Daniel Defoe’s book have to turn to self sufficiency, even gardening and livestock farming during his twenty something years stranded.

I missed the first part of it, but the last more-than-half had me, at least engaged. He decided not to hunt for animals to eat on the island (as Crusoe had done) but use the canoe, some ready-to hand fishing line and hooks and a few unfortunate hermit crabs: the bait.

He took to the water at sunset (gorgeous photography) but, credit to him, having failed to catch a single fish, was honest enough to admit it and go to bed hungry. Although he looked longingly at the single caged chicken he had with him.

Next morning he was predictably philosophical (though, to be honest these lines could have been written well in advance of the “shipwreck”):

“You know, we often confuse being alone … with being lonely …. It’s not the same thing … how often in the workaday world do we yearn for space and time … a chance to get away from Frantica* … and that’s just what this is … time away, so that once we get back to Frantica we can deal with it again.”

Now, just because we’ve heard this, thought it before, doesn’t mean its wrong when somebody like the earnest Mr Green says it on TV.

I believe he is spot on, nailed down correct.

And, for me time up at the allotment can be this dose of therapy. Making plans, bodging something together, wondering the what-ifs of life. Away from the mundane, often high pressure world of Everybody Else. A necessary time. Sometimes with others, chewing the fat (as we say locally) a chin wag, putting the world to rights – though nothing may change.

Just digging, tidying up, patching up the shed, waiting the right time to plant, to harvest … and not always getting it right. The skies may not always be the wonderful blue of Robson’s island, there are no pristine beaches and no camera to catch all the soliloquies, but I usually leave the plot heartened and bearing in mind a phrase I heard, first on the Beechgrove garden TV programme;

Gardening: work that works.

Do we need a Minister for Gardens?

Should allotments be available on NHS prescription?

It’d be cheaper than buying us all ten days on an isolated island eh?


*I’m paraphrasing all of this and, if there is any credit due to this name for Convention-and-Conformity it belongs to me. Just saying. OK?

How To Start A Fight In Sunderland ?

As a child it always seemed much colder after bonfire night. I don’t know but maybe gathering wood from the local hedgerows and copses was the last real excuse before building snowmen for venturing outside. After the communal friends-and-relatives-fire maybe I just hunkered down in the house – habitually spreading out on the floor in front of a roaring coal fire – until the snow came … and I missed the gradual turning from one to the other.

But we are now faced by about six weeks of “longer darknesses”: then the sun gradually getting higher in the sky. Christmas is coming, snow will make the world seem brighter with reflected light of a different quality.

Meantime there are tasks to get done.

Clearing up the bonfire after a few days of rain (and work) gets priority. The brilliantly efficient fire has, inevitably, left some metal ware (door furniture, six inch nails, part melted beer cans and discarded sparkler wires) that need picking up. The sad sticks of expended rockets and the plastic cones that held fireworks to the ground too need to go into the bin.

While I am doing this I am treated to the spectacle of modern agricultural hedge maintenance. Two massive road-blocking tractors each with attached machinery versus the holly/hawthorn borders of the fields and the taller trees (alder and sycamore) along the edge of the wood. Skilful manoeuvring by the drivers; back and forth and adjustments to the cutting (flailing heads of the cleverly articulated long-reach arms that do the brutal work. The first tractor, clean blue,  sides, tops and then puts a neat, uniform batter along the hedge. I can only approve but marvel at the speed. This hedge, maintained by my grandfather (and I) back in the day would have taken a couple of weeks by hand. Although we would also have done the then-traditional clearing and upkeep of drainage ditches (now seriously neglected).The work was always both warming and satisfying.

Image result for hedge cutting england

But the second machine leaves broken, scarred ends to branches. It is not tidy and looks unpleasant. There is a chain of thought that says, for example the when “pruning” soft fruit it is naturally beneficial to break off the branches to better stimulate new, productive growth. I have no proof of this, but maybe it is correct; looking at the battered, jagged edges of the trees I am both shocked and unconvinced. Surely these are places for disease to enter?

The ash tree my aforementioned grandfather planted escapes any treatment: just a little beyond the limits. It still threatens the telephone cables that zig and zag from pole to pole. Each twig already tipped with the typical black, tight buds. But the leaves have fallen across the road. Tempting, so as I did last year I bag them and take them up to the plot.

Here, things seem to be afoot. The fence panels between allotments and neighbouring house re removed. The owner of the house is currently seeking to extend his land onto the allotments. There is a stand-off with the parish council. We have been told as plot holders affected that if we notice anything we should contact the parish council.

This is definitely urgent – and somebody needs to know. I ring my wife: she can get on the ‘phone. Meanwhile there’s a possibility I can get to the Parish Clerk before she leaves for the weekend. The offices are being tidied up by the caretaker. She is brilliant; reassuring. She contacts the councillor directly. Within fifteen minutes I have arranged to meet representatives of the parish council (who own the land) at the “top gate” in the morning.

I have gently mentioned this “threat” to our borders in earlier posts; this is the latest, and most direct sign that ups the challenge to the boundaries. Earlier, the fence panels – which belong to the house owner have been removed and the four or five burly guys told the Plantation Owner’s Wife that they were moving the fence. An intimidating situation as she was alone on the site. She reported it to the allotments committee chair. Who, in turn notified the land owners (the parish council).

Between then and now there have been stirrings, but this seems an attempt to escalate (following a “complaint” from the house owner to the parish council that they were dragging their feet on confirming ownership of the land). The council’s position was it seems that he had not provided sufficient documentation – and that he should be providing the proof!

Saturday morning is damp but we meet the pair up at the gates. I am, frankly surprised that the parish council don’t actually have a key to the site for such cases: they own the land after all. We stroll down … sure enough the four fence panels are still missing, but there is no sign of any other work: footprints, damaged bushes (we have replace the ancient hawthorn, privet and elder that were destroyed when the fence was built) with soft fruit and wildlife friendly species – and thickened the hedge with hazel , oak and a laburnum that has grown from a seed dropped by a tree my grandfather planted in my grandmother’s hedgerow.

With this in mind no actual crime has been committed. Either the guy is replacing – or treating both sides of his fence panels – or testing to see what reaction (if any – it was only by chance that I was visiting the site) he provokes. No reaction at all: push a bit harder; some reaction: nothing actually done wrong – at this stage.

During the visit, however, we split into two parties and I’m having a warm conversation with the councillor. Is that a Geordie accent I detect? Before I can ask he’s volunteering that his father had an allotment, somewhere near Sunderland. His punishment for wrongdoings as a child was to be sentenced to “dig the allotment”; not surprisingly he hasn’t taken on an allotment himself since then. But he tells of the pride the plotholders had in raising the champion show leeks.

Image result for mammoth leek

“No good for eating,” he remembers, “but enormous!”

And the raids perpetrated on allotments by ne’er-do-wells.

“The worst insult you could use was to call somebody a leek-slasher,” he tells me.

“You can insult my mother, my wife, my work, but if you call me a leek-slasher I’m goin’ to belt you one!”

“it’s the quickest way to start a fight in Sunderland!”

On the way out the secretary of the allotments committee is very tentatively reversing his 4X4 into a parking space. I fill him in with what has been happening. His reaction is somewhat muted.

I wonder aloud if the committee might have a spare movement-activated camera they could rig up. His comeback was that they had considered putting one up when the pears were swiped ( ) but could only think to put it on the trunk of an apple tree:

“… and what if they came to take your apples, they’d surely have taken the camera as well eh?”

I’m quietly wondering what would be the point of pointing a camera at a stripped-of-all-fruit tree, but refrain from voicing my thoughts.

In the meantime we agree that we will monitor any further developments and keep in touch. My paranoid fear is that by then the hedge will have been damaged beyond repair and it will be more difficult to regain control of the situation. However I am unable to think of another solution.

But this has been a feel-good, community-in-action very supportive response from the parish council.

Long may it continue.

Curiosity #3

Dumfries and Galloway: “secret Scotland”. Where we just spent a relaxing week. Walking Forestry Commission trails, watching midnight skies gradually darken (was that the I.S.S. we saw?), visiting gardens, beaches, driving woodland trails, dipping shoeless feet into the cool waters of Kirroughtree’s Otter Pool and a hot day spent on a trip to Belfast.

 Image result for portpatrick


Impressive agricultural landscapes, bracken heathlands, valleys, burns, pine plantations and bays. Drinking tea, watching hares and roe deer and being surprised by evening barn owls and bats on strolls from our idyllic cottage near Stairhaven. Friendly people at every turn, although at most turns there were very few people at all. Remote tranquillity and the sound of the sea: I heartily recommend the region.

Image result for kirroughtree otter pool Image result for stairhaven

Of course my eyes always peeled for plants, tips, and swaggage. Once a scrounger, always a scrounger I guess*:

Thalictrum something-or-other growing outside a house in Wigtown (book capital of Scotland), bracken used as mulch, crushed seashells as pathways, sea-smoothed rocks from the beach at Portpatrick.

Image result for wigtown scotland

And two sealed bags of coffee grounds from Clattershaw’s Visitor Centre, where the manager refused to serve us jacket potatoes because of the inferior standard of the potatoes delivered. Only courtesy stopped me going back and taking all seven because I could imagine emptying them out into the wormery at home.


It was a long, gruelling drive home, made worse by traffic jams unimaginable during the week in “splendid isolation”. So it wasn’t until the day after that I eventually dumped the rich smelling coffee grounds (and a couple of tea bags) from the sellotaped-closed bags.

Slugs and snails are, apparently, deterred by coffee grounds, while worms, it is said, enjoy the texture (and, who knows, smell maybe?).

So, once back and unpacked and after a night’s restless sleep I add the grounds to the wormery. The smell instantly surrounds me; rich and evocative. That advertising hook instantly comes to mind, but revised as:

“Smell the coffee and wake up!”

(Far more likely don’t you think?)

The wormery has survived, the little critters doing their wriggling decomposing thing in that timeless, magical way. Any time soon I suppose I should be adding the third “floor” and using the contents of the starter tray, saving the worms and putting them back to carry on munching.

A couple of days after adding the coffee grounds, which include a couple of tea bags, this is what I saw.



Not sure how to describe it: pretty, unexpected; a pink bloom maybe. Some kind of fungus/ decay.

But is it usual?


* and plenty of room in the car, if you’re wondering because we aren’t loaded down with boxes of food and consummables (how many toilet rolls?)

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