Posts Tagged ‘allotment’

Because It Doesn’t Always Have To be Serious, Does It?

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So, in this intense, busy-busy-busier season of planting out, weeding, watering, hoeing, thinning out, weeding, netting, slug-deterring (did I mention weeding?), there has to be time for a little frivolity. Surely?

A moment to stand and stare, reflect or do something just for the heck of it.

I hope so; because unless this is one of the many signs of madness I took it upon myself to reassemble a passably fake, but reliably sturdy iron “water pump” from a rotted-out and thrown away water feature half barrel. I bought a solar powered pump and some odds’n’sods and screwed a few pieces of cedar together (to conceal a plain black water bucket) and managed to create a going concern. The solar panel sits atop the back garden greenhouse roof and adds that running water melody to the area.

But I also repaired a damaged gnome, bought as a joke present for me some years ago. In fixing him (or her, who can tell with gnomes?) to a raised bed the lefty leg had, frankly,  broken off. So, a little dab of some  Acme Fixitall glue had the little feller well balanced again and able to pose for the above photo.

Happy gardening people, but don’t forget to smile every now and then eh?

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Rotovator? Surely Not?

Enough said ?

Surprised by a seven in the morning phone call to work on the outskirts of West Bromwich for the day I find that traffic is light but that – it seems – every local primary school is taking the opportunity (in gorgeously continuing warm weather) to celebrate tomorrow’s Royal Wedding (Prince Harry and Megan Markle).

I am somewhat exhausted by the time I get home, but determined to get up to the plot and burn the gathered pile of dried-by-the-sun weeds and timber scraps. So, a speedy cup of welcome tea, then up to the business as the sun settles on the horizon.

As expected the pile in the falling-to-rusty-pieces brazier ignites immediately. There is little smoke and leaping flames and I am glad I made this decision. We are away next week, heading to Jersey, and Friday is the only day of the week on which are allowed to have fires. So a job out of the way. We are, indeed, running out of plot space to have fires.

I remove the weeds from the row of thornless blackberries, adding them to the brazier as I go.

Little Dave drops by: a welcome visitor. Especially as he is bringing some news about the boundary stand-off. Just maybe there is an end in sight? After at least three years it is about time! But, we have had these “nearly sorted” rumours before.

We discuss other things too: society, knife crime, living in London, the wedding tomorrow (funny how my allotment fingers try to turn that to weeding as I type), other plots, crop successes and failures. Dave is up to burn some cardboard packaging. They are having a new bathroom/ toilet/ shower combination and there are umpteen boxes and associated packing to get rid of. But he’s tired and I offer to burn the lot for him. He barrows it over and the fire is re-born, blazing the unwanted stuff away in less time than it takes me to type a sentence*.

Besides which it gives us chance to talk for a little longer.

He is a good man, Dave, but when he thanks me for the sixth time I stop him. This, surely, is what an allotment – or any proper – community is about: people helping each other out; it was no great issue for me, the fire was already lit and Dave has so often been there when we needed something.

He offers some wire line to help hold the thornless blackberries up.Great I tell him, just not this evening eh? He offers cuttings from his own blackberries … but not until the proper time, of course. Again, great! Then he offers the use of his rotavator to finish the plot digging and I am – just a little – offended. So far, more by luck than judgement, I have been hale and hearty enough to spade dig it all.

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After Dave has left I sit on the Overseer’s Throne and watch the fire die out, every now and then hoeing up a few more weeds when the energy returns.  In sitting I can congratulate myself for making the decision to come up here and do this. And I observe the formations of what appear to be dung-flies beneath the canopy of the plum trees in whose shade the bench now sits. The very place where forty eight hours ago stood the blanketed pile of sheep manure. Where do flies put their legs when they are in flight? I know I am tired when I ask these profound questions. But, now it has been put in my mind I look anyway; to find the answer. The careful, hydraulic arrangement and settling of limbs that makes the aerodynamic shape, somehow a cross between da Vinci’s helicopter drafts, the real-life Sikorski Skycrane and animated cartoon archaeopteryx.

 

The sun lowers itself behind the cemetery fringe of mature trees: lime, sycamore and a copper beech. And it is time to leave.

Sitting out on the back lawn later I am pleased to see the return of swifts, fast flapping scimitar wings, and smaller house martins. I have been wondering where they got to, a little worried they hadn’t made it. But, reassuringly here they are.

I still haven’t noticed bats yet, but maybe they are there when I’m not. And, sadly, honeybees are few and far between.

A text message swoops in.  I find that we have been gifted thirty mail-order sweetcorn plants by someone known to my sister-in-law. Of course, seasoned allotmenteers, we refuse – almost – nothing. We can always find space for a few more. Oh for that rotavator I looked down my smug nose at just a few hours before eh?

 

 *OK, so I type with only two fingers and my sentences are, sometimes, grammar-torturingly long – but I hope you get the idea. Yes?

A Different Point of View

Forgive me if I start this post with reading. Forgive me and, if you please bear with me; I hope all will become clear. You have to understand that I love reading: Marvel* comics, gardening manuals, Sherlock Holmes, biographies, fiction, non-fiction, new books, classics and poetry. And, having read most of the books that immediately appeal to me in our local branch library I decided to try a “travelogue-stylee” effort  titled Walking Away from poet Simon Armitage. It’s not poetry, but a commentary on a walk he made, interspersed,, I seems, with readings en route at various – and varied – venues. And it contains this passage, which chimes so readily with an experience I detailed in Ravens? https://wordpress.com/post/mucktwineandthinker.wordpress.com/3294

“Montbretia has colonised some of the streams. Natural England don’t approve because it’s non-native, but Sir Hugh doesn’t mind it and neither do I. One species that he does object to, however, is ravens. They were here earlier in the summer and made such a din it could be heard from the Abbey, he says. It seems like an unreasonable prejudice, and also an unlikely story, but I keep nodding in agreement as he explains how his workmen have installed a height restriction at the top of the track to keep them out, like heavy duty goalposts and a crossbar, and only when he mentions that it took days to clear up the cans, bottles, needles and condoms do I realise that ravens aren’t the source of his irritation, but ravers.”

Then, back to our own back garden where we sat on a ten years old and more, repaired, repainted and patched wooden bench listening to a pair of tawny owls calling back and forth, somewhere in the dark, friendly warm and darkening distance. Weather has been delightfully warm, this is the third night we’ve been able to sit out, fire pit roaring. Stars are clear in the high skies by the time we creep back into the house which is, somehow colder than the great outdoors. The owls have been hooting for about a week now, new visitors to the area, and welcome.

We bought a new bench, self- assembly job, back in autumn in a sale, using a harvest of garden centre vouchers collecting from various birthdays, Christmases and grateful colleagues. The original plan (“it is better to have a plan than to have faith; you can more easily change a plan”) was to take this faithful, slightly rickety old friend up to the allotment. To sit on and view work completed, work in progress, to sit and think. Or, more likely, on some days, to simply sit and drink tea.

And, today, after a fine day spent up at the plot, putting up runner bean canes, weeding and sowing salad crop lettuce, we decide to put the new, all-white bench together. It is apparently a “New England” bench, the five pieces tied together in the cardboard packing with soft twine and a pack of eight Allen and four shorter self-tapping screws. Not forgetting the Allen key itself. This is Ultra-IKEA meets Lego. The only tool I have to supply is a screwdriver. The instructions are simple, straightforward and we get it set up in record time, with – surprisingly for me, no bruised fingers and no pieces left over. As idiot-proof as is possible then.

It’s simple white appearance is such a contrast to the warm wooden tones of the one it is replacing and those of the wood on which it  stands, obviously not only new, but newly born. But once it is settled in place on the freshly swept  “decking” (made from cargo pallets) above what we, laughingly, refer to as the “beach” it looks great. And it is comfortable – and, er, it actually fits (my measuring has never been reliable).

Sitting on it, with the ubiquitous cuppa, we are able to look across our back lawns and gardens, various sculptures and souvenirs on show after coming out of cold-weather storage, sit n sunshine, see sunrises, watch stars and moon; in short: watch another year unfold. No doubt in the process spotting the jobs that need doing and planning holidays, adventures and planting.

But, now we have a quandary. The three old high backed plastic beach chairs we have been using down in dell for fire-pit watching have been degraded by sunlight and have become unsafe and dangerously cracked and broken. The one I was perched on, unwisely leaning back on two legs, yesterday evening, broke in another important place and remaining on it introduced what must surely be a new yoga position to the world. That displaced  wooden bench is the perfect answer and means I don’t have to feel quite so guilty about replacing it with its brash new sibling.

So we lug it, feeling very heavy after the lightweight new one, into its new position. I promise myself that I will set to with wood glue to bind those loose joints at some –for now satisfyingly unspecified  – time  in the future.

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 I have to log out some of the timber down there to make space, but it is good exercise and my mother is a grateful recipient of the ash, damson and willow logs.

 

*Other publishers are available and just as good.

The Death of Boots?

Sure enough, as predicted: rain. I make my own way to the site this morning but, even with a faster car, I am a little late in getting there (in my own mind at any rate). I change into rougher, site wear. There’s a wonderfully heavy high vis, waterproof coat to cover my layers and waterproof trousers too (thanks boss). The offer of wellington boots which I decline. We clamber purposefully about. The hole we dug yesterday is, unsurprisingly, full of water: field drainage and rainwater (essentially one and the same thing) because the neat excavation is, after all, a sump in the thick, stone-free red clay. We pump the water out, fidget the tank about, level it. Need to pump out the water again – that’s how fast the water is filling it!

Fret, discuss (not sure I’m much help in this) and plunge planks in to hold/keep the beast level. Start the infill tipping. Slowly, steadily; dry mix concrete will lap up the ground water. We nervously keep checking those essential levels. The electrician is back: cheerful, busy and focused on his role.

Swaddled in layers, trundling barrows of stone and sand, shoveling, climbing, I am definitely warm enough. And then some! My boots become at first caked, then encased in the thick gruel of clinging clay, cement powder and stones. The tread in the soles is filled in; traction is tricksy at best, maneuvering in the laps of the site gods. My boots become huge and force me to walk something like a pantomime version of Frankenstein’s creature. Slow me down. They refuse to be cleaned, kicking them on the ground, against the kerb, wiping them on longer grass does nothing at all.

But eventually the rain eases of. Becomes a warm, gentle fall. We are able to shed layers. The gloves we wear to protect our hands steam, drying out from the body heat we are generating. The house martins venture out once more and about their aerial ballet/dog fights again.

The tank, internal sections filled with ballast water, is holding steady by the time I have to leave. I need to get to my Reading Group meeting (Instruments of Darkness, which gets an overall average score of seven out of ten) and a lot of queries about why I appear so ruddy

“Aussi rouge qu’une pivoine,” says one member, born in France, then helpfully translates the idiom “as red as a peony.” Er, did she know, I wonder that the peony was one of my maternal grandmother’s favourite flowers? That we used to salute its rise from dead ground every spring, marvel at the cushions of petals?

Back at home, I ease my not-surprisingly aching joints with a bath, and then set to, fetching the accumulated stiff, dried-porridge debris off my boots with a broken-bladed butter knife. I wonder whether the boots will actually survive the punishment/treatment.

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But they do. And so are ready to go up to the plot on Thursday, where strimming the grass paths can be deferred no longer.  In fact the footwear now feels so light in contrast to the deep sea diver’s boots I was dragging around yesterday. No wonder my knees and hips are giving me some stick! The strimmer is reliable, though it eats up plastic line at a rate of knots, and is defeating the sudden spring growth of grass, comfrey, brambles and assorted annual weeds in warm sunshine. There is a lot of land to bring under control. The spaces around the blackcurrant bushes, the margins of gooseberry and Worcester berry plantations and the four paths. I decide to leave a decent “headland” by the hedge, nettles will surely be used, I hope by butterflies for laying eggs. It is all looking good, when …

The line in the self feed mechanism jams beyond my mobile capacity to clear it. It will need the tools and strength I have after a cup of tea and some Digestive biscuits. So I traipse about the plot, feeling reassured by the overall tidiness of the vegetable plots, the emerging potatoes, the broad beans, pegs where radish and lettuce have been sown and the row of dogwood and hazel pea sticks that show where Hurst Green Shaft peas will eventually, late frosts permitting, pop up. But, while casting about I notice a piece of jewellery on the ground. By the pallet bench on the edge of, as yet unstrimmed grass. It is clearly not an expensive piece, brooch or whatever, but how did it get there?  There have been some thefts (mainly of timber) on the site. Is this evidence of some sort? At least it shows that trespass has been committed, doesn’t it? 

I decide to track down a committee member to let them know. Strolling up the slope I spot Cliff, deep in conversation with another plot holder (who is busy hoeing up annual weeds to tidy up his ground). As we excuse ourselves and move away a confident male blackbird hops down onto the soil; very close to the working end of the hoe.  This can be typical learned, opportunistic behaviour on gardens, the blade turns up food for the bird, the bird, symbiotically clears up pests and weed seeds. I think as we wander away, just who is taming who? That conundrum of the laboratory rat training the scientist to bring it food whenever it rings a bell echoes somewhere in what passes as my mind.

<b>Soil</b> is amazing – honestly, it is - Scottish Nature Notes ...

Cliff takes the information on board, but, in reality there is little hope of finding out who the thief is … less chance of this moving the allotment committee (proving toothless and apathetic in the main) or the parish council to get the “boundary dispute” settled so that a wall/fence/hedge can be put in place to add some semblance of security to the area.

About to leave the site I stop to talk with Tadpole Bob. I mention our theatre trips to the Nikolai Tesla presentation (very good, if overly educational) and Blood Money. He has just had some arthroscopy carried out on a knee. A follow up trip to a specialist has him believing the operation was unnecessary, that a knee replacement will be needed. But he is stoical about the prospects and we can smile about things (at least in public). Leaving him I bump into Richard who, it transpires has just had a knee replacement.

“Talk to Bob,” I tell him, “he’s just had some arthroscopy on his knee.”

“Oh,” says Richard, “I had that a year ago.”

Conspiracy theory? Case rested, surely?

“We’ve Got The Dog …”

 

“Hey, what are you doing this morning?” the voice, familiar, disturbs me. I’m feeling satisfied. After all, I’ve just finished planting the main crop potatoes on one of the few warm, dry days this Easter. Not counting the late autumn digging, just getting them into the ground has taken four half days. Starting with the historically named Arran Victory potatoes (bought on a whim), Desiree and, finally King Edwards.

The voice belongs to Dave. Always helpful Dave, ready with advice, spare plants and offers of the massive cabbages he grows so well.  It’s quite normal to pop over to chat with someone on our allotments (on every allotment in the country I would hazard a guess) so, having promised myself I’ll just turn over soil for one more row – scooping the annual weeds into the resulting trench as I go – I pause.

“Last of the potatoes,” I inform him.

He nods. He always spade-digs the ground he uses for potatoes, then rotovates the rest. He has been scanning the neighbouring plots. He inclines his head to indicate the Pepper King’s ground, across the access path from our plot.

“He hasn’t done much has he?” he asks. In a way that isn’t really asking. “’n I haven’t seen much of him either. Think he’d be up here. I hear he’s now taken on the other half. Is that right?”

I’m wondering exactly what’s going on at this point. Seems to me that Dr Pepper has done a lot more with his ground than his predecessor, who was famous across the site for simply using a massive orange veteran rotavator for ploughing crops right back in: potatoes, swedes, onions, wallflowers. And, when I was on the committee, the plot he had last year was exactly that: a plot; at least as big as ours. So “the other half” is not a half as such, but another – whole plot. And … has he taken it on?

How would I know? I haven’t seen the guy since last October and I’m not on the committee. Unlike Dave. Who doesn’t seem to know.

“And, whatsernames. Him here,” nodding to the plot next to ours, “Have you seen him? I haven’t. What’s he up to?”

“And the next one, not been about. Makes you wonder why they have an allotment don’t it?”

Well, I’m thinking, I’m not on the committee – haven’t been for at least three years, but, only two months ago the committee had a chance, surely, not to renew the rental agreement for these three – alleged – renegades. If they were so remiss, so lack in their duties. There should have been plot inspection letters going out. Shouldn’t there? Somebody who is actually on the committee, er, somebody like … er … Dave himself?

I only think these things. But, at the beginning of getting something off his chest, Dave seems unable to stop himself now.

I miss the next part of his moaning because I am distracted. Four or five crows are vocally and physically assaulting a magpie which is – almost certainly, deliberately – straying into “their” territory: provocative: the still-leafless ash and sycamore trees on the edge of the land where the cemetery borders the quarry. There are a couple of bulky nests in the tree tops, though I’m not sure what, if anything, has claimed them this year. And, having started, my mind goes back over the couple of days we’ve had since I was last here.

Some seriously wet weather, but as Thursday dawned bright and reasonably sunny we decided to head out, use our national Trust membership and see Dudmaston Hall, somewhere near Bridgnorth. The sat-nav took us on an interesting, winding route, avoiding Wolverhampton (perhaps a more logical route). But we got there before the gates opened, so found a satellite car park (The Old Sawmill) and, rather than sit around and kill time in a lazy way, walked the Three Pools Walk. Across a field, into some woods and through shade and sun-warmed glades spent the good part of an hour circuiting the said three pools. Good exercise, spontaneous and quiet exploration. The woods are clearly parkland planted, the pools one-time decoy ponds for sport. But thirsty at the end of the stroll, so headed for the promised tea rooms at Dudmaston. But the car park, part flooded, was full, so we re-routed to the Rock Houses at Kinver. Got there remarkably quickly: part of my history en route. Enville Hall where, not counting the £50 Renault 4 that lasted six weeks, I bought my first car. It was an 850 cc Mini. The lady had won it in an annual RNLI raffle, but had been banned from driving (for speeding for the umpteenth time in her own Frog-eyed Sprite) the month before she took delivery of her prize. And I needed a car to get to my first full time job on the outskirts of Lichfield! The Lord moves in mysterious ways – sometimes in a Mini, it seems.

 

A lot of recent work has seen the Rock Houses into the twenty first century, more houses open and furnished, the gardens taken in hand and a tea room; praise be. I ate a filling cheese sandwich and drank copious amounts of tea. While sitting at a table on the upper level, above the winding path/steps that climb up to the Tea Room I hear a lady talking on a mobile ‘phone. It’s not like I’m eavesdropping in some sinister way. She isn’t keeping it quiet, she doesn’t seem to mind that that half of three counties can probably hear her. And a thought occurs to me. Our telephone conversations are very public these days, the privacy of the once ubiquitous red public call boxes seems a long, long way off; a different universe almost. People weren’t supposed to know who you were talking to, never mind what you are saying. Before social media, before mobile phones. I’m still not terribly comfortable talking to people when I cannot see their faces. But this woman is not, apparently, in the least bit bothered.

“We’ve got the dog,” she is, if not shouting, then merely decibels below it, “so we walked to Kinver.” She makes it seem natural. Dog, Kinver, Kinver, dog. I smile, imagining the feelings at the other end of her conversation, stunned silence obviously. She snaps the phone shut and – thirty seconds or so later she is pulled into view in view by an energetic Staffordshire bull terrier, still fighting the lead to put the ‘phone away. I smile again.

Leaving the outdoor table we walked out over the trails that spread out from Kinver Edge, enjoying the light, the yellow blooming gorse, the sense of freedom and safe adventure.

“… only four of us on the committee doing anything. He’s not doin’ the plot inspections. He was supposed to be helping that other one, (never good on names, our Dave), When he was replacing the taps. Where was he? I dunno. I ended up helping to put one of the posts in you know. The secretary does a bit. Every now and then. And the chairman, well, a bit.”

I’m maybe reading too much into this, feeling a bit flattered. Is he trying to get around to asking me to go back onto the committee? Expecting me to volunteer? Either way it’ll not happen. Dave and I were committee members when the combination of people, that every-now-and-then-synchronicity worked for a while. A committee that successfully promoted the allotment in wider circles: annual open days, the local gardens day charity event, articles published on social media and the NLGSA magazine, trips to Gardener’s World Live, the Malvern Show and a regular calendar of events (Pumpkins and Fire Pits, Christmas Wine tasting, Barbecues, Afternoon Teas), setting up the World War One Memorial Garden and raised beds for disabled inclusion and a waterless toilet to enable school visits and – last but not least – raising eight thousand pounds from grant applications. But people are people and petty jealousies, personalities and lack of clear leadership caused distrust and disagreement. I didn’t like it – and resigned. As did three other like-minded individuals.

This current committee, however, seems to be disappearing up its own exhaust pipe. Very inward looking, unable to coordinate efforts, responding inconsistently to plotholders and then only in a reactionary style. Poor communication, little or no forward thinking. All in all; a sad shame.

So, while I am disappointed that Dave is not particularly happy with the committee, I have to wonder what said committee is actually doing about it. Why isn’t the chairman sorting it out? Making sure plot inspections get carried out? Making committee members accountable. Why wasn’t the treasurer mentioned in the list of active people? Why doesn’t Dave voice these worries – obviously getting him down – at committee meetings where his comments might make a difference? Or why is he staying on a committee that he believes is ineffective?

More importantly, why is Dave asking me? What am I supposed to do about it?

“These potatoes,” I interrupt enthusiastically, “so glad you asked about ‘em. We got ‘em from the Shropshire Potato day at Harper Adams. Good day out.” I look at all the rows of potatoes behind me. I smile.

“Looks like we got a bit carried away,” I admit, “a few impulse buys I suppose. We didn’t realise we’d got so many until it was time to plant them.” Particularly the King Edwards, bought by weight; and most of them are the size of pigeon eggs. Hopefully, with all of the organic matter in the soil, they’ll produce a decent crop.

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I go on to tell Dave some more about the day (potato history, origins in Peru, new varieties, why Victory potatoes are so named) he listens politely, but I can see he’s not really interested.

As he nods, excuses himself and walks away (still muttering), perhaps he understands how I was feeling. Somehow I doubt it.

Not The Day To Be Planting Potatoes Then?

Not The Day To Be Planting Potatoes Then?

Sunday, 18th March, 2018

 

We were at the Garrick Theatre (Lichfield) last night; actually our third visit inside a busy week. Last Saturday a rearranged concert by long-time local stalwart band (happy troubadours and many line-up changes) Quill, then a high energy excellent version of John Godber’s Teechers (sic.) and finally last night a spoof Agatha Christie “Crimes Under the Sun”. But, as predicted, as we drove home the snow was building up short sharp flurries carried on a “mini-beast from the East” wind all day, but settling in overnight.

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And it ruined my plans which had been to put the enthusiastically sprouting potatoes into the allotment today.

The story of getting the potatoes is itself – I hope – recording. Here goes.

Several weeks ago – we went to the Shropshire Potato Show. Something I had first come across in the daily (evening edition) of local newspaper The Express and Star. Held at Harper Adams University (one of the premier earth-based degree universities in the U.K.) just across the county border in Newport the annual event promised to be a tuber extravaganza. And we needed somewhere to get seed potatoes from. Some years ago we joined the on-site bulk buying scheme that had certified potatoes ordered at significant discount prices. But the people who organised it so efficiently then have left the committee and those that took it on make a poor fist of it. We bought seed potatoes from Wilko for a year: good results; but the local branches have closed.

So this looked like a safe adventure. And we didn’t have to buy, did we? We could just check it out.

The whole day is the kind of event I could once have imagined our own allotment hosting. Before the wheeler-dealer people left the committee (in exasperation largely) and the committee became introspective and less community minded; reactionary rather than pro-active.

Not quite sure what to expect we set out, driving the opposite way along the same one-time straight Roman road (the Watling Street).

Harper Adams is in Newport and is one of the premier earth-based degree universities in the U.K. Surrounded by very rural Shropshire which, as we enter the car park with jerked pork and burger vans, has a population interested in potato day. We are forced to circle the well-laid out car park and end up, maybe illegally, leaving the car in the Staff Car Park; to be fair, and in my defence, an arrow with “Additional Parking” did lead us there. We stroll in warm sunshine to the entrance.

Craft sales on the ground floor and an upstairs hall filled with tables of stalls of – what else – seed potatoes. There were bee keepers there, makers of children’s quilts, free tea and coffee, ubiquitous cake stands and apple juice bottlers. But the tables of potatoes dominated the space!

There were other vegetables on sale there too: challots, onions, broad beans and peas which were (self) measured in a half pint dimple glass. Satisfyingly tactile and reminiscent of days gone by when I would visit the seed merchant in Pelsall and buy these seeds “by the pint”. So, a little heritage and a nod to the past; nothing wrong with being reminded of traditional ways.

But I skip ahead of myself. The room was literally jammed full and then packed a little tighter. So, swaddled in more layers than were necessary (I had mistakenly believed the event would be largely outside!) I opted for a sit down and a free cuppa. And by the time there was pace to swing an onion bag all of the Arran Pilot seed potatoes had been snapped up. So we bagged up some King Edward and Desiree (main crop) tubers and decided to go for Rocket as our early potatoes.

I was also tempted by the “heroic” and wholly listenable-to* tales of the origins of the seed to get ten Arran Victory potatoes. The prefix Arran I now know means that the seed was developed on the Scottish Isle of Arran, but designated Victory to celebrate the ending of the First World War (1918)

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The unsung hero of British potato breeding (done by cross pollinating the flowers and growing the “literal” seed on: a long a and time consuming process) is Donald McKelvie. The variety was first developed in 195 or so and its name commemorates the Great War victory. However, we were told it can be said it contributed to the winning of the Second World War as it reliably cropped heavily and provided home-grown sustenance during the Nazi blockade which prevented the large scale import of foodstuffs.

Going even further back, given that potatoes originated from South America, there were oca on sale: tiny but bright tubers about the size of unshelled monkey (pea) nuts. We considered buying some but felt that might be a step too far. It came to me as I pondered that there is a South American instrument called the ocarina which is made from a potato: oca = ocarina. I was tempted by the bright peanut sized mini-taters, but resisted the impulse buy. Maybe next year eh?

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We couldn’t resist buying lily bulbs: possibly an impulse but why not?

We scrounged some woven (not plastic) carrier bags from a composting stand and took ourselves to the University dining room (café style) for a mid-day meal. Travelling home we felt truly satisfied: the planting year is – almost – under way.

… and the Smug Feeling …

DSC03468There’s a reason I’m clinging onto the guttering while perched on a too-short ladder footed on a board (that until twenty minutes ago held six terra cotta pots of over-wintering fuchsias in our greenhouse) on top of the roof of the laundry room roof.

Our elder daughter and her partner were coming over today. He was bringing his extendable ladder that would reach from the ground to the roof and we would clean all of the accumulated moss and debris from said guttering. Debatable which of us would actually be mounting the rungs: he being allegedly a feared of heights and me suffering from the remnants of some kind of virus (Mostly recovered now, thanks for asking).

But then we discover that. The ladder. Doesn’t. Actually. Reach.

We’ve tried roping another ladder on to it. But, even for me, it looks risky. The vertical sides don’t marry up and thirteen metres of marine-standard rope won’t make it any safer. It won’t fall down and it is lashed tightly enough that the whole won’t collapse, but there’s a dangling propensity for sideways slippage before I’m even half way up. Discretion is the better part of most things, especially when you are taking on verticality eh?

So we root around, trying to bodge together a tool that’ll reach from the lower storey roof along the guttering so we can scrape the rubbish back to us and scoop it out. A dessert spoon, a garden rake, hand trowel?

Then, looking across the gardens from this lofty flat roof perch I espy Ian in his back garden. Maybe he can help. He’s got a big van that’s positively bristling with ladders.

I call out to him; there are only five gardens between us and I’m kind of famous for having a big voice (trust me that’s a whole different story). His partner is in the garden with him, kneeling by the aviaries there. They both look around. Funny how we always look at eye level first: then see me.

We converse about types of ladder and the two of us set out from our back garden to get the ladder.

No need, as it turns out. Before we reach the end of the road Ian’s big wagon is trundling round the corner.

He’d been checking out his bonsai collection he tells us. Funny really, he’s always friendly and helpful, but a big guy, skin covered with tattoos and hardly the sort that’d strike you as a bonsai practitioner (if there is a special term for this I don’t know it – yet!). Our kids (kind of grew up together) and he’s a marvellously generous big guy with a skin full of tattoos: not at all what you might expect from those mischievously misleading first impressions.

He gives us a brief introduction to his hobby and I’m fascinated (“You don’t call it privet if it’s a bonsai: that’ll be a ligustrum,” he informs us).

His ladders are perfect! Secure, heavy and easy to manoeuvre. Strangely the back guttering is fairly full of moss, but the front one has absolutely none. Theories pass between us: prevailing wind direction seems the obvious one. Remember that a theory is, after all, only the latest explanation that best fits all the known facts (including the Theory of Evolution). So, the job is accomplished in double quick time and we sit in the wonderfully warm sunshine around the wood burning stove in the Dell at the bottom of our garden. Even though it is a warm, blue-skied day the upwards change in temperature is tangible as we step nearer to the stove. Coffee, cake, the satisfaction of a job done and – yes – the smugness that can only come with knowing you have clean gutters.

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