Saturday, 17 September 2011

Seasons Change - All Too Soon

Well, I think we can safely say we've put this Summer to bed.  What little there was of it.  A few stiflingly hot days in August, and then October.  What a let down.

 It all started our so promisingly with such a warm Spring, but by June mild turned to disappointing.

Not a great year on the allotment.  Tomatoes hardly ripened, and the foxes decided to make a playground of our root and allium beds.  We managed to harvest a few decent onions and shallots towards the end of the season, and found a vast seam of garlic cloves (the papery skin meant to enclose them melted by the assorted downpours) which need preserving for us to use them through the year.  Decent potato crop, as there were so few hot & humid days for blight to hit before harvesting time.  I subscribe to Blightwatch message service, and I think there have been less than half a dozen texts since May, when it messages are usally in double figures for the year.  The few tomato plants that flourished had been picked clean before the telltale blotches on the leaves could do any damage.

We had a good year fruit wise.  More apple & pears for a long time, and enough soft fruit to sacrifice a few to curious chickens.  Elly the Welsummer has a thing for anything red, in particular Japanese Wineberries.  She also made light work of the parts of the container grown redcurrants before I moved the pot.  Chunks of sweetcorn or windfall apples are the current favourite seasonal treat.  Katy eating apple has a lovely red skin, so is easy to find in the run.  Egremont Russet skin looks too much like the floor of the run, so often gets lost.

The birds have started moulting, and Elly, being more "fluffy" that the rest, is shedding profusely.  There's a rather large hole in her "frilly knicker" feathers, and every time she shakes or flaps her wings another clump falls off.  No consolation to her, but it all makes great compost.

Worldwide, this has been a traumatic Summer.  Earthquakes that should hopefully make governments think twice about nuclear power, floods, hurricanes, the mine tragedy of the past week, regime change attempts of varying success in North Africa, and the usual multitude of mindless acts of extreme terror.  But one event that put a damper on the whole Summer was much closer to home.

I first met Michel Terstegen some thirty years ago, on a day trip to Amsterdam to see The Jam.  Paul Weller was having one of his "out of it" nights, and the band were nowhere near top form.  Even so, it was a great night.  Brian, my partner through until the end of the eighties, had been in a mod band, and was recognised by various Dutch mods.  Among them was Michel, who was more interested in talking about record collecting and music in general than in Brian's career.  And so began a great friendship.   For the next few years we visited each other on more than an annual basis, and Michel opened our eyes to some incredible music.  Before meeting him, I had no concept of there being a thriving music scene outside the UK & US, with the the few overseas music hits being viewed as flukes.  Within a matter of months of being introduced to the music by him, I was overtaken by e near evangelical fervour for all things "Nederbiet", in particular Q65 and the Outsiders.  Michel played us one particular rare, somewhat shambolic single, and I said I would love a copy.  He found one for me, and hid it from everyone until he brought it to London for me.

I lay credit for my love and fascination with worldwide beat, folk and psychedelia solely at his door.  And I seriously doubt I'm alone in that.

Michel worked in a record shop, and would in time form a band, start a record label, open his own record shop and publish a music magazine.  He built up a vast array of contacts all over the world, and because of his character, it's pretty certain most of those contacts would also count him as a friend.  He made his business a success through his enthusiasm and reasonableness, not through bullying and sharp practice.  He was able to turn something he loved into a career that benefitted many others.

I must admit that over time our lives changed and we saw less of each other.  I met Howard and moved to the outer reaches of London, Michel found work and family life left little time for recreational travel.  In fact, the last time I saw him was on his first trip to London with Saskia, who would in time become the mother of his son and his wife.

Then in April I got a message to say he was seriously ill.  One afternoon in July I arrived home from work to a message that he'd died the previous night.

For someone who set so much of a good example to so many, who was successful on his own terms, had a happy and loving life, to be taken away far too soon, shows what a cruel disease cancer is.