Saturday, 23 November 2013

Damn Beasties.....

A short while ago, there was panic in the more Farageist elements of the press about assorted immigrant spiders that were going to do for us all.  That was of course if the big freeze to end all freezes didn't get us first.

Now I'm never one to take any noticed of rags whose ethos is dictated by long dead Nazi sympathising founders, but this week has left my gardening activities delayed while dealing with a hole in my leg, courtesy of an insect bit that won't heal.  I've had the thing for a few weeks now and the damn thing has now left me with a centimetre diameter weeping pit in my shin.  Now, my days as a candidate fir Miss Lovely Legs of the Balls Pond Road are long gone, but this is pretty unsightly by anyone's standard.

I'm now on heavy duty antibiotics, with the advise that it should start healing in a week or two.  Thus I feel sluggish and slightly queasy, as if force fed cotton wool soaked in washing up water.  Even with a dilligent intake of live yoghurt, I am finding certain food totally unappealing.  (Which, granted, may not be a bad thing.  A couple of weeks free of carb loading may turn out to be a help, and in any case, tube travel at this time of year can be nauseating for anyone)  In the meantime, keep it clean and covered, and do everything to avoid getting any dirt in the wound.  Oh joy.  Back to two years back, when I was writing step by step instructions for Howard to do the gardening tasks I usually did.  Tomorrow's tasks - planting the last of the onions, garlic and shallots in module trays, and the tulips in bulb baskets.  (May have those from 2011, but will redo them anyway).

Anyway, it seems that there has been a problem with unusual insect bites this year.  My GP said he'd had to treat a lot more this year than for a while, but mine seemed to have been that latest by a few weeks.  I guess my habit of wandering a few feet down the garden path first thing while waiting for the kettle to boil may have something to do with that.   At least at this time of year that onesie and bed sock combo will provide something of a barrier to all but the most blood hungry beasties.

But look on the bright side.  I too get to do Movember.  On my right shin.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The pain has a name

Plantar fasciitis.

Two years after breaking my ankle, it's still giving me trouble.  Finally, my foot is no longer so swollen that my footwear choices are gravely limited, but I still feel nervous when faced with a new staircase.

Anyway, I finally (after 12 years) got referred to physio about my knee.  Turns out some ligaments have become too weak to keep my kneecap in place and sometimes after bending it doesn't pop back properly.  But after a couple of sessions and targetted exercise I'm seeing dramatic improvement.

Second session in, I mention how much pain I still have related to my ankle.  Physio decides that I can never regain full fitness until this is addressed.  With the help of a life size model of the bones and ligaments of the foot, I demonstrated how I fell, after which he says that I should have had physio straight away, and fixing the damage will be a long job.

My achilles is still tight, but the stretching regime is gradually working.  The biggest problem in the tendon in the sole of my foot, as it seizes up as soon as I rest.  So every time I get up, I have to stretch it so as not to hobble the first few yards I walk.  Not that easy on public transport, I can tell you.

He has, however, told me that I can get special insoles to ease the problem, and gave me a list of them.

Does not make you feel all that much better when all the "models" used in the ads are a good 20 - 30 years older than yourself.

Right, where's the Saga brochure?

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Will this wind.....?

So here I am, sitting here on a Sunday night, checking the net, looking at the weather forecast for tomorrow....

The biggest storm for decades is on its way, so we checked the allotment over, covered the chicken house roofs with tarpauline and bricks and put bags of compost on the bottom shelves of the mini greenhouses.  I've found my thermal leggings and a thick jumper ready for tomorrow morning, and have a nice pot of venison chasseur simmering in the kitchen.  The doors and windows are shut, lanterns have tea lights and boxes of matches next to them, and the camping stove and wind up radio have been brought back from the shed.

And all is quiet.

It is more or less 26 years to the day since the legendary hurricane, now demoted to a "Great Storm".  I remember that well.  I was living in a flat in Finchley at the time, and was woken by the sound of ornaments moving on the windowsill.  Next thing I knew, a tree branch had forced open the doors to the balcony in the lounge.  I removed the ornaments to a safe place, closed the balcony doors and taped then shut with parcel tape and went back to bed.

There were no tube trains running in the morning, so I got a 13 bus to work.  At the time I worked in Cavendish Square, so my journey took me past the fancier end of Oxford Street.  The shops were starting to get their Christmas displays up, and I remember most of all John Lewis had a line of trees, which had toppled onto each other, like a line of dominos.  It turned out I had the easiest journey in, as most train lines had been blocked, and power was out for much of the tube network.  What had seemed to me as a bit of a disruption was far more serious.  Much of the south coast was devastated, especially woodland.  But we all dusted ourselves down and got on with things.

Today, we have mass panic, with train companies shutting down before anything has happened.  It's almost as though there's an unspoken permission to get over dramatic.  No "let's see how things pan out" - no shut down and if nothing happens say it was safer that way.  My local service is unlikely to be running until after the rush hour, yet I'll still be expected to get in to work before 9am.  Just hope the Piccadilly line manages to pull out the stops as usual.  Mind you, it could be pretty bad.  The cat has refused to leave the house all day.

The reason I remember 1987 so well was that the night before, I had been to see a band play that I never expected to see in London - The Chesterfield Kings.  Rochester, New York's finest exponents of crazed garage punk played Dingwalls.  This was in the days when even for big name bands at clubs, you just turned up on the night and queued.  I was in the first dozen or so, under the awnings on the ticket booth.  Some of the more dandified Sixties music fans arrived later and joined the queue as it snaked around the open yard.  And then a mighty downpour hit, and all those carefully blow dried Brian Jones bowl cuts got well and truly soaked.  Meanwhile, I made my way indoors and looked to see who was around.  Most of the usual suspects from those days were already propping up the bar, plus the band and their entourage, including someone who to all the world looked like Dee Dee Ramone.  Getting up my nerve and putting my music journo boots on, I introduced myself to the band. They in turn introduced me to Dee Dee Ramone - for it was he.

It was a fantastic, manic gig, with singer Greg Prevost almost bringing the house, or at least the water pipes above the stage, down, and Dee Dee joined them for the encore.  After the show, the band asked me (and a few other long term UK fans) if I'd like to come on the rest of the European tour with them.  Sadly, even then I had a day job that would not allow me to just take my passport and go off on a jolly, but thanks to the same wonders of modern communication that are leading to mass panic about a bit of a downpour, I have discovered from Greg that the night the hurricane hit, they were in the middle of the Channel, on a ferry bound for France.  He said it was the most seasick he'd ever been.

So at least having a boring day job spared me the worst boat trip ever.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

October Evolution

IF it stops raining, I'll get outside and plant some of the garlic I bought at the Malvern Autumn Show at the end of September.  If not, then it will have to be next weekend, along with the onions and broad beans.  I've got the shallots started, and have also got pots of Ramsons and Tree Onions underway, as well as a couple of aquatic baskets of Saffron Crocus.

That's just the productive stuff.  I've managed to be fairly diligent on the floral side too, with a border of dwarf narcissi at the allotment, plus various narcissi, dwarf irises and species tulips in pots, plus some large aquatic baskets planted with camassias and alliums to be dropped in the ground in "drifts".

I have totally revamped the plan for the allotment.  This came about from a realisation that although usually lumped in with root crops, edible alliums have slightly different cultural needs.  On top of that, think of how many onions you would use in the kitchen.  Most meals require an onion or two, and of you multiply that by 365, so to grow a respectable proportion of our annual needs, they deserved a bed to themselves.

Hence the crazy six year rotation has been extended.  Not just to seven, but to eight, with a bed for either annual flowers for cutting, or a grain crop filling the last space.  With the exception of the fruit trees and bushes round the perimeter, the rest of the plot is getting a revamp too.  Now the flood relief works are well underway, there should be less chance of us finding the allotments submerged in bad weather, so I feel it is safe to get these works done.  We may even replace the shed, which is starting to feel its age, and more than that, being sawn in half and rebuilt in a hurry.

This Autumn, there will also be changes to the front and back gardens.  The boarding round the herb bed in the front garden has started to rot, so needs replacing.  This will give us a chance to lift some of the larger plants (especially the Bronze Fennel and Soapwort) and try to get the upper hand over some of the more rampant plants (Tansy, Betony and that Soapwort again).  I want to keep the emphasis on functional plants (not just edible, but cosmetic and aromatic too), but I want it to be more decorative.  There are times when the bed has been home to a selection of green monsters, so a few flowers at different levels need to be added.  I also want to reclaim the gravelled area by the house wall, as it seems to have become a storage area for rubbish.

The back garden remake started last year, with the new mini green houses and pots of fruit bushes along the south facing fence.  That fence needs to have the final few panels replaced, then the new chicken run can finally be made.  Once we've replaced the old chicken coops with one new one, a whole load more space will be freed up.

It's four years since we first got the chickens.  Of those first four, only one - Giggy the Leghorn - survives, but the others are not that far behind in age.  They seem to have spent more of this year moulting than laying, so once the new run is built, I intend to get some additions to the flock.

All of this will get started ONCE it stops raining.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Why not be happy?

Sometimes, I get accused of not being ambitious.

Well maybe that is true.  Part of me thinks ambition is for the young, who have yet to realise what the real world is like.  Another part of me thinks I did stuff in my late teens and twenties - met and interviewed so many great musicians, got my work published in magazines, did a bit of travelling, saw some wonderful sights, that wanting more would be plain greedy.  I think there are plenty who earn more in a year than I do in three that have never seen ospreys catching their prey at dawn, have not looked over the side of a boat and seen humpbacked whales come up to feed, have not had a whole row of seats on a plane to themselves to lie back and watch the Northern Lights above Canada, or touched noses with a giant anteater, fed manatees, or been groomed by a lemur sitting on their shoulder.  Maybe they've used their city parasite earned money to get backstage to meet their musical heroes, but have they been genuinely thanked for being there?  (And known they meant it)

OK, in my working life I have never had fantastically well paid jobs, or been promoted above my ability.  But I'd rather have a genuinely useful job that pays enough to get by comfortably that earn a living doing something that my ethics told me was wrong.  In just under two months, it will be five years since I started working in the NHS.  It happened almost by accident - just a four week temp booking that became a permanent job - but it is something that, despite my minor admin role, I am, to use that hackneyed business term, passionately proud of.

Why should I aspire to do more that a job that benefits other and lets me go home with a clear conscience?  Even if it allowed me to put aside enough funds to buy a place in the country to do grown all my own food, including keeping livestock, my ethics would not allow me to work in private health or education, or in any way be involved in the dealing in stocks and shares.  I'd far rather be content than rich from exploiting others.

Yes I still have dreams, but I'd rather be realistic.  This year I've managed to get a few flowers off the dahlias and feel I've got one up on the slugs (although that may be because they turned their attention to my pumpkins) and so far my tomato plants have been blight free.

The Autumn Equinox approaches, the time when I start to work towards next year's harvest.  I'm starting to hone my planting lists, and will be visiting the Wisley Flower Show to purchase Autumn planting peas and broad beans, plus the first garlic, shallots and onions.   I'll be on the look out for more unusual edible plants, plus bulbs for containers to move around to brighten corners as required.

It's coming up to two years since I broke my ankle, but I still have aches and pains where the ligaments were damaged, so we're getting really serious about no-dig beds - once the couch and bramble have stopped fighting back.  The Annoying Middle Class Family and their slug pellets on the plot next to us have given up, and Howard is considering asking to take that over.  But first, we need to whip the one in my name into shape.

Another swathe was tackled today, and I've replanted my saffron bulbs in a sandier compost mix in the hope of more than a couple of home grown threads this year.

We're digging for small victories from here on in.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

My walk on part in the war (well, one of them)

Suitably chastened by John for Going Gently, I'm finally getting round to another post.  Nothing earth shattering has happened here - still no sign of anything approaching Summer, for starters.  Have had a couple of lovely days out over the bank holidays, including a day at the Weald and Downland Museum.  That dovetails into the most interesting thing that happened to me lately, bumping into the matinee idol of the historical scene, Peter Ginn (Tales from the Green Valley, Victorian/Edwardian & Wartime Farm) as I walked to the station after work.  Having talked about my interest in Dig for Victory and Land Settlement, and my collection of books relating to the subject, then shared our mutual admiration for the butter made at Acton Scott, I asked him if any other projects were in the pipeline.  Turns out the next series will cover one of my other favourite eras of history - medieval, with particular emphasis on the influence of monastic agricultural practices on the farming population as a whole.  It was filmed at the Weald & Downland, and will probably be broadcast in October.  Sod's law that last year we didn't venture down to Sussex due to not wanting to park in a quagmire - we could have seen the team in progress.

This past April, one of my absolute musical heroes died.  Scott Miller is hardly known in this country.  His first band, Game Theory, never played here, though I had the good fortune to be on holiday in Boston one year when they played there, and his second, The Loud Family, only managed one brief visit to the UK.  Yet those who have heard him music are inclined to revere his - fantastic songwriter with a marvellous turn of phrase, musically or lyrically.  After taking a decade out, he was planning to record a new Loud Family record this Summer, which makes the loss more keenly felt by those who knew him or his music.

I was lucky enough to interview Scott Miller on the only London date of the Loud Family tour, though the article was never published as the magazine it was for went bust shortly after.  I hope I still have a typed copy of it stored away should anyone ever want to read my memoirs.

I've been recalling a few tales to the temp we've had at work for the past month.  Whatever his work rate, it's been wonderful to be in the same office as someone who has heard of some of my favourite acts, let alone discovering on his last day that not only has he heard of The Soundtrack of Our Lives, but Mantra Slider is his favourite track.  Then, when I was talking about how Golden Earring didn't just suddenly appear in the 70's, but had been part of a massive scene in the 60's, he piped up "Q65 were Dutch too, weren't they?"  As you can imagine, my gob was well and truly smacked by that one.

So good luck William in your future postings, and hope you keep earning enough to subsidise your future musical endeavours.

One of the anecdotes I shared with him was my brief connection to the career of another music legend who died recently.  Albeit a music legend whose fame came without uttering or playing a note.

My first job out of sixth form college in 1979 was with a small music management company.  Somehow or other they had secured the rights to release the full recording of the original Radio series of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy on vinyl.  This meant various meetings in the two room Covent Garden erie that served as an office, many with Douglas Adams, who at the time viewed publicity not as oxygen but as irritating at best, stifling at worst.  Anyway, the series had a fanbase that included many notable people, including some at record sleeve designers Hipgnosis, who agreed to design the cover.  As it was a double album, this meant a gatefold sleeve.  So one day everyone gathered to discuss the final design for the sleeve.  The front and back were sorted out, the inside of the gatefold gradually agreed upon, except for a blank space in the top left corner.  Silence, pencil chewing and head scratching from all parties, then I innocently piped up that there should be some kind of representation of an entry in the actual book.  This was siezed upon, and Adams scurried away to create an "entry".  This was then delivered to me, and I was sent to a telex agency near Leicester Square (something I imagine has long ceased to exist) to type up snippets, and as a teaser for the album, send them to various music publications and other such companies.  The printouts of these messages then had to be taken to the Hipgnosis office in Denmark Street for them to be pasted up onto the last remaining blank space of the artwork.

So there you have it.  When Storm Thorgerson, designer of so many iconic record sleeves, ran out of ideas, who did he turn to?  Me.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Compare and Contrast

Another weekend without any useful work done in the garden or at the allotment.

Nigh on 48 hours of light snow meant that the only meaningful thing we got done this weekend was our weekly trip to the wonderful bakers, Holtwhites Bakery, which opened towards the end of last year in Enfield.  A proper artisan bakers, where proper bread is made with only those ingredients necessary - flour, yeast, water, maybe some salt, maybe some seeds - no chemicals to speed up the process or mask decay.  It's become our Saturday routine to go there, pick up some gorgeous proper bread - a sourdough, a ciabatta, some cheese and a cake or a fruit Danish pastry, before going into Enfield proper, stopping for a coffee and a snack before doing the more basic shopping.

What we HAD planned to be doing this weekend was to visit the RHS gardens at Wisley for the Grow Your Own weekend.  As well as stalls from some great nurseries and seed suppliers, there were talks lined up from the likes of James Wong, Pippa Greenwood and Charles Dowding.  Charles Dowding was there last year, and much as I enjoyed the talk, the combination of hushed atmosphere, lowered lighting and warmth meant I drifted off and missed parts of the lecture.  Remember the equivalent weekend last year?  It was a mini heatwave, and we were being told that unless significant rain came, we were heading for a drought.  Well it seems like it hasn't stopped raining since.

Ten years back was the start of the invasion of Iraq.  I was working myself to a frenzy, sowing seeds and in particular planting potatoes at the old allotment, as I felt sure that Britain's involvement in such a cavalier act would lead us to be ostracised by the bulk of the EU, and maybe on the receiving end of sanctions, and growing as much of our own food would be crucial.  As it was, sanctions never happened, the war dragged on and bankrupted our economy, and the ordinary working people have been paying for it ever since.

I have a good memory for dates and so forth.  A good thing, as living with a domestic god means that he is far tidier than I am.  Reading matter and notebooks that I leave where I can refer to them again get put away neatly, so I can't directly refer back to every sowing record I've made in the past 12 years beyond last year.  Apart from pots of flower bulbs, and the onions, garlic and shallots I got in the ground before I broke my ankle the previous November, I wasn't steady enough on my feet to start seed sowing until the corresponding weekend last year.  Most years I has a few things in pots and modules by the end of February, with the bulk started mid March.  This past year I have upgraded my little shanty town of mini greenhouses to a slightly more sturdy model, but still unheated.  I don't have the luxury of a heated greenhouse, and leaving seedlings on the windowsill is bound to upset the cat, so I have no choice but to wait until there is a definite movement in the seasons.  It seems this year we're three weeks to a month behind what has been normal for the past decade or so, ironically probably more in line with most of the last century.  So on the plus side, I can probably follow my precious little book The Wartime Weekend Garden to the date.  Who knows?  We may still get a long hot Summer, from May until October, with no blight and a decent crop of tomatoes.

Another aspect of living with a domestic god is that he knows how to look after clothes properly.  Clothes are gently laundered dried in the fresh air before being put away carefully, shoes are polished and reheeled, giving year's more use.  Once clothes are past their absolute best, they still are serviceable for wear - in the garden or whilst doing assorted DIY tasks.  In the case of t-shirts, they can serve as a extra layer against the cold until they are so threadbare they get used as rages, or end their days being composted.

A sort through of Howard's Winter wear has found a few items that have been outgrown - knitwear from a few years ago that was fashionably skinny, and don't skim his temporarily unfit form.  Thus I have come to inherit a rather lovely jumper - khaki with a zip up placket, brown cuffs, hem and collar.  It has an army surplus feel to it, and goes perfectly with my favourite stretchy skinny cut combat trousers and lace up boots for my modern take on a Land Girl uniform.  All I need is a jaunty neckerchief and red lipstick, but as that doesn't suit me I'll stick with my favourite copper brown one.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

And there they were – gone

Well, that's another shockingly unproductive year out of the way.  Started it with my leg in plaster, then we had a Summer to forget, Autumn saw Howard strapped up with a mangled knee, and December had me strapped up less severely with a less serious version of the same injury (damaged knee ligaments and bruising on the bone).

So 2012 - be off with you.  Personally you were a let down, even though there were some positive moments.

I just haven't been inspired enough to write anything new for so long.  Last time I managed to post, I was wondering about how the Olympics would impinge on my day to day life.  I have to say it hardly affected me.  If anything, transport was better.  None of the usual hold-ups causing me to miss my connections to and from work.  But as soon as everything was over and the visitors had left, the daily nonsense of two minute delays, roadworks and over-crowded short trains started again.  Note to assorted bus & train companies - people visit London all the time.  If you can run a reliable service for six weeks in Summer, you can do so 52 weeks of the year.

Performance wise, the Olympics were great. Starting with the at times bewildering opening ceremony and ending with the inspiring closing of the Paralympics - in particular the Druid call to celebrate the seasons, I went from cynical observer to diligent watcher.  That still doesn't forgive some of the horrors of the Olympic closing ceremony mind.  The sporting performances were special too - from established names (Wiggins, Bolt, Weir, Ennis), lesser known stalwarts (the British Dressage teams, when suddenly everyone know their Passage from their Piaffe) to new stars like Johnny Peacock.  Special mention to a certain horse - Trinidad - who made her below average riders in the Modern Pentathalon seem competent.

But it's over for another 4 years.  It was a pleasing sideshow, but the real world goes on.

The real world included a shocking excuse for a Summer, when the only thing that grew to any level of satisfaction were my salad leaves.  OK, it's nice to pick your own home grown salad for your lunch each day, but it would be nice to have tomatoes, beans and potatoes too, to name but a few crops that failed dismally this year.  The past three months have been so wet that we more or less gave up trying to get to the allotment due to regular flood risks over there, and the back garden path is a good 6 inch thick with wood chips to such up moisture.  The hens have been moulting on or off since October, and only one has come back into lay.  For the first time in three years, we had to buy eggs.

But we're not giving up.  This is a low point - we can build from it.

The rumbling panic over the date 21st December 2012 – talk of the Mayan calendar ending on this date built as time got closer.  Assorted doom and gloom merchants took advantage of this, imagining various catastrophic scenarios.  When we didn't fall off the edge of their flat earth, it started being a "symbolic" end, and veiled threats of major upheavals took over.  Well, as these types are often the same ones who think the moon landings took place in a film studio and other such garbage, a word sounding a little like symbolic comes to mind.

But the 22nd December DID see the end of an era.

That night, The Soundtrack of Our Lives played their final live show.  They may not have been the commercially biggest band in the world, but in my eyes they were among the mightiest.

I was first introduced to their music at a time when I was at my lowest ebb – Summer of 1996 - in between jobs and just diagnosed with epilepsy, my mood following my frequent hospital appointments was lightened by popping in to see my fiends at Heavenly Records.  On one of these visits I was given a copy of a record by a band that St. Etienne had heard whilst recording in Sweden .  And that is how I came to have one of the first copies of Welcome To The Infant Freebase in the UK .

I took it home and listened to it from start to finish. It was a timeless mix of rock, psychedelia, a touch of prog and folk.  Everything I liked, performed with utmost confidence, skill and not a little humour.  I was hooked immediately.

Strangely enough, a matter of days later, I met Nigel Cross, original editor of legendary music publication Bucketful of Brains, who was brandishing a copy of the LP, having seen the band in Berlin, and realised that I would be interested in them. I thanked him and said I already had the record.  Even though this was to most ears a new band (albeit formed from the ashes of another celebrated Swedish band Union Carbide Productions) he wasn't at all surprised that someone had already got me interested.

Seeing them live, you came to realise what a tight unit they were, musically and as bandmates.  They didn't play the UK much, but I got to see them as much as possible.  Their last UK show was in September, the day after Howard damaged his knee.  He turned up at the venue strapped up and on crutches, which allowed us to be given a spot close up to the stage.  It was a great, emotional night, with singer Ebbot morphing from rock guru into mighty shaman.  The final song, Instant Repeater 99, ended with the band taking a bow at the from of the stage.  More than a few middle aged men were reduced to tears by the sight.

Thanks to modern technology, and in particular YouTube, I can relive the night whenever I want.

Ah well - must keep going.  Spent this afternoon at the allotment for the first time in a couple of months.  Mostly filling up compost and leaf mould bins, but also reacquainting myself with the lie of the land, envisaging a fully productive plot once again, and trying not to be overwhelmed by the task in hand.

Three months until Easter.  Let's see what progress can be made by then.