Archive for 2009

Notes from an old man

I’m having a midlife crisis.

No, not that kind. I hate Porsches, and can’t afford one. And I’m apparently invisible to simpering, leggy blondes (for which my wife is at least sporadically grateful).

It’s more like a who-the-fuck-am-I-anyway sort of crisis.

It derives, I suspect, from my working life – where so much has changed and is changing. I’m quite good at change, and mostly enjoy it. But my job is unrecognisable from the one I started 20-odd years ago.

I’m like a man who’s just arrived in Shanghai, and can recall every minute of what he did during the journey… but can’t remember where he came from.

Of the things that animated, exercised, obsessed, worried and delighted me even 10 years ago – let alone 20 – not one now remains. I am an utter stranger to my younger self.

Such a stranger, in fact, that the professional disconnection has bled into my non-work life. I feel like Dr Who after a regeneration. How the fuck did that guy turn into me? Was I ever him, or did I dream it?

Allotmenteering is about the only thing that connects me to the past. Not that I would have dreamed of growing a carrot 20 years ago, of course. But it’s the only thing I do now that I know the young man would at least have understood.

Everything else would be a total fucking mystery to him. Plus he’d be appalled by the size of my arse.

Posted on 26th November 2009
Under: Rants | 22 Comments »

Scrooge’s Christmas crackers

Last year's Christmas tree rides again… and so my thoughts turn to Christmas.

I wish they wouldn’t. I loathe Christmas. It’s an ordeal that I rank up there with unblocking the lavatory, protracted root canal work and proctological examination (which last I have yet to endure, but visualising the procedure’s psychological effect demands minimal imaginative chutzpah).

There is one small glint of moonlight in the morgue, however: by some horticultural miracle, last year’s potted tree is still with us – just.

Granted, it’s lost half its foliage. But at least I can save £15 by re-using the bugger. Assuming I stand it against a wall.

It’s got me thinking about other things I could re-use. Hey, why not? If you’re hating it anyway, why not claw back a few quid on the deal?

I’m figuring a bit of glue and concentration could probably resurrect the Xmas crackers, if you remember to save the pieces. And the Christmas cake’s a dead cert. Nobody eats the fucking thing anyway, so they’ll never notice if I wheel out the same cake 10 years in a row.

I’m inspired by the Empress Dowager with her 100 dishes at every meal. The eunuchs knew she only touched the same 10 favourites every day, so the rest were served up, untouched, week after week… until they were rotting under the porcelain tops.

That’s my kind of hospitality.

Posted on 23rd November 2009
Under: Rants, Uncategorized, Winter | 10 Comments »

Vegetable growing: What would you teach?

Good points made by Matron in her “Food Security” post of Nov 12 (can’t link direct, but it’s a short scroll down her main page):

“There will come a time in the not too distant future when supplies of water and fuel become scarce that we will all need to grow our own food. Most people in the UK have no idea how to do that, and therefore it will be up to you and I – the food growing bloggers – to show them how, before they all starve to death!”

I wish this were melodramatic, but I don’t think it is. And it got me thinking: if I were suddenly required to help people grow food – en masse – would I be up to it?

Specifically, what could I do? What specific tips would I hand out to would-be vegetable growers in the post-oil era?

Reams of detailed, complex advice would be too much for a total beginner (remember how that felt?). But trite, obvious stuff is also clearly pointless.

After much thought, I reckon my initial, brief ‘Here’s what you need to know’ checklist would look like this:

  1. Prepare to irrigate. You’ll need access to water and you’ll have to water crops MUCH more than you think
  2. Get a horse, or befriend an equestrian. The only way to keep up soil fertility, when fertilisers have vanished or become too expensive (already happening), will be to add TONS of compost and manure year-round
  3. KILL ALL CABBAGE WHITE BUTTERFLIES ON SIGHT

If you had to give three specific bits of help/advice to a total vegetable virgin – once the oil and fertilisers have gone – what would they be?

Posted on 19th November 2009
Under: Uncategorized | 21 Comments »

Clearing up this year’s corn

Old sweetcorn stalksI was digging like a Terminator on Sunday. Managed to get most of this year’s sweetcorn on the compost and even spread a bit more horse shit.

Grim job, though. Back hurts, arse hurts, arms hurt, legs hurt. Had blisters the size of Flying Saucers (remember them?!) when I’d finished.

More of the same come the weekend. It’s so important to have something nice to look forward to, don’t you find?

Posted on 17th November 2009
Under: Sweetcorn, Winter | 2 Comments »

Rain stops play

Rain on window

Another splendid example of His sense of humour: Took today off work to do some digging on the allotment, and was greeted with this.

It’s not just raining. It’s coming down in streams as thick as pencils. If I stood stark naked in the garden for five minutes wielding a loofah, I’d have a convincing shower (and my neighbour would have a convincing embolism).

So what to do? Well, I could rearrange my seed drawer. Or perhaps study the outside pebble-dash through the conservatory window.

But I won’t. Instead, I’ll flob on the sofa watching daytime TV, then burp and fart my way through an hour or two with YouTube. Then I’ll give up in despair and go back to work.

Jeez Louise.

Posted on 13th November 2009
Under: Winter | 13 Comments »

Muck spreading

Allotment with manureDoesn’t look much, does it?

Bugger.

As predicted, I didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped. Surprise. Even so this represents three hard hours of work; had to pull out mountains of weeds before I could dig it over and spread manure.

Only another 10 or so days like that, and I’ll be done.

Marvellous. Can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it.

Posted on 7th November 2009
Under: Winter | 12 Comments »

Looks like I fed the pigeons again

Brassicas eaten by pigeonsWretched pigeons. These were meant to be my autumn cauliflowers.

I had a few heads from them, so it’s not a dead loss, but the rest started to go to seed (I’ve not been to the plot much) and the pigeons were able to reach through the net to pull them up.

Irritating, but there it is.

D-Day for digging and manuring rapidly approaches. I’m praying the weather is dry this weekend, because I need to make up some time fast.

Posted on 4th November 2009
Under: Brassicas | 3 Comments »

Globe artichokes: at last, the flowers

Artichoke flower

The artichoke flowers turned out nice, although I’ve left it a bit late for the photo. They were at their best a week or two ago.

I’ve been very lackadaisical at the plot of late. Hardly any progress on clearing up for next season, and time is ticking by.

Still, I have days off on Friday this week and next, and some serious allotment work is pencilled in. This time in a fortnight, I’ll be fully on top of it*.

* Editor’s note: This may well prove to be bollocks

Posted on 2nd November 2009
Under: Globe artichokes | 4 Comments »

UK oxymoron: Young farmer

Love this story about Japanese youngsters taking up farming.

As I’ve pointed out before, the average age of UK farmers is 54. We’re clearly going in the same direction as the Japanese. Our imports-to-homegrown food ratio is in the same ballpark.

So where’s the grassroots movement towards sustainability and home-growing here? I’ll tell you: it’s not happening. Not in commercial agriculture, anyway.

In the UK, you’re either a grain baron farming 1,000 EU-subsidised acres with industrial pesticides and fertilisers. Or a mud-spattered smallholder drowning in red tape and struggling to pay the electricity bill.

And all created, ultimately, by urban morons who are happy to pay £15,000 for a new Astra but won’t pay more than £2.50 for a chicken.

It’s totally INSANE.

Posted on 28th October 2009
Under: Rants | 9 Comments »

Food bloggers’ get-together

Some gardening and veg growing types got together in Oxford on Saturday, arranged by the indefatigable Patrick. As ever, I was on the way to somewhere else and had no time. Apologies to all for slinking off in a hurry – this is my life nowadays.

Couldn’t bring the videocamera proper, but shot this brief video with the iPhone; it’s the redoubtable Emma (of AKG Podcast fame) answering questions about keeping chickens. Thanks to Patrick for long hours he must have put into organising everything, and apologies again for my fleeting semi-presence.

Posted on 25th October 2009
Under: Uncategorized | 4 Comments »