Archive for May, 2011

On holidays

Soilman on holidayThe Planning Dept (aka Mrs Soilman) is slowly turning its attention towards the summer holidays, and I’m worried.

I used to look forward to holidays. That was before I’d taken many.

From a 42-year-old perspective, the 20-year-old’s optimism seems deranged. After climbing into your car, going on holiday is the biggest risk you ever take with your health and sanity.

I’m not even going to mention air travel (the folly of volunteering to cramp yourself into Stephen Hawking’s chair while a small, puce-faced child vomits and screams blue murder into your left ear – for 14 hours – defies rational explanation).

No, my principal beef is that places I can afford to visit (I definitely include my own nation’s offerings in this general judgement) are a bit shit.

Brief diarrhoea

Only in the lives of the super rich are the cabs plentiful and empty, the prices reasonable, the hotel rooms clean and well appointed, the dividing walls soundproofed, the satellite pornography peopled by cheerful and attractive actors, the sunblock effective, the lavatories pristine and unblocked, the maps accurate, the peace of night time uninterrupted by yelling drunks from Morecambe, the wi-fi dependable, the sewers invisible and odourless, the beaches unpolluted by dog shit and engine oil, the flash floods insufficiently violent to wash you off a mountain into the Dead Sea, the transgender prostitutes discreet and inoffensive, the pickpockets clumsy, the child beggars winsome and grateful, the waiters loquacious and amusing, the foreigners unexcitable and anglophone, the tourists indistinguishable from the natives, the local pack animals well fed and kindly treated, the swimming pools uncontaminated by Giardia, the food delicious and hygienically prepared by people who wash their fucking hands, the food poisoning confined to one lavish vomit followed by miraculous recovery, the diarrhoea brief and barely noticeable, the sandflies hypoallergenic, the mosquitoes vegetarian, the sea urchins and lethally poisonous Stonefish confined to the bay used by the other hotel, the hire cars well maintained with working brakes, the roads clearly signposted by somebody who actually wants to help you orientate, the service polite and attentive, the ‘attractions’ cheap and uncrowded, the lie-ins uninterrupted, the only-on-holiday marital sex agreeable to both parties.

In my world, at least half of the above will never be true – wherever we opt to go.

I realise, of course, that I should count myself fortunate to be able to take any kind of holiday. And – with reservations – I do.

But that doesn’t stop the gnawing tension creeping into my consciousness about this time of year.

Having Fun can be so fucking ghastly.

Posted on 29th May 2011
Under: Rants, Summer | 12 Comments »

Smallest beetroot in Britain

beetroot seedlingsWell these are pretty shit, aren’t they?

I sowed them in April. By now they should be double this size… maybe bigger. It’s been so hot and dry they never stood a chance. Half never even germinated – and I’ve never seen rows of Bolthardy beetroot with a third of the expected plants missing.

I’m watering almost every day at this point. That’s a July/August regime. Yet I’m barely making a dent in the arid conditions.

Nothing’s growing. By dint of massively soaking the spuds once a week, I’ve just about kept them going. Most everything else is sulking, unable to put on any growth through lack of water.

It’s all very gloomy.


Posted on 25th May 2011
Under: Roots | 14 Comments »

Of ants and sweetcorn

sweetcorn seedlingsThey’re going out on the plot today. It’s a famous moment, because Sweetcorn Planting means the start of summer.

Not that it feels all that special this year. We’ve had summer for about a month already. It’s been warm, dry – endlessly dry – and distinctly un-British.

One of the many unwelcome side effects of the early drought and warmth has been an explosion of ants. I have light, dry soil (their favourite), and I’ve never seen so many. They’ve taken over my whole vegetable plot. Swarms of the little fuckers have burrowed under my cauliflower seedlings and are currently destroying the crop.

This is, naturally, somewhat frustrating. Anti-ant products (Ant-ant?) are obviously widely available, but I really hate puffing permethrin near my veg – or near anything, for that matter. So it looks as if the shallow-rooted veg are in for a torrid time this season.

Posted on 21st May 2011
Under: Sweetcorn | 10 Comments »

Privacy campaigners: Shut up and put your knob away

Talking of freedom of speech (see below), we are living in significant times.

You’re probably aware of the current superinjunction fiasco – ie folks on Twitter ‘outing’ celebrities who’ve taken out injunctions to prevent the media identifying them or writing about their marital affairs.

What you may have missed, unless you work in the media, is today’s story about Max Mosley at the European Court of Human Rights. In a nutshell: Max (who won £60k in damages from a UK tabloid for violating his privacy when it wrote about his S&M orgy with prostitutes) tried to get the ECHR to force UK newspapers to notify, in advance, anybody about whose ‘private life’ they propose to write.

Luckily, he failed – for now.

There is something rotten at the heart of both these situations. I don’t mean the UK’s Human Rights Act (the well-meaning, but flawed legislation that governs litigation in both), but something more profoundly mistaken: the principle (enshrined in judges’ recent interpretations of that Act) that a person’s sex life – no matter who and what it involves – is private. In particular, the now established legal assumption that marital affairs are a private matter.

Guess what? They’re not.

Marriage is a public, legal contract. One of its provisions is a contract of fidelity (unless both parties specifically and publicly contract out of that). If you breach that condition, you are breaching the terms of a public contract.

If you’re found out (or if your lover wants to tell the world), you can’t cover it up as ‘private’. Sure, discovery will cause damage – to your marriage (presumably), to your children, to your reputation and your wider family.

But here’s the thing: it’s public, because you breached a public declaration of commitment to another person. You have no right to privacy. Cheating spouses, once exposed, will be discussed and will be publicly disapproved. Quite right, too: the whole point of a public contract is to invite the public to hold you to its terms by the implicit threat of gossip and disapproval if you breach them.

In short, you blew it – and the damage caused is entirely your fault. Not the media’s, not your family’s, not the law’s. You have no right to shut that particular stable door once the horse has bolted.

There was ever, is now and always will be only one way to avoid alienating your spouse, hurting your children and destroying your family: Keep it in your fucking trousers.

If you can’t, and get caught, take it like a man and stop snivelling about your right to privacy. You forfeited that right when you got your knob out.

Posted on 10th May 2011
Under: Rants | 10 Comments »

Er… go away if you don’t like me

Somebody complained recently that I’d ‘censored’ him on this site.

Actually, I had – for a reason you’ll infer later. But it made me laugh, because it’s like a gatecrasher complaining to the host of a private party about being thrown out. This site is not a government or state entity. It’s not a public space. I’m not the guarantor of anyone’s free speech.

I don’t have to be. This site is private property. Who comes here, and what they say here, is entirely my choice and mine alone. Given that some folks seem unclear about that, I thought it may be worth stating for the record.  You want to complain about your rights, take it up with somebody else, somewhere else.

Having said that, it happens that I am a fierce proponent of free speech – even (especially?) speech that the majority (whoever they may be) disapprove. One of the missions of this blog is to tell it like it is – in any language and idiom I choose. You may have noticed.

So I’m not going to go around censoring anybody… although I’m perfectly entitled to do so (without explanation) if I choose. Even if you disagree with me, I’ll be honoured to have your comments. In fact, I’ll be especially pleased, because it’s great to read all shades of experience and opinion.

I particularly venerate argument based on facts, and supported by evidence. I am a humanist and a Renaissance man. Make your case well enough and you’ll change my mind.

What I won’t tolerate – ever, under any circumstances – is hate speech, commenters being unpleasant or rude to other commenters, and/or criticism of my idiom or profanity.

An important mission statement of this blog is that people be free to express themselves how they like. It’s the very opposite of censorship, if you think about it for a second. And a self-conscious reaction against all the many times and places in our lives where we can’t say what we think, in the words we think.

If you don’t like my attitude or my bad language, I’m massively outnumbered by ‘positive’ offerings in the ‘clean’ world. So, er… fuck off and enjoy them.

Posted on 9th May 2011
Under: Rants | 11 Comments »

For the love of cauliflowers

kit for planting cauliflowersThe cauliflowers go out on the plot today, and that means a fair bit of aggro.

I hate slug pellets, and use them for nothing else. But you’re pretty much forced into using them on young brassicas – that is, if you want them to grow into old brassicas.

Then there’s the brassica collars, which fit around the base of the young plants to keep off cabbage root fly. Then there’s the netting, which is all rather boring to assemble.

But it’s all worthwhile, because fresh cauliflower – just cut, not harvested some time last week – tastes so, so much better.

Posted on 8th May 2011
Under: Brassicas | 2 Comments »

Frosted potatoes. Yet again.

Frosted potatoesBugger, bugger, bugger, bugger.

This year really is turning out just like last. No rain, then spuds frosted in May. Bang go my hopes of new potatoes before June.

Oddly, though, I already feel stirrings of what the French – with genius – call j’en-foutisme (untranslatable in proper English, but rough meaning: “Don’t-give-a-fuck-ism”). So last year was shit, now this one is too.

So what? At 42 years old, perhaps it’s time I started worrying about things that actually matter?

Update, 7th May: I see from my incoming Google traffic that LOTS of you, like me, got caught out by the frost. Don’t panic if you’ve not seen this before: Potatoes DO recover from frost damage. It just sets them back a few weeks and may slightly lower yield. A pain, but not a disaster.

Posted on 4th May 2011
Under: Potatoes, Rants | 12 Comments »

If you want peas, prepare for war

peas sown in gutters

To riff on Vegetius, you’d better get ready for major hostilities if you’re planning on growing peas.

I gave up sowing them direct years ago. Waste of time: They’re either eaten by rodents before germination or destroyed by bean weevil just after.

Even if you raise them in plastic guttering (as above) and transplant, you’re locked in combat thereafter with pigeons, slugs/snails, pea moth and just about every other evil bastard on the vegetable plot.

It’s astonishing that this was one of the first mass-cultivated vegetables in Europe, an essential staple for Greeks, Romans and our mediaeval ancestors. Most of the others (parsnips, wheat – or rather, spelt) aren’t too tricky to grow. But peas are a heart-breaker.

I’ve no idea how they kept the pests at bay. Cicero, who goes on a bit about home vegetable growing, offers no clue. Nor, as far as I can see, does Varro.

So, because this is the web – and you simply never know who’s reading – here’s a question to any experts in prehistoric and/or Classical agriculture that may occasionally dip into

Just how did the Romans kept the pigeons off their bloody peas? Any ideas?

[Fine point of interest: Varro goes into great detail about cultivating grapevines. If you’re organic and grow grapes, you may find his hints and tips useful]

Posted on 1st May 2011
Under: Peas and beans | 21 Comments »