2014: Reasons to be grateful

The start to today – black as pitch, pissing rain, traffic jams, back to work – summarised neatly why living in this country can be trying. I have a fair sense of humour. Today it failed utterly.

I was so low I felt the need to compose a gratitude list. This was the best I could come up with at 7am:

  • I don’t live in Antarctica
  • I’m not a lifelong inmate of a Soviet salt mine gulag
  • I don’t have lice

By 7.30am, and after a stiff double espresso, I had added these:

  • I don’t live in Zurich
  • I don’t feel the need to wear a flat cap
  • I’m not a vegetarian
  • I don’t drive a Nissan Qashqai by choice
  • I’m not an estate agent, an MP, a parking attendant or an employee of the Inland Revenue

I felt cautiously optimistic after this. So I offer it for what it’s worth.

Update, 7pm:

I fell into depression again thinking about my post on EU civil servants. Dunno why. It just came back to irritate me anew. Upshot of pointless obsessing was my conclusion that ALL state (and supra-state, ie EU) employees should stop paying income tax. Instead, the amount they would normally pay in income tax should be deducted from their official salary. So they get what they’re paid – full stop. No income tax to pay.

Why? Two reasons:

  • It reminds everyone that state employees are grace-and-favour, courtesy of the private sector. Their current income tax (indeed, all their taxes) are just rebates on their salary, returned to the private sector taxpayers who really pay them. All of us should be reminded of this basic economic fact every bloody day.
  • If we took the six million public sector employees out of the income tax system, we could get rid of a substantial number of Inland Revenue civil servants. Yay: More savings. Paying state employees to administer the utterly pointless taxation of themselves and other state employees must be history’s best working definition of insane money-wasting.

Update, 7.10pm:

What a boring, bitching, moaning old tosser I’ve become.

Posted on 6th January 2014
Under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Happier times: Summer holidays

Greek theatre in Taormina, SicilyIt’s a difficult, gloomy time of  year. In the UK, we’ve had gales and pouring rain for a fortnight. Most of the country’s under weather warnings as I write, and no doubt tomorrow’s TV news will bring the familiar shots of shivering folk being ferried from their submerged homes in rubber boats.

It is, in short, shit.

So my thoughts turn to sunnier days. In the dark dirge of winter, it’s hard to imagine summer was ever even possible, far less that it happened – and that you were there.

My Sicilian photos prove otherwise. It all seems dreamy and surreal now, but there WAS once sunshine and there WILL be again. I have to repeat this to myself several times a day.

I really, really shouldn’t have been born in a high latitude. It doesn’t suit me. I’m a creature of light and sunshine. The darkness fucks me up.

Posted on 3rd January 2014
Under: Winter | 2 Comments »

Shamefaced entry back into blogland


Yes, it has been a while. No, I’m not proud.

So I’m just going to gloss over the whole where-the-fuck-have-you-been thing and carry on as if nothing happened. In brief: I’ve had some health issues.

A new year’s on the horizon, and as ever I’m shockingly behind at the plot. I’m thinking – gasp – of paying a guy to dig it over for me. I know this is the ultimate allotment sin. You may throw rotten tomatoes. But here’s the thing: I don’t think I’ll get back on track unless I do. The plot’s a jungle.

Work is the problem, as I know it is for many folks reading this. The Great Depression has forced us all to work longer and harder as colleagues are lost and budgets are cut. I seem to do little but work – and when I’m not at work, I’m thinking about work. This last is really the bit I resent. It’s bad enough having so few hours uncommitted to work without filling them, too, with work-related thoughts.

Mostly I just shrug and get on with it. That’s life.

But now and then, I’m jolted into moments of purest rage by things I find out about other people’s lives. Take this, for instance: today’s news that European Union civil servants take an average of 15 days off sick. That’s three full weeks off work… to add to their 24 days of official holiday AND (in most EU countries) seven days of official public holidays.

That’s not all. Many EU Commission staff enjoy a flexitime scheme that lets them take 24 days off work every year if they work an extra 45 minutes a day (ie the minimum ‘standard’ overtime everyone in the private sector works for bugger-all money). In other words, some are entitled to take 66 days a year off work – THREE MONTHS – even before they’ve taken a single day sick.

I’m paying for all of this in my taxes. If you’re European, so are you. Not only that, if you’re a private sector employee or self-employed you’re getting a shit pension (if you’ve got one at all). EU bureaucrats get a magnificent one.

These are the moments when I feel I should devote the rest of my life to politics – to fighting the disgusting outrages I see all around me. But you know what? I’m too fucking exhausted from working all the time. And so are you.

Therefore the kind of people who end up doing politics – ie running our lives, and creating the disgusting outrages – are weaselly cunts like this (and only appropriate that he was Minister for Europe under Tony Blair).

Posted on 30th December 2013
Under: Rants | 2 Comments »

Looking for backlinks? Look elsewhere

Deluged with SEO marketers trying to get me to put links to their e-commerce sites on this blog. None of them are offering much individually, but added together it would be a fair-ish sum were I to say ‘yes’ to them all.

A quick and pithy message to them all: Fuck Off.

Apols if you’re sick of this topic (I’ve written about it before). I’m coming back to it because it’s a daily reminder, for me (yes, I’m getting these offers almost daily), of just how bonkers and corrupted the web has become.

The demands of SEO make every link suspect. Really doesn’t matter what you’re reading online, or where. Somebody, somewhere has probably paid for at least some – maybe all – of the links on the page. That’s rarely flagged, if ever.

To my ageing and increasingly irrelevant eye, this is dangerous. We used to educate kids to spot the difference between advertising and ‘real’ programmes on the TV and in other media (or at least, they tried to teach my generation. How about yours?). Nobody’s teaching anybody how to spot affiliate marketing and paid-for backlinks masquerading as ‘real’ content and ‘real’ click recommendations. Most parents haven’t got a sodding clue, so they could never teach their kids.

Does this matter? Do you care? Does anybody care?

Posted on 18th September 2013
Under: Rants, Uncategorized, Web nerdery | 6 Comments »

Karma and Apple find a way

Strange phone call today.

Caller: “Hello, is that [Soilman’s Christian name]?”

Me: “Yes”

Caller: “Hi. Just calling about a lost iPod. Did you do the Stonehenge to Avebury Charity Trek on Friday?”

Me: “Er, no.”

Caller: “Oh. That’s odd. Because we have this lost iPod. But it looks like I have the wrong number. Sorry to bother you.”

Me (alarmed/baffled): “Hang on, don’t go. You’ve rung my number and you have my correct name. So it looks like you’ve got the right number. What’s going on?”

Caller: “Well, er… ok. We found this iPod after the event on Saturday. And it’s got this name [reads out Soilman’s full name] and this mobile phone number engraved on it. But obviously you weren’t at the event, so it must belong to somebody else.”

Me (realisation dawning): “Is it a white iPod Nano?”

Caller: “Er, yes. How did you know?”

Me: “Because that iPod was stolen from my car about two years ago. So yes, it IS mine. But it wasn’t lost by me. It was lost by the fucking arsehole who stole it from me.”

Moral, dear readers: Whenever you buy an Apple product, ALWAYS get your name and number engraved on it at point of sale.

Posted on 9th September 2013
Under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Busy. On hols. Lazy.

SoilmanSorry about lack of posting on soilman.net. First I was busy. Then I was on hols (see me frying in Sicily, left). Then I was just too goddamn lazy to do much.

Now I’m back in harness and trying to deal with the mountain of weed that has appeared on the allotment. It is an allotment truism that if weeds were edible, we’d all eat like kings…. but this year it feels truer than most.

I do at least have some sensational sweetcorn this year. What a difference a bit of sunshine makes.

Posted on 4th September 2013
Under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Busy. On hols. Lazy.

Making wine ‘just like the Romans’. Yeah, right

Unseemly, I know, to come back from a long absence with a rant… but I can’t help myself.

Typical of the shite journalism I read endlessly these days is this offering from today’s Guardian.

I don’t even know where to begin with this piece, which is shot through with enormous, gaping holes. Written by a young metropolitan reporter, it betrays total ignorance of, well, almost everything to do with the topic.

First off, the biggest sources for Roman viticulture are Varro, Cato and Pliny. Virgil, though he mentions the topic, is a very third-rate source. Probably dominates the piece because he’s the only Roman author the writer has heard of.

Then there’s the shocking ignorance of viticulture in general. Quite how, in the post-Phylloxera world, these Sicilian historians expect to grow vines and make wine “exactly as the ancient Romans did” is a mystery unenlightened by the Guardian writer’s questioning.

It is impossible, in 2013, either to grow the same varieties of grape the Romans did, or to do it in the same way(s). For starters, when you grow vinifera vines on American rootstocks (as you have to do nowadays), the vines need considerable fertiliser input to achieve anything like the yields of vineyards pre-Phylloxera. Presumably using any fertiliser at all (bar cow shit) was impossible for the Romans.

I could go on. Luckily for you (as I’m fond of saying), I won’t. I’ll just add this: Don’t believe a fucking word of what you read, anywhere.

It’s all shite.

Posted on 23rd August 2013
Under: Rants | 2 Comments »

Hot and bothered… but loving it

Mixed allotment vegetablesMost things are a little small and stunted so far – obviously because of the heatwave. I’d need to be doing two hours watering at the allotment every day to keep up with it. I can’t.

Wow, but this hot weather is stunning. 32C is warm pretty much anywhere, but in the UK it feels like a blast furnace. Two years of rain and 100% cloud cover weakens one’s tolerance for heat.

But please note: I am NOT complaining. Oh no. I’m loving, loving, loving it.

Bring it on. More! More!

Posted on 20th July 2013
Under: Cucurbits, Potatoes, Roots | Comments Off on Hot and bothered… but loving it

Last orders: Cauliflower!

young cauliflowers under netsFinally grew some cauliflower seedlings and got them out under nets. Phew.

I had massive difficulties with cauliflowers this year. Lost two sowings – both damped off inexplicably. I did the same things at the same time and in the same way I do them every year. But no joy.

These have just enough time to head before the weather closes down. But it will be a close call.

Posted on 9th July 2013
Under: Brassicas | 2 Comments »

Here comes the sun


After three summers of truly shite weather, the UK is finally seeing some sunshine. It’s 26C (hot by our standards) and it’s predicted to last for at least a week.

Can you imagine? A WHOLE BLOODY WEEK!!

I enjoyed an hour at my allotment last night doing some desultory weeding and watering, but mostly just marvelling at the simple pleasure of feeling the evening sun on my back and watching a slow, late sunset.

As a Californian colleague once told me, the best bit about living in the UK is seeing how overjoyed – how genuinely, riotously happy – everyone is made by a few days of clear weather. “If only it took so little to make most people delirious.”

I guess you have to be British to really understand that.

Posted on 5th July 2013
Under: Summer, Weather | 2 Comments »