Monthly Archives: April 2006

And now I’ve told you too, I can’t back out

I’ve caught up with the work in the greenhouse; that is, there’s still a good deal to do as the tomatoes need potting on any day now and once seedlings emerge they will need things doing to them; but I’ve potted up everything that is ready and sown all seeds for now. Since I was so late starting, everything will be a little late for a while, but it all catches up in the end.

The soil in the garden dries out very quickly, being sand on gravel and therefore I can’t just sow seeds and expect them to come up. Unless I get them in early enough while there’s still moisture in the ground, they just don’t germinate. So that is why I now have about 375 peas sown in the greenhouse. As well as beans, spinach and all the rest. I know this seems absurd, but I’ve learned from 30 years of vegetable growing what works and what doesn’t. In fact, this garden is not as dry as my last, which was about 50 yards from the beach in Lowestoft and was really sandy.

The kitchen garden looks extremely untidy in parts just now and I can’t see that improving much for some time. In the long run it will be larger and better, but we aren’t very quick to finish things. We keep getting sidetracked by the necessities of living everyday life.

It all started with a whim on my part, about 18 months ago. I decided, and I can’t quite remember why now, that I wanted to try my hand at bricklaying. Since the Sage and I egg each other on in daft plans, this idea was kept in a dark warm place all winter and by last spring it was sprouting all over the place. The upshot of it was that we decided to build a wall for the vegetable garden. My veg garden is a splendid creation; it has 6 beds, each 4 feet wide by 38 feet long with 2 feet wide concrete paths between them. Then there is another squarish bit for artichokes (Jerusalem and Globe) and runner beans. On two sides, opposite each other, at right angles to the long beds (with me so far?) are greenhouses. One is 30 feet long and, the other side of the garden, the other two are 30 feet and 40 feet long. On one of the other two sides is a fruit garden, then a stream; on the other are the compost heaps and the drive.

The wall will go down the drive side and then round the corner towards the single greenhouse. About 100 feet long and 5 feet high. This will enlarge the veg garden somewhat as we might as well make use of the space available. We employed a bricklayer to lay the first few courses of masonry bricks so that we’d have a sound start and I’m to do the rest. I was telling a couple of friends about the plans, in the pub last summer. One of them said “let’s see your hands then” – they looked at my small and tender hands, looked at each other and their lips twitched…..but they are supportive really (that is, if they laugh it is behind my back). Indeed, one of them helpfully gave me some gloves and has lent me a spirit level and bricklayer’s trowel. Which he won’t get back anytime soon, I’m sorry to say.

There is just one thing stopping me thinking about getting started: we haven’t chosen the bricks yet. We found some that meet my unexacting standards, but not the Sage’s. It may still take some time; he is very patient.

The good thing is that we complement each other. He is careful and painstaking at the start of a project, but tends to lose interest before the end and, when it’s 85% completed, say “that’ll do for now, I’ll finish it later” and of course he never does. I leap in cheerily, all unprepared and make mistakes at the start because, well, too much preparation is boring, isn’t it; but I am then quite tenacious and complete the job. But when that will be is another matter. I think two years, but I really don’t know if that makes me wildly optimistic or ludicrously underambitious. It’ll have to be done though, I’ve told too many people.

Rabbit fool and spinach

I was rabbiting on, which isn’t unusual, at a party. I like to give good value at a social occasion; I think it is only polite, when a host has gone to trouble and been kind enough to invite me, to not let conversation flag. Although listening and responding to others’ bon mots is important too. Goodness, I hope I don’t monopolise the conversation *moment of agonised introspection* because, after all, I am doing that here rather. Maybe it’s time I reoffered that guest spot to my chum Ab.

Anyway, the friend to whom I rabbited said, in admiring sort of way “I should think you don’t suffer fools gladly.” I was mortified. He did mean it as a compliment, from the way he said it, but I was upset to think that a. I’d looked like a smartarse and b. like an intolerant one to boot. “No, no,” I said, ” I love fools, I feel warmly drawn to them.” And it’s true, not least because I’m one of them myself and I really hope that people will be tolerant of me too.

I think, on an entirely different subject (lucky this isn’t one of those organised sort of blogs, with categories) that I am starting to feel reinthused about the vegetables. This morning, I’ve picked and taken to the shop, a whole box of spinach and am now proudly imagining the pleasure it is giving to Al’s happy customers. ‘Ooh, your own spinach, picked this morning, how lovely’. It is last years (spinach beet, not true spinach which goes to seed in no time and has to be continually re-sown, which does not suit my style of gardening at all) and, having overwintered, will, in a few weeks, go to seed. By that time the new season’s crop should be ready.

I feel all keen and nurturing and will go and work in the garden. Have a good weekend.

Memento mori

One of my occasional duties is to play the organ at funerals in the village church. Today’s funeral was that of the aged aunt of a friend of mine. She was, it appears, a brilliant and feisty woman who led a dashing and quite unusual life.

By the nature of funerals, most of them are for old people and, even if you have known them, you often don’t realise just how interesting their lives have been and how notable have been their accomplishments. There may have been a particular event that stands out – like Violet, who received a medal for running down the railway track to successfully stop a train before it crashed into the car accident at the crossing gate. It might be a whole life story, like Doreen, who lived all her eighty years on the same farm, and in whose memory Flixton church was packed yesterday. There have been people I did not know in their lifetime, but by the end of whose funeral I have felt a sense of loss, that I have forever missed the opportunity to meet them.

I was chatting, a while ago, to the wife of our former Rector and we admitted that we had both, ages ago, chosen our funeral hymns. But neither of us has told anyone what they are. It seems a bit premature and maybe too self-absorbed. But I was quite cheered – she seems quite normal really, but she is actually as illogical as I am.

But it’s only a bit of rust —

Oh dear. Son’s car has failed its MOT, for several reasons – i.e. it’s not worth having the repairs done.

He bought it last summer on Ebay. He also bought it from a friend and near neighbour who, if she had known Ro was looking for a car, would undoubtedly have given him first refusal. It was an elderly Metro, whose most interesting feature was the leather Saab seats; friend’s son had written off her very nice car a couple of years back and they were salvaged.

So, Ro is in the market for a car, fairly promptly; at present he’s borrowing his father’s, who’s borrowing mine. But it needs to be smallish and oldish, so that the insurance isn’t horrendous. Correction: it will be horrendous in any case: so that it isn’t unaffordable.

But I’m not sure that one can blame the insurance companies. A friend was lamenting to me that her son has just been caught drink driving and banned for 26 months. Ouch. Idiot. He’s only 21 and has already, when sober, wrapped a car round a lamp-post because he misjudged a bend. He has lost his job 10 miles away and, although he has got another, his parents are refusing to give him a lift and making him walk.

Can’t say he doesn’t deserve it. I do not suggest his mother was upset because he was caught, but because he did it. However, he didn’t hurt anyone and was not hurt himself; it was a spot check coming out of the pub car park. So he’s lucky really, even if he feels hard done by at present.

Churchyard chickens

I’m always talking about the chickens, so here is their history.

About 16 years ago someone dumped a flock of bantams in the churchyard. Maybe they thought the birds could fend for themselves; they were reasonably safe as it’s enclosed by railings, a wall and hedges (no, no, it’s not Colditz, I mean one or another on each boundary). However, it was November and both food and shelter were another matter.

So my husband, a hind-hearted man and a bird lover, started to feed them. But winter approached and one day we found a dead chicken, killed by the cold. So the next week or two was spent sneaking out at night catching chickens which were roosting in the trees and bushes. My teenagers found this great fun. We built a henhouse and a run and they settled down.

Of course, once the spring came, they started to get broody and before long we had our first hatching of chicks. The run was extended. And again.

They are particularly sweet-natured birds – they never peck – and very good mothers. Sometimes, a friend with some smart pedigree birds which are a bit clueless about sitting on eggs or looking after chicks asks us to hatch a clutch of eggs for them. One puzzled bird found herself sitting on a pair of goose eggs – only one hatched but she must have been most impressed to land up with a chick almost as big as she was. I inherited Goosey from my mother (and promptly passed him on to my son) and he now lives in a run next to the bantams, but they visit him.

Sometimes a newly hatched chick is frail and exhausted and comes and spends a few hours in a box on the Aga (the traditional bottom oven is too warm) or inside my bra – well, it likes to hear my heartbeat. And if a bantam is a bit poorly she is brought into the house each evening for a morsel of cheese.

We started with about 15 birds and the number we have now fluctuates between about 30 and 40. Sometimes we are visited by a fox but otherwise we keep them until they die of old age. The eggs are lovely, small – if the recipe says 2 eggs I’d use 3 – with beautiful deep yellow yolks. They mostly live on wheat and household scraps and whatever they find in the garden. They are free-range; they do have a large wire run to give them some protection from dogs and to keep most of them together, but they wander round the garden too.

Undignified collapse of chugger

Just got back from my fifth meeting in two days, having done homework from last and preparation for next in the meantime. I can do efficient after all. I found myself chairing the last, unexpectedly, which was good as it meant we finished half an hour early and were back in the hall swigging wine and scoffing cheese while there was still plenty there (we look after ourselves in Norfolk villages) rather than finishing late and only finding a couple of cream crackers and dregs.

I’m being Granny tomorrow. And so looking forward to it. Although I realise I haven’t thought about anything for lunch, so it’ll be an egg again. My babies almost lived on egg, banana and avocado as they were quick, easy and available.

I don’t know what’s up with Hotmail, but I can’t access emails. Ho hum. I can get on to MSN and I can sign in to my business email account, but not my personal one. I don’t suppose there’s anything vital. Although, isn’t it dreary when you don’t check emails for a few days and find you’ve got dozens to trawl through. Most of which are junk or trivial.

At least you know who they are from, so have some idea if they are worth reading. Not like innocently answering the phone and finding that it is a poor cold caller on minimum wage who you don’t want to be rude to but will on no account buy from.

My mother, at the end of her life, finally found the perfect answer to cold callers. She had returned home from hospital, having received what she called her Death Sentence (and it was, but she said it in CAPITALS). My sister and I were sitting in her bedroom, drinking tea and keeping each other’s spirits up when the phone rang. She answered. It was a charity caller wanting her to sell raffle tickets. My mum explained politely that she was just out of hospital, she was really quite ill and it was not possible for her to sell tickets, however good the cause was. “There’s no hurry” said the lass brightly, “we’ve got to December 17th.” “Unfortunately,” said my mother with great dignity, “I may not have until December 17th.” Apologies and confusion from caller, who rapidly said goodbye. My sister, my mum and I collapsed with laughter. At last, the perfect response. And it was true (far too bad taste to say if it were not). What had been, moments before, a tragedy, was suddenly the best line ever to put off chuggers (charity muggers, has the phrase spread beyond England?). The phone rang again. Mummy answered. Said hello, then, kindly, please don’t worry, goodbye.

The lass had accidentally rung the same number again. We fell off our chairs. Tears of laughter flowed.

When the going gets tough, black humour is the best medicine.

Fill the cup and don’t say when

I’m having great difficulty in finding the drive to catch up with work in the garden this spring. Gardening, to me, is growing vegetables, as I expect flowers and girly stuff like that to be able to manage on its own – also I have been discouraged by 20 years of living with ground elder and, as it can’t be got rid of – not when it’s among shrubs – I ignore it except to notice that the flowers are actually quite pretty.

But vegetable growing is my passion. So what, strictly in gardening terms of course, has happened to my libido?

I have thought of several reasons, such as the cold spring which has made everything late, the succession of colds I’ve had which make me wheeze if I exert myself (well, unless it’s something I really want to do, in which case I seem to find the breath and the energy) and the fact that, now I grow veg for the shop it’s turned into a job instead of a hobby. I’ve even wondered if, now there’s a baby in the family I am directing all my caring and nurturing side to her and no longer need to raise plants – but that seems a bit fanciful.

I think, perhaps, it’s a reflection of the rest of my life. Gardening used to be how I relaxed. I longed to get out into the greenhouse, to pot up seedlings and tend the plants, to check, eagerly, how each radish and lettuce was growing and anticipate, dribblingly, the day when I could pick the first of the new harvest. A whole meal would be planned around baby broad beans, asparagus, tiny new potatoes. And I’m sure that, when that time comes in a few weeks, I will be just as excited (look, I lead a dull enough life for that to be how I get my kicks).

When my children were little and squabbled, the greenhouse was my refuge. Anyone was welcome to come and join me, to work or chat or just watch, but tranquillity was insisted upon. It was no use to come and complain about little brother or big sister, it was not allowed. And later there were other tensions and stresses. Now, these don’t exist. Middle age is rather an enjoyable place to be. My children are grown up and lovely and no longer dependent on me, I no longer have aged parents to be responsible for (yes, this is two-edged, but being a ‘carer’ is a burden, even if willingly shouldered) and my husband and I run our business in a low-key way that we can easily manage. We’re both busy with our various interests, but we can afford to be quite disorganised about it all as we know we can catch up when it matters.

I think I’ve just said that I’ve become so lazy that I can’t be bothered to pot up the tomatoes. Maybe I should sharpen the razor-blade. Or, as the song concludes, go for the six parts of gin to one part vermouth.

Half past six. Time for a glass of something, certainly. And time to water the greenhouse.