gardening


Passed a family-centred day today. Skate park, planting things in the garden. Then got taken with a sudden urge to burn all the dead wood that’s accumulated over winter.

The kids were delighted to help, finding various pieces they could chuck in the brazier.

This led to the toasting of marshmallows, which is always a sign of imminent improvement.

Browsing about, I happened on the work of illustrator Sow Ay, which I dug.

So, aye… The word ‘mindful’ gets thrown about quite a lot at the moment, conceptions of ‘presence process’, thinking ‘right now’. Some aspects of That Sort of Thing work well for me, anyway.

This cartoon by Sow Ay is a nice reminder that one may be feeling good, all over it, even, but not to take that for granted.

Not drinking alcohol reminds me that my brain works in certain ways, quite a lot of which can be positive, but there’s a lot of excitable over-thinking, unsolicited extrapolation and fret as well. I’m getting to appreciate that the brain waves are easier to stay afloat on without a body full of booze.

Today? I was shovelling a tonne of compost on to the veg patch, which I suppose works as a metaphor but was, also, an actual tonne of actual compost on to an actual veg patch… alongside other first-day-of-holiday, warm-sunny-weather-in-late-winter hyphenated pottering. Lots of time with the kids. Oh yeah, Leeds won as well. It was A Good Day.

Not taking it for granted, no sir, not saying I’m full of understanding… but yeah, recognising when it feels good.

Contains moderate hedge and bird peril.

Half term holiday. The last one of the year, in advance of the bigger holiday in the middle. The half term lengths that Summer had been preposterous, making a mockery of mathematics with a seven/three split. Staff and students alike finished the last week of the seven in a state of wide-eyed exhaustion. Next week, he thought, we return to a nothingy three week session, to be packed with last minute exam revision for those students that just realised this isn’t a drill, gimmicky distraction projects for the lower years, and assorted frantic loose end set text conclusion… all this in between preparing for next year, school trips and celebration assemblies.

Yeah, quite enjoyable,really, but a lot to do. I love having conversations about this with a particular pal of mine, as all he hears is “I have another week off now, then in three weeks I have another long holiday”. It supports his comically reductive line that teachers start at 9am and finish at 3.30 five days a week, sit down to enjoy lavish vacations for months on end, and generally live a cosseted Life of Reilly in the Land of the Cushy Numbers, unlike people with proper jobs. \n

Of course, his pose is marred somewhat by a role as a freelance graphic designer, whose social media updates speak of a life permanently plugged in, yet with ample time to draft epic responses, including well-chosen gif accompaniments; where working from home means every day is by default a day off; his whole calendar a matter of choice, dictated only by how much time one feels like spending on resizing pictures of cartoon teachers to fit the page.

Tee hee! Soon, though, I will in fact be luxuriating in the time-riches of a quite extensive holiday, yes, to be fair. And that means time to get at the garden. There are lots of little jobs becoming bigger jobs by the day: clusters of weeds emboldened by neglect, piles of wood accumulating with no firm designs for their future… and The Hedge.

[FX: Dramatic chords]

The so-called week off so far has been spent locked in combat with an extensive thicket round the perimeter. As regular readers may recall, we rent, but devote care and attention to our fortunate-to-have-it outside space. This hedge, though. 30-odd metres of privet. I am told it was originally maintained at about chest height, but since those fabled times it has transmuted into cyclopean ramparts the like of which might send a rational mind into a fever dream of unutterable intensity. F’tagen. It is my bête vert.

It is also about nine feet high, at least two feet higher than it should be. So shockingly high that I have switched measurement systems in my bewilderment. Most of April and May has been a write-off for good gardening weather, and many of the plants we put in at the start of the year are kind of wheezing their way out of the ground. Two feet of shadow on the hedge side is no help.

Effecting this trim is easier said than done, though. Some of the inner branches are the thickness of the base of my thumbs. Even the electric clippers’ battery has had enough, sending me pithy commentary on the process when it should be charging.

Still, it was progressing… but then, aaagh, I inadvertently exposed a nest with two baby sparrows in it. Rapidly-downed tools, hasty re-covering action, and a rethink. An important gardening lesson learned there: know your local birds’ mating seasons and nesting habits, and check foliage carefully before commencing any pruning.

I’ve started again from the top end, away from the entrance. And, happy ending: the parent birds returned within 20 minutes of the privet toupee being pushed into place.

Time off also means a bit more opportunity to attend to things like writing. The Pomera caught my eye last week, via the Offscreen Dispatch newsletter.

An E-ink Typewriter, a distraction-free composition tool, the spec on Kickstarter says it does calendar and spreadsheets, etc, has lengthy battery life, and comes with spiffy folding keyboard for portability.

It has a pleasingly retro appearance: bit clunky looking and partially techy; portable and does the jobbish? A Psion organiser sort of scenario. They have been available in Japan for 10 years, also a retrograde quality (for people in the west, at least, with notions along the lines of “Ah, Japan! Land of the Near Future!” etc). The kit is priced at an ‘early days of video’ level – something that seems stratospherically high for what it can actually do. The price point for the English version is about £300, which has something of the super keen, well-off early adopters-only about it.

This kind of put me off a little entire amount.

In the skint teacherish absence of shiny fresh toys, then, I’m writing this on a decrepit Asus Aspire One. Eight years old. Intel Atom inside (TM, etc). Weeeell… It’s good for typing on? I can even do spreadsheets, but if I start asking it to do other stuff one might take for granted from even a half-decent smartphone in 2018, it starts freaking out and seizing up, like a middle aged man in the throes of a back spasm. By “other stuff”, I mean run a web browser, for example. An attempted update of Firefox made it wander off into another room to forget what it was doing there for about forty minutes. Chrome fared even worse (still out looking for its car in a neighbouring street, I think). It’s probably for the best. So, here I am using WriteMonkey, which the Acer at least seems able to handle without waving a hand frantically and gesturing vaguely over its shoulder.

This week’s sunny weather and border landscaping saw outside basking prioritised over content consumption anyway. I note with interest that Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger is up for the Golden Booker prize. The Booker of All Bookers (whatever) is to be announced on 8th July, which gives me time to read the version I have hidden in a box somewhere beforehand, and maybe Midnight’s Children as well, which also sits awaiting interest.

Shelves. I’ve fallen into a nice rhythm with bits of the KonMari Method. “You’ve got to have a system!” (H.Hill) Originally, I had confidently expected the process to be done in a couple of weeks, scoffing at the slow six months suggested in the supporting literature (gleaned from a cursory skim through the website, I mean).

Yet, faced with boxes opened, looked through, deemed essential, re-lidded, then re-opened and re-appraised in fits of ‘No, come on, seriously…’ I have come to appreciate the *extended project-ness* of it all.

A lifetime habit of accumulating tat will require more than a simple act of abandonment, much as I enjoy those. I keep finding books from old flames and forgotten friends, and all those need to be attended to properly. Marie Kondo’s concept of resacralising is an interesting aspect, but, as Edgar Poe suggested, whenever people talk about the supernal oneness, there’s never a word said about the infernal twoness. I’ve found there’s an element of exorcism to undergo as well. Thankfully short on pea soup projectile vomiting, though, at least so far. This is probably because I’ve started with the “papers” bit of “books and papers”, in a somewhat craven act of alphabetical chicanery.

Finally for this week, I’m publishing *just about* in time to share my annual appreciation of the high and windy genius that is The Paragons, “Riding High on a Windy Day”.


Rock never came any steadier. I wear a smile upon my face, anyway.

Today I did behold a lemon and upon its label were there inscribed the names of Imazalil and Thiabendazole. Purchasing this cursèd fruit and spiriting it from the market, I was able swiftly to neutralize it within an admixture of quinine and a reduction of juniper water. Then I did betake to my study to further examine this phenomenon.

I have begun these, my Notes Towards a Grimoire of Contemporary Spirits Whose Powers May or May Not Be Trusted.

1. Imazalil

2. Thiabendazole

3. Triticonazole

4. Tebuconazole

5. Glyphosate

6. Thiacloprid

7. Metaldehyde

8. Cypermethrin

9. Abamex

10. Isomek

11. Kunshi

12. Sokol

13. Tropotox

Let it be known then that their ranks do extend yet further, and while capable each of great boon even so do they offer a bane for their unintended actions upon the other plants and creatures of the air, water, and earth.

Next:

On the Rites of the Summoning of the Mouthdaemon, M.S.G.

Longer-term followers of The Mortal Bath may recall mention of horticultural activity.

Sunday in the garden, a nice ritual in a number of aspects. Eventually the physical event of tending the plants took on a greater importance than any need to communicate it to the wider world.

Part of that is the unbearable crunchiness of it, the perception of so-called virtue so-called signalling, all that. At core was a question for which I was unable to generate a satisfactory response. (The question of course being “Who gives a fuck?”)

I’d often devote mental space to extrapolation while in between the rows. Composing, contemplating the long-term potential of collating the posts into a modestly successful series of books, the delivery service, a large scale permaculture campaign, the inevitable backlash and ensuing midlife crisis in which I purchased a fleet of leather jackets and a battered motorcycle to make a road movie round the Horn of Africa with Ewan McGregor.

I would giggle softly to myself as I returned to the present to hoick a clump of cat shit into the hedge with the hoe.

“Yeah, but, acorns, man!”

“No, definitely a cat.”

Anyway, Green Parent magazine/ rise and fall fantasias aside, there’s such a lot to be said for digging, edging, preparing, planting, weeding, growing, picking and eating. There is a lot to be said about it as well, but, like those writers spending endless hours polishing their process posts, it’s likely as useful left unuttered.

Last year we grew radishes, potatoes, beetroot, carrots, onions, leeks, beans, broccoli, rocket and turnips. This is in a space about 6x7m.

We also had tomatoes and cucumbers in grow bags along the wall under the kitchen window, mint in a metal tub (mint loves to take over) and borage in poly pots. A hop plant did well for itself until it got overrun with aphids… the ladybirds we introduced quickly got too fat to keep up with the little green varmints. We had a disappointing elderberry crop for the same reason.

Mostly, though, we had tasty, tasty veg.

The great thing about gardening is that it’s an annual lesson in planning being only part of the schedule. The science of it is fairly predictable, but it’s all subject to uncontrollable variables.

This was last month… I mean, I’m only writing this because it’s chucking it down with rain outside, again.

This weekend, though, fair being foul or no, we’re potting up and planting what we can. The excitement of the new season is upon us. The bird is on the wing. Pan’s pipes do warble native woodnotes wild. There’s a bustle in the hedgerow.

Although, to be honest, that is more likely to be next door’s cat.

Having not been active in this space for (checks calendar) some time, what better opportunity than the hothouse spring schedule of A to Z blogging month to reconnect with online publishing?

The last post here was characteristic of this writer’s then mindset of disillusionment, cynicism and fatigue – which nest of deixis might be taken to indicate a certain kind of distancing. Such a reading would not be mistaken. The times they are always a-changing. Something about words I can’t quite shake off, though.

Yes, because words are very devils. Such was the sentiment guiding my abrupt abandonment of writing here. I was enjoying detailing movements in the garden, for example, but it became obvious that this was a process secondary to and less enjoyable than the actual gardening.

Broccoli, swedes, beans, rocket… Sort of autumn time.

… I’m conscious of sounding like I’m assuming some sort of horny-handed son of the soil pose of social superiority. I found I was drawing more enjoyment from the digging, and the words accompanying seemed superfluous. But, anyway, a toes in the mud sort of thing… and an equally obvious, trending, move away from being ‘online’ all the time. Not quite smashing the Spinning Jennies, but limiting my reliance on habitual info sources, turning off notifications, exploring other media. Writing, but longhand, and not for sharing. Reading and reflection. Kids to raise. Job to hold down; schemes of work to maintain. Tones to clip.

Yet, here we are, among the words again.

With that in mind, this A to Z is likely to follow a few threads on the lines of preoccupations, new and enduring. Tomorrow: Books.

This weekend in the garden, we got at the berryfull but overgrown elder.As the photo shows, the apples are dropping too.

 Elderberries are very potent vitamin C containers, have a lot of vitamin A, and some research suggests they have strong antiviral properties.

We make juice. The berry recipe:

  • Lots of elderberries
  • Cloves
  • Star anise
  • Cinnamon

Cover with water, boil and reduce to a thickish liquor.

Strain, add sugar/honey to taste…  Simmer again. 

We’re probably going to keep this one liquid (in stoppered bottles), but quite like the idea of procuring some gelatine (beef/veggie), and jelly baby moulds, to make winter sweeties with the next batch.

The elder bush is in the chicken run, and they greatly enjoyed the offcuts.

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