Last bit of civil engineering for 2018

IMG_4820Is there something about New Year’s Eve that compels us all to reflect back on the year? Two years ago we were at St Ives in the campervan, being rocked and battered by the remains of a huge Atlantic storm.  Then last year we were with friends in Shaftesbury.

Last night we were at a lively gathering of neighbours next door and consequently I woke up at the usual time feeling very sleep deprived and – shall we say? – a bit muzzy. Rather too much wine, I’m afraid, but three and a bit years after we moved here we’ve made friends with most of the people who live in the street on a long-term basis. Every year we have a fluctuating population of students and temporary residents and it can be hard to tell one group from the other when you first move.

I would love to be able to say that I’d finished all the raised beds by today, but it’s been a much bigger undertaking than we ever dreamed, and apart from the expense, much of the earlier layout and borders on the first allotment have needed to be replaced and repurposed in other places. It took two years on the waiting list for us to get a second adjoining plot and so all the original rotation plans had to be changed, and it’s taken a year to bring the second plot completely into a new design so we could then move back and redesign the first one.  The bed on the right of the photograph is the foundation for the new compost heaps from which we aim to produce a far greater quantity of compost during next year. There will be three bays each capable of holding approximately two cubic metres of material, and that’s a big ask because the existing setup is so full of brandling worms it simply eats up the waste, which means that the first bay will shring to less than 50% of its original volume.

As I write this I hear Madame calling from the snug where she sits holding her glass of milk stout. (I made all of that up).  “Where are you?” ; “Writing”, I reply.  “What are you writing about?” she asks.  “The new compost heap”. “Are you completely bonkers?” she says, “- who in the world is interested in the compost heap?”

Well, I’m not sure that I know who is interested, so passing on rapidly I can say that most of any achievements on the allotment are pretty small-fry compared with crossing the North Pole on a unicycle, but for allotmenteers life is marked by a good deal of hard work and the odd moment of unexpected joy.  ‘Though I felt pretty miserable when I woke up and reflected on the many occasions during last night when I could have refused a top-up; I also knew that if I didn’t get up to the allotment and at least try to do some work I would feel much worse. So that’s what I did and I felt better after a lot of earth moving and wheelbarrow pushing and if – and I mean if – if it all comes together then next season will go well, BUT whereof I cannot speak, thereof I must remain silent – to nick a phrase from Mr Wittgenstein…. and Madame nods approvingly.

But we’ve had a good year and grown things we’ve never grown before. The extra space meant we were able to grow some potatoes which will last a week or two longer, and tonight we baked a couple of them and among other things we enjoyed our own home made tomato ketchup in a lashed-up marie rose sauce.  Earlier in the day I snacked on the remains of the game terrine between slices of my own sourdough bread and anointed with last year’s piccallili.  It feels good to write that!  This day 12 months ago the seed potatoes had already arrived and we were worrying whether we should chit them straight away. This year we’ve bought them from a different supplier who promises to send them a month later. It turns out that life’s rich tapestry is woven from many tiny threads.

Have a great New Year.


Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

4 thoughts on “Last bit of civil engineering for 2018”

  1. Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read something like this before. So good to seek out someone with some unique ideas on this subject. realy thank you for beginning this up. this website is something that is wanted on the web, somebody with a little originality. useful job for bringing one thing new to the web!

    1. Thanks so much for your remarks – really appreciated! Sorry not to have thanked you sooner but your comment was swallowed up by the wordpress spam filter until I rescued it!

  2. Of course we’re interested in your compost bins! I have two very rough ones about 4′ by 8′ but I never have time or energy to turn them so the decomposing is very slow. I’m always amazed that while I fill them overflowing 3 times during the growing season, the amount of compost is relatively small. Really enjoy your writing and I’m glad that your allotment does not look like a squatter’s camp. So many do…..

    1. Yes the return ratio always seems so small, and it’s even smaller when the worms take over. They just swallow up all our kitchen waste so even when the cylinder is heaped up, within days it’s 6″ below the top again. I felt sure we’d lose them during the cold spell because they’re only wrapped up with carboard but they must have retreated right into the centre and then today after a week at subzero (Celsius) temperatures it was back up just in double figures and there they were back on top greedily eating away. Wonderful things, brandling worms, and they turn waste into gold for free.

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