If I throw a stick will you go away?

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  • Atiyah,
  • Brendan,
  • Ciara,
  • Dennis
  • Ellen, 

Hold on a minute – where’s Ellen gone? demands the Great British Public and, as ever, the Daily Express has the answer – those dastardly Spaniards have got in first,. However, we shall fight them on the beaches etc etc and we assured by the Met Office that the next one will be called Ellen; it will be an exclusively British storm even if it is out of sequence with the others.  That’ll show ’em who’s boss then!

But seriously, this relentless stream of storms is a complete pain in the azores and I wonder whether the problem could be solved by giving up naming them. After all you shouldn’t ever give names to the animals you’re planning to eat because it makes the whole business of despatching them that much harder and so they hang around like Marley’s ghost, well past their best-by date .  I’m sure the storms are queueing up for no better reason than rather enjoying being dignified by names and so the government should stop naming them forthwith, thereby making the weather better and ending the climate crisis at a stroke.

For many people it’s not been much more than a news story, but if you’re a farmer or a gardener or allotmenteer, or especially if you live near the many affected rivers this February, the wettest since records began, and the second record breaker in ten years (remember all that stuff about one in a hundred years events?), it has been a heartbreaker as well.  On the allotment site, the plots are telling their own story. The unused grass covered plots are looking alright, the established ones are just about holding the water at bay; but the first timers who’ve stripped off the grass and weed cover but not had time to dig and improve the soil – it’s an easily poached clay loam, pH around 7, so neutral but quite shallow in places with an impervious clay substrate – these plots are waterlogged, sometimes with standing surface water.   The fields alongside the river, even those several feet above the water level, are like lakes. Farmers are desperate to get on to the land but heavy machinery would just make things worse.

New allotmenteers come on to the site, many of them having determined on the no-dig system, without realizing that it takes several years of digging, draining and intensive weeding and manuring or composting before the spade can be retired. Sadly for them they quickly become disillusioned and give up.  Allotmenteering has many disappointments but after a couple of years you get to know the ground and its foibles and the rewards soon outweigh the cost in backaches and setbacks. We’ve got a bookcase full of gardening advice that we’ve collected over the years (decades!) but the best teacher is often the person on the next plot – because they’ve faced the same problems that you’re facing  – and of course personal experience is the best teacher of all. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been ticked off for doing something the ‘wrong way’ – and yet most of the time things work out.  It’s like parenting – no one starts off with any skills, we all make awful mistakes and yet, somehow, most children emerge in something approaching maturity in spite of us. So do allotments.

Today, here in Bath intervals of blue sky alternated with horizontal snow flurries, driving sleet and rain and freezing winds.  We went and checked out the plot and the hotbed is doing well, running at a constant 20C, the unheated greenhouse was steady at 10C and the soil temperature was around 5C – so apart from the wet, a pretty normal day in early spring.

I spent a sleepless night endlessly rehearsing how I am going to join all the bits of the water storage system together – you wouldn’t believe how many permutations you can discover in a single hour, wide awake in the dark. I’ve had a lifelong tendency to overcomplicate solutions; trying to cover every possible eventuality as if I were playing chess and so I gave myself a day off today and did some therapeutic cooking, and if there’s a decent programme on the television that doesn’t involve any psychopathic murderers I’ll watch the idiot’s lantern.  Otherwise it’ll be back to the books.

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.

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