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.