Feel the pulse

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I know I’ve been a bit remiss over the last few days, but things are hotting up on the allotment and – because the evenings are lighter – we tend to forget the time and arrive back at the flat late, leaving an unholy rush to get food organised.  But the beds are looking good and the broad beans have survived the latest storm with another on the way.  The hotbed is now full and has gained 6C over the past 48 hours, so now it’s capped with soil it will romp away. The infrastructure jobs like moving and plumbing the water butts are at last looking possible.  There’s a whole list of things to do, but at least we’re not chafing at home.

We are, however, chafing a bit up at the allotment because the annual challenge of seed compost has made its appearance and we’re unable to agree on what to do.  It really is difficult to find well made peat free seed composts.  We use coir modules for many things, but there are some vegetables that need to be pricked out.  We’ve experimented with SylvaGrow and it’s not the best for seed sowing.  We use it for many other purposes but we’ve not been successful with some.  Home made peat free compost – unless we buy in all the ingredients – uses soil and compost that haven’t been sterilised and so could in theory lead to damping off and other fungal problems. I’m sure a solution will eventually be found but it’s been a headache.

But I was browsing this morning, thinking about borlotti beans – which we really like.  I was musing on whether we really do need to move towards synthetic or manufactured proteins as we decrease our meat consumption.  A very little bit of research showed that the kind of pulses we can grow easily in the UK – like borlotti beans, lentil, dried peas and so on – are packed with protein and rich in no end of other important vitamins and minerals.  This is important because the preferred route for many in the food industry is to grow and almost always import soya and high protein wheat to use as a feedstock, not just for animals but for manufactured foods as well.   So it seems a perfectly possible and well  tolerated way forward for all of us to eat less meat and more pulses – not only are they rich in protein and nutrients but they’re also high in fibre – that’s got to be a double whammy and the best thing of all is it locks out the industrial food manufacturers. From what I can discover this makes a perfect diet for vegetarians and vegans.  No need for tofu and Quorn, and fake burgers and bacon; no need for spirulina products to be allowed to flood the market.

This, of course can only address the climate and species crises if at the same time there’s a total change of heart over farming policy and the subsidy system. For decades farmers have been paid to remove hedges, invest less in labour and more in machinery, and increase productivity at the expense of both soil and wildlife habitat. by dousing the land in poisons. I was completely taken aback this morning when I turned up an opinion  piece by George Monbiot, written in 2010, in which he accepted that his previous position of advocating universal veganism is, or rather was wrong and that the way forward could be to allow some meat production in small and ethically run farms and smallholdings. Now to be fair he seems to have changed his mind since, but surely there is room for a less polarised discussion on meat production with a view to contributing to a solution to the present crisis.

All power to vegetarians and vegans for pointing out the ethical issues in meat (and fish) eating; but it remains an ethical choice and not a pantechnicon solution to be imposed at the expense of many thousands of jobs and without any guarantee of success. There’s no reason we couldn’t bear down on the cruel treatment of animals, and the reopening of many more (properly supervised) local slaughterhouses would make a big difference. We need to support local initiatives through the way we buy food. We used to keep chickens in our orchard some years ago, and although I never enjoyed killing them I got myself trained to kill them quickly and humanely by a local butcher. It’s not an act to be undertaken lightly or thoughtlessly but I believe it was an ethically justifiable thing to do.  We gave up because foxes took to raiding in the daytime and trust me – they don’t kill chickens quickly or humanely at all. If you find the very thought of this disgusting or appalling then I’m sorry.  I respect your principled stance as I hope you will accept mine.

There are other – many other – actions we’ll need to take, but the key point is that we can do it locally and sustainably and without relying on food manufacturers and agribusiness to feed us. The only green thing about the green revolution were the countless people who swallowed the lie.  Bring on the lentils!

 

This is my happy place

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I’ve been feeling just a bit curmudgeonly this last few weeks – a combination of living in political chaos, fag end of winter blues, problems with the campervan, rising damp, reading too many books about climate change and wondering how on earth we’re going to sort this mess out.

I do have an antidote for it all  – and it’s getting back to the stove – making stock, baking bread, baking cakes, that sort of thing. I also notice that when I’m feeling a bit glum I also eat really badly, and suddenly, cakes, biscuits, toast made from white bread,  convenience food and general junk look endlessly fascinating, so getting back to the stove sorts that particular temptation out, well –  all except for the cakes. The other antidote, the one Madame favours, is sowing seeds, and so once again I’m sharing the kitchen with a busy propagator.

The last remedy is going through my photos and looking at all the lovely things I spotted last year – and that’s what I was doing when I found this photo, taken by Madame, of me skulking the cliff path at St Davids and making a list. That’s my waterproof notebook in my hand, my stick and my new hat and my old space pen, Swiss  army knife, X10 pocket magnifier in my pocket.  In the bag too is a copy of Rose, “Wildflower Key” and a couple of fold out keys for grasses and lichens. If you want to know what paradise looks like this is it – although possibly a less knobbly pair of legs would improve it a bit. I couldn’t be more happy than I am when I’m out in the sunshine amongst the plants and insects and birds.  Just a little way further down the path last autumn we picked enough wild mushrooms to make the best omelette I’ve ever tasted.

Oh and we’ve got miniature tulips flowering in the window boxes – along with the irises and daffodils – I think that’s quite mad but it’s true. The remnants of storm Ciara are still howling through, and looking out of the window just now, the sky had that yellowish hue that looks like sleet or snow on the way.  Our son just rang from Birmingham to say that it’s snowing hard there. These certainly are confusing times, but I try not to let it get to me too much. This week  we’ll go and collect a load of hot horse manure for the hotbed and in a couple of weeks we’ll be flat out again on the allotment.

 

The Lost Gardeners of Heligan (ctd:)

I should probably have called this posting further travails or further adventures – or something of that nature because we were woken in the middle of the night by the sound of the heater powering down and an acrid smell. Generally speaking this is a bad sign, but when we woke up freezing cold and discovered there was just one warm place – under the bed where the batteries are situated – it became a different kind of bad news.  Exploding lead acid batteries under the bed are best avoided, and half of today was spent with me trying to fit into extremely confined spaces with a multimeter and Googling to see who or what might be able to help. After a endless amount of deliberation we decided that the knackered batteries had deteriorated to the point where they had partially shorted and kept calling for more current from the charger, thereby heating them up until I pressed the off button on the charger – which turned the camper van into a tin tent – which, in turn,  is why I am typing this in the dark, wearing a head torch and three jumpers. We’ll replace the batteries first thing tomorrow. More money – aaaagh

Meanwhile we managed a walk around Heligan and there are some photos above. The reason I called this post the “Lost Gardeners of Heligan” is that there are little memorials to the mostly young gardeners who died in the First World War all over the place, each accompanied by a flower display or arrangement. It’s very affecting, and of course the reason the gardens were abandoned was that so many were killed, there were no longer enough workers to keep the gardens going.  The then owner was too affected by grief and memories to live here any longer, and moved away.

Strangely there’s no sense of melancholy around, especially on such a sunny day when even the icy northwesterly wind couldn’t dampen our spirits. Plants are never more perfect than when they’re first emerging.  They spring from the earth untouched by insects and diseases and full of vigour. It can be tricky identifying them from their new leaves, but we get better at it. Todays crop of fungi and bryophytes was a good reason for getting a bit more knowledgeable about them. They just carry on continuously all year round so there’s always something to look for. But the primroses, dandelions, snowdrops and daffodils somehow seemed just a bit more beautiful than the camellias in the formal gardens. Spring is coming – you can smell it!

 

 

 

 

More feasting please

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There’s a line in Peter Shaffer’s play Equus that’s stuck in my mind. It sounds a  bit religious but it’s not – here’s the full quotation:

Have you thought of the fellow on the other side of it? The finicky, critical husband looking through his art books on mythical Greece. What worship has he ever known? Real worship! Without worship you shrink, it’s as brutal as that…I shrank my own life. No one can do it for you. I settled for being pallid and provincial, out of my own eternal timidity.

Wow! “without worship you shrink”. I’ve used that quotation dozens of times because it seems so profoundly important; and perhaps never more so than this moment in the history of the earth. Now this is absolutely not about getting you to go to church or adopt any strange supernatural beliefs.  Worship comes in all sorts of unexpected ways, like at the end of a headline set at Glastonbury when the air seems to thicken and stand still; or when a barn owl flies silently within inches of your head as you walk home in the dark; or when you hold your newly born child in your arms and the air suffuses his skin and it changes colour from slate to rose pink; or when the sheer undeserved generosity of the earth makes you catch your breath over a basket of fruit.

For many years my life was punctuated by festivals. A whole year was a book. Advent, Lent, Easter and Pentecost were the chapter headings, but there were paragraphs, sentences and even words that could bring me to my knees.  On Easter Eve I would sing a long unaccompanied modal song called the Exultet that was so powerful to me I needed to lock myself in the church and sing it over and over until I could get through it without breaking down.   It was never the theology that attracted me but the channelling of the emotions.  Who doesn’t long to be liberated, brought to life again out of captivity?  It was the blues, it was Gospel music, it was an ancient form of music that had been sung for maybe 1600 years just once a year without a break.  For the four minutes or so that it lasted I was always touched by an overwhelming sense of the divine. Music is potent stuff – that’s why they always try to crush it.

Now I live largely without the big festivals because the meaning seems to have drained out of them. My own favourites among the dishonoured escapees from paganism were always wassailing, Plough Monday and the Rogation services; all of them celebrations of the earth. Then there were other renegades like Harvest Festival and Remembrance Sunday that managed to draw the community together precisely by remaining doctrinally agnostic, and of course Christmas carols which in any case had been dragged in from the pubs. I always saw the church as a kind of lost property office where you might go to look for something you couldn’t quite remember but know for sure you once possessed.

But it’s all dying and our opportunity to experience real worship is more and more compromised, just at the very moment we desperately need to rediscover and celebrate our creative connection with the earth. And here I want to unpick the idea of worship a little bit because I know that we can all individually, and in the solitude of our own hearts find inspiration and perhaps bliss or even ecstacy –

 – and I am dumb to tell the crooked rose

My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

But I think we need more.  I think we need to rediscover forms of community liturgy; spoken word, poetry, dance and song; shared feasting and perhaps fasting as well. We need to liberate ourselves to worship the stars and the sun and the whole creation of which we are just a part, and which bore us and held us in its arms for millions of years. We need these community strengthening moments because there is no pleasure and no power in being isolated and right – we’re never right if we’re on our own. Individual salvation is a punishment for egotists.

So in the midst of the work we need to do if the earth is to become whole again we need to remember to add community building and worship to the recycling, the careful use of money, the growing and tending of crops and feeding ourselves with regard to the needs of the whole. Fasting (perhaps from meat) then becomes a gesture of solidarity rather than a demonstration of personal rectitude – it has some purpose beyond imaginary purity. And the liturgy, the work of the people, is an essential part of it.  It’s not as if we don’t have any precedents. Even a flower and produce show can be an act of public thanksgiving – it doesn’t have to be cringeworthy sub religious claptrap.

Without worship you shrink”  – that’s the harsh absence that allowed them to call the despoliation of the earth and its peoples a “green revolution”.  It’s time to turn worship around and reclaim it for our own.

 

The thick history merry go round

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Roman, medieval, Georgian and modern in one picture

Since Willsbridge Mill (Saturday 25th, ‘Joining the dots’)  – I can’t get settled. I’ve been living on online searches, in books, photographs and maps of the hundred or so square miles in which I’ve lived the greater part of my life and it’s a truly immersive experience. The great thing about a blog is that no-one expects it to be great literature unless it’s a Joycean kind of stroll through the weather of life. Aside from taking out the odd word, turning it in my hand and either discarding it or giving it a bit of a polish and setting it back in the wall, I don’t anguish too much.  It’s obsessive, for sure but only in the sense that it sharpens my collector’s instinct, and so I carry a notebook and a phone camera to record the things that strike me. If there’s any sort of metaphysic behind the Potwell Inn it’s the fact that I believe there’s nothing more extraordinary than the ordinary, the old William Blake poem that urges us:

To see a world in a grain of sand. And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand. And eternity in an hour.

That’s just about it.  I call it Muckyannydinny Lane, the place where everything and nothing happens.  Where the ordinary is suddenly but never more than momentarily revealed and sets up its home in the imagination. Not great thoughts but the pocket lint and bus tickets that accumulate on our journey. 

But sometimes, the ordinary of  “today, here, in this place”  is inflected by an intuition of the history.  The thin, linear description of the way things are around here suddenly thickens – as it did when I wrote about the South Gloucestershire Coalfield and mentioned Handel Cossham’s name.  As I typed it I remembered Brandy Bottom, the pit he owned, and which was joined underground to Parkfield, the pithead where I played and sometimes peered down the shaft to see hart’s tongue fern sprouting from the walls into the gathering darkness. Cossham built a hospital and endowed a community hall, but he employed children – small children – to drag the coal trucks to the bottom of the shaft in the confined spaces of the mine. I went looking for Brandy Bottom a few years ago and found the abandoned buildings almost covered with ivy.  It’s being restored now – “The most perfect remains of a Victorian mine in the UK” – they say, but I was haunted by the ghosts of those children. As I stood there, transfixed by the thickening of the air, I knew that in some dimension the old mine was still functioning, the children were still there, pale skinned and blackened with coal dust. Children were even cheaper than ponies in those days. The practice of using them wasn’t ended because it was wicked in itself, but because the Victorian moralists thought they might get up to things, wicked sexual things down there in the darkness. Seems like Victorian thick history was different from mine. 

And so the landscape here has suddenly deepened to include what’s beneath;  the coal measures and the wealth and cruelty they created, the surface farmland which has become the scene of another, later, despoliation under intensive farming, and during which – since my childhood – whole species have disappeared, and then above the fields the atmosphere which has become so polluted by the burning of hydrocarbons that in summer, during prolonged sunny periods, a yellowish photochromic haze forms. 

Here in my imagination today I might easily see a steam train running in to Green Park Station across the river.  I might encounter Mr King, the retired miner, walking back from Parkfield before it closed in the 1930’s, and making for his allotment above the railway tunnel at the end of our garden. I might see lapwing in the fields, or pass a horse and cart taking milk or cream down to the station incline.  And does this inflected, ‘thick’ sense of being human intuit the future as well? What’s going on there beneath the bright surface of the present? It’s like fishing. You have no idea what’s going on beyond the reflections on the water aside from experience of how it was before. You might see the float bob, or sense a tug on the line but it might be caught on a shopping trolley for all you know. 

Last time I fished here, in thick history, I think to myself –  humans were selfish, greedy, unfeeling creatures who found it hard to accept responsibility for their actions.  Is that the future? We were all raised on the idea that the industrial revolution had brought us into a new age of prosperity but it never occurred to us that we would suffocate in the fumes of its success. Handel Cossham lives on, but his mines were sold in 1900 and his money is probably invested in India or some other place where the state doesn’t take much interest in poverty or child labour; and the supreme gold-standard irony is that we came to believe that the industrialisation of the Southern hemisphere was a kind of human right.  That the poor people of India deserved the right to be evicted from their farmland so that more factories could be built, more wealth extracted from the earth – because it was better for them to live in megacities scratching a living on rubbish tips.  

We have seen the enemy – it is us

Joining up the dots

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This is a slightly improved photo of Siston Brook on a grey day today, just before it runs into Willsbridge Mill.  There’s no reason why anyone except a native would need to know that, but I’m a native and I had the surprise of my life when we visited the community nature reserve here on a field trip with the Bath  Natural History Society – there’s a link on the right hand side of this page if you’re interested.

Of course, being observant, if you click on the link you’ll see that we were meant to be three miles away at the Bath Cheese Company for a riverside walk.  That’s where Madame and me were until the appointed time when we realized we were alone and one of the cafe staff came out to say “They’ve gone to Willsbridge – they’re meeting in the second car park” These turned out to be a precis of the actual instructions, leaving out the grid reference – which would have been useful because Willsbridge is a big place. However by a mixture of intuition, cunning and good luck we eventually found the party peering into Siston Brook.

Now at this point I had no idea what it was called so I filed it in my mind as ‘brook’ and we walked on.  The footpath we took led us up the valley.  The party comprised mainly birders and photographers although we were blessed with two snail fanatics and a couple of moth twitchers to leaven the lump, oh and our distinguished President the retired ‘Minister for Bogs’ who turned out to be an impressive birder as well. He could point to a blur in the sky and say ‘lesser spotted woodpecker’, or stand stock still, point to his ear and say – and say ‘marsh tit’ which was, sadly, beyond the competence of my hearing aids and so he gave me a brief demonstration of the call, he’s a great teacher!

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Anyway it wasn’t long before we came across a kind of sculpture which lit a lightbulb in my head.”Ohmygoodness”- I thought in a jumbled sort of way- “we’re on the Dramway!”

[There follows a brief excursus on the soft mutation in what we used to know as children as – ‘broad Gloucestershire].

Native speakers, all of them now long dead, often substituted the softer ‘d’ for the hard ‘t’  according to a set of rules that were more complex than rocket science – we just absorbed them as children do, and then had them beaten out of us by our teachers and parents who thought they were common. It was only decades later when I had to learn enough Welsh to catch buses up the Valleys, that I realised that this was technically known as the ‘soft mutation’. We just thought it was the way to say things.  All of which is a long winded way of explaining why this particular place is universally known as the Dramway although it appears on the maps as ‘Tramway’ – I hope that’s clear ….

The point of all this excitement on my part (‘though probably not yours), is that the Dramway and Siston Brook were a significant part of my childhood, but I’d only ever seen them from the other end, the northern end which was close to where I was born. The old line had disappeared decades before I was born, as had the mines that it served, bringing coal from Coalpit Heath – there’s a clue in the name – past the Pucklechurch mines and the Warmley ones too and terminating on the river Avon. But the remains were everywhere, and the names too, names like Handel Cossham, one of the principle mine owners and a local benefactor in the way of those days, who built a hospital to serve the victims of his mine accidents as well as the general population.

My childhood is embodied in the locality – we were free to roam and we walked and cycled every inch of our end of the County.  If you cast a conservative circle five miles around where I was born next to the end of the railway line that, now disused, passes our flat on the other side of the river, that gives an area of around 75 square miles that we knew inside out.  Make that circle 8 miles – a  distance my friend Eddy and me regularly travelled to explore the pithead and the brickworks at Shortwood, that gives an area of 200 square miles. We crawled the underground flues at Shortwood brickworks, played dares over the mineshaft and put ourselves in harm’s way so many times. We caught buses to the docks to the West of the city, always inseparable, and cycled to Brean and back. Our bike range was enormous – we never told our parents where we were going – and we rarely told them afterwards,

The Dramway was one of the tracks we would follow across to Siston Common where I fell in love with the sound of the wind in the coarse grasses.  My first ever OS map had all our favourite places marked, and I planned a cross country run from the footpath that crossed Siston Brook when it was no more than a ditch, It was there I found the unmarked St Annes Well, but until today I’ve never joined up the dots. The spot, nowadays signposted, is engraved in my memory for two reasons.  Firstly, finding the well and researching it, (I was about 12), in the reference library, I discovered its reputation for the healing of eyes and that kindled a lifelong interest in folklore and healing.  But secondly, I was once chased by a cow while I was running the path.  I’d stopped to examine her calf which I thought was dead but was in fact newly born.  I had to leap a barbed wire fence and the brook to escape her enraged charge. I could go on for ever; I’m hefted in this place by the voices and the places, all of them gone and built over.

IMG_20200125_115558And then in the midst of this revery we came upon the remains of a huge yew tree, fallen over very recently by the look of it and – someone said – 800 years old. There’s me indulging my memories of the past 70 years and there’s a tree in front of me that saw the Tudor wars, the English revolution, the Reformation, the enclosures, the Napoleonic wars, the early industrial revolution and two world wars. Standing in the corner of the graveyard of St Anne’s church  (is there a connection with the spring upstream?) it had rotted through the centre and tumbled down the steep bank, upturning the slabs of some 18th century tombs.  Memories almost bursting from the soil like Stanley Spencer’s painting of the resurrection at Cookham.

All this was going on in my head, while I gossiped about this and that and looked for any signs of stirring plantlife at my feet whilst almost everyone else was looking skyward.  There was cafe there, but when our party paused to use the loos, the caretaker – schooled in the methods of counter evangelism – told us off loudly for using the cafe’s toilet facilities. You can win people over and please them a hundred times but you’ll only piss them off once. I spent my life trying to teach volunteers that the organisation didn’t exist for them but for the people who didn’t come – yet. Needless to say we didn’t stay there but hurried back to the car park at the end of the walk.

The birdy highlight for almost everyone was the dipper fishing downstream from the mill.  Marsh tits, lesser spotted woodpecker -there was a long list being prepared when we parted company, but for me joining up the bits of my childhood would have made it worthwhile if we’d seen nothing.

 

 

 

Believing and belonging

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” – on Karl Marx’ gravestone.

I have met some people for whom even the mention of Karl Marx would lead to the paroxysms of tooth grinding and frothing, so for the sake of sanity, and to save anyone the bother of frothing, the quotation is not a wholesale endorsement of  everything Marx said or wrote; but he’s an important thinker and deserves better than being wildly misquoted at every turn.

So simply knowing that there are some people in government who think that demonstrating against environmental damage and species extinction amounts to a form of terrorism is a chilling thought. Just as a ludicrous overreaction, it could be laughed off if it weren’t backed up by hard state power. I’m quite sure that there are many more people in this country and across the world who believe the evidence that a global catastrophe is looming up on us but feel powerless in the face of the ideological onslaught that tells us every day, and in a million subtle ways, that there is no alternative. Since the brexit referendum and in particular since the UK general election I no longer listen to news broadcasts and I don’t read the newspapers which are part of the problem. I choose my sources carefully and I try as best I can to verify what they’re saying – especially if I really want their stories to be true. As a result I have no idea who the members of the Cabinet are, for instance, but I’ve a pretty good hunch that they’re a dangerous bunch of charlatans and chancers.

Which is all very well except it raises the dilemma of how to respond effectively in a particularly challenging way. Let’s assume that there’s no point in writing letters about it to MP’s who, it seems to me, have no horizon beyond the next election or being appointed to profitable directorships. Successive prime ministers have learned the art of ignoring demonstrations, however huge, and convincing themselves that they know what “the people” are thinking even when best part of a million of them are walking peacefully past the houses of commons suggesting that they don’t. The principal opposition parties all seem to be clutching their favourite parts of a potential policy jigsaw but refuse to collaborate with anyone else in order to put something workable together. Waking up every day feeling powerless and lonely is a bad place to be.

I’ve always been a bit sniffy about direct personal action. I’d wonder – sometimes out loud – how wearing organic cotton T shirts or making your own soap was supposed to change the world. I suppose in part it’s my age, what with being a first generation hippie and seeing our dreams of a better world crushed relentlessly. I’ve written before about my own moment of enlightenment at a free festival in Bath, when I saw a young mother scraping the crap off her baby’s nappy against the only standpipe and water tap on the site. People have always misunderstood St Augustine when he said “love and do what you will” What he meant was that if you love, then you will make better moral choices – like, for instance, not threatening hundreds of people with salmonella because you can’t be arsed to clean your baby up safely.

Although the language changes, selfishness, greed and idolatry – in our case the worship of profit and the neoliberal economy – have always been the real problem. That’s my belief and it brings me no comfort whatever. Even if I were able to convince millions of people that my belief is correct, it wouldn’t do anything to get us off this self destructive path.  The only way to do that is to change our behaviour and – I’m finally beginning to understand – that it begins with me. It may not change the world if I wear an organic cotton T shirt or eat more veg, but if I do –  I’m part of the solution and not part of the problem. Change from the bottom up is the only show in town now and we at the Potwell Inn have been thinking about it for ages.  The allotment, our diet, our choices when we replace our worn out clothes, the way we get about, how we wash and what we wash with, what goes down the sink, how effectively we recycle – all these things are part of the fight back. I suppose you could say “that’s just virtue signalling”  – I’ve said the same many times as a defence against changing.

The most encouraging thing is that when we change our own lives we inevitably start to interact with other people who are doing the same thing. Just like the way you notice when you’ve got a baby on the way that the world is full of pregnant women, so it is that the allotment site is full of people who feel the same way about organic farming and gardening. Today we were continuing our search in Bath for somewhere we could buy food staples without packaging, and reading the small print on the back of re-chargeable shampoo bottles – it takes all sorts! – and we found just the shop we’d been looking for and it was like coming home.  We even met a fellow allotmenteer who works there.

The signpost in the photo at the top stands in a guerilla garden on Walcot Street and when I spotted it I felt the presence of a mass of people who also want to change the world. The new community crosses all the barriers that artificially divide us – age, gender, orientation WTF?

Any half decent evangelist, for any cause whatever, will understand that belonging is far more important than believing. Environmental change will happen when our collective imagination reaches the tipping point where not to change becomes unthinkable.  So the most powerful strategy for change in the face of a hostile government is having more fun, being better neighbours and refusing the limits that their edited version of human possibility try to impose on us. They’ll  tell us that we’ll only survive if we build a better machine, invent a new technology, build a higher wall. And we’ll show them what human flourishing really looks like. When you look at it that way there’s no contest.

 

Hiding from Storm Brendan

Well, not quite hiding but certainly not going outside.  The weather has been filthy and looks determined to get filthier and so Madame made a large batch of pesto and then we worked together prepping what should be around 30lbs of Seville orange marmalade by the time it’s finished.

We’ve been intending to make a stock batch of pesto for ages – partly because we’ve almost run out, (it freezes very well), but also because we need the propagators empty in order to get chillies going fairly soon.  For the sake of convenience we combined the two types – ‘Bolloso Napolitano’  and ‘Classico’ – both from Franchi – because we had them ready to harvest, although I think I prefer the first more, it’s got a hint of aniseed somewhere.  These plants were grown in a home made compost mixture combining 40 topsoil, 40 composted manure, 10 vermiculite and 10 Perlite. The seeds were germinated and kept at around 20 C until the plants were ready to harvest and they were grown under 12 hours daily of overhead artificial daylight.  They were only watered from below and once they’d got their feet down we fed them regularly with dilute seaweed feed. We’ve previously tried growing them in compost only, but these have been the best plants we’ve ever produced and the pesto today was absolutely delicious. It’ll be rolled and part frozen, cut into individual portions and wrapped.  One important point is to sow thinly and then thin again to stop the plants competing and exhausting themselves.

The marmalade reminded me (again) that it’s always good to read even a familiar recipe twice, because we’d peeled, deseeded and knife cut six pounds of peel into fine shreds before I realised that we were going to have to add 12 pints of water for the initial cooking.  That brought it almost to the top of our biggest preserving pan with no room to add the sugar so we’re going to have to share the big batch between two pans.  I made the same mistake last year and there was a discernible difference between the two batches – both were very nice but just different in texture and set.  I also need to climb up to the top cupboard to make sure we’ve got enough jam jars. When we first moved here I bought what I thought would be a lifetime supply of screw top lids from a wholesaler, but I think we’ll have used them all up with this batch of marmalade.

Meanwhile storm Brendan has spared us the worst of the wind and rain because we’re sheltered here in the Avon valley, but we cancelled a proposed overnight stay in the Forest of Dean because the campervan can rock and roll a bit in high winds. Tomorrow I’ll be back in the kitchen baking for our grandson’s cake stall.  I’ve bought a muffin mould especially, but I’ve never made a muffin in my life so it could all go terribly wrong.

My friend Rose has texted to say that she’s modelled her whole life on Flora Poste (see previous posts) and Emma Woodhouse. It would be churlish to comment!

Where can I get some Sukebind seeds?

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This is positively the last tiny runnel of the Cold Comfort Farm oxbow, so it’s going to be a short post.  Firstly, Hardy did write one cheerful, and funny novel – “Under the Greenwood Tree” – which is required reading for anyone wanting to change anything at all in a church – especially the music.

Secondly, although Hardy isn’t well known as a poet he wrote some wonderful and very technical stuff in rhyme schemes that have proper Latin names. Generally speaking, technically dazzling poetry is a bit disappointing in the ideas department but his isn’t – although he shares the dubious honour (with RS Thomas) of writing his most powerful love poems to the dead partners whom they’d neglected to the point of abuse during their lives.

Thirdly (I’m stopping counting now) there’s one really interesting moment in CCF when a darker note creeps in.  Flora’s eventual soulmate, Charles, is described as being unable fully to enjoy a party because he cannot shake off the sense of guilt he has at having survived his time as a wartime soldier in Afghanistan when so many of his friends had died. It’s only one tiny sentence – barely even that – but the book was published in 1932, almost exactly midway between two catastrophic wars, and it’s clear that amid all the merriment of the novel, history is biting at Stella Gibbons’ heels.

And finally – I think I want to go into the sukebind business.  We could all do with a bit of cheering up, and what with everyone having children later and later and worrying constantly about identity and other imponderables, not to mention the government and the environment, I thought it might be diverting to sow lots of sukebind among the wildflower meadows of Putney and Nempnet Thrubwell in order to encourage more frolicking. I’m reading Dave Goulson’s excellent new book on *wildflower gardening and I can’t find any reference to sukebind – I expect big pharma is working on synthesizing it even as I write this – and probably Dominic Cummings has slapped a D notice on even mentioning it, but I was thinking of making a tincture to sell to Potwell Inn customers at £50 for 10 ml.   I’m ready for the knock on the door.

*Dave Goulson – The Garden Jungle – Jonathan Cape £16.99

 

This won’t buy the baby a new coat

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After quoting from Cold Comfort Farm a couple of days ago, I couldn’t resist reading it again for the umpteenth time and once again it made me laugh out loud  on almost every page. I mean it’s not as if it’s a piece of great literature, but it’s absolutely joyful  and it feels as if it was written in much the same way that Jack Kerouac is supposed to have  written “On the road” – in one long binge. I’ve read it so many times, now, that I’ve worn it out over and over and my latest copy – bought from an Oxfam shop – started life at 2/6 – that’s half a crown or twelve and a half pence in new money. While I was reading today the spine began to break once more so that’s something else I need to look out for.

But there’s more to it than just the comedy.  The book was written as a riposte to the Thomas Hardy school of literature. I’m a great fan of Hardy but you have to say the unremitting grimness of, say, Jude or Tess does make it something of an ordeal to read them – the grey wraiths of fate hang over them rather like an appointment for a colonoscopy….

But then I suddenly remembered my first ever sermon while I was training when one of the assessors said it was like being immersed in Thomas Hardy – which I didn’t take as a compliment. A rather kinder mentor said gently that it would be best if I didn’t try to say everything that was on my mind at once. Being a Hardy fan is not unlike being an old fashioned Marxist – you know something terrible is going to happen but you just don’t know when: which is precisely why my mind travelled to Amos Starkadder’s sermon after seeing the photographs in Cardiff last week. I needed something to laugh at amid the suffocating thought that something pretty awful is happening to us all.

Reading the whole novel again brought other rewards as well. Madame, for instance, reminded me that it was one of my father’s favourite books – a fact which I’d completely forgotten, and which prompted me to remember that I had seen him laughing until the tears ran down his face and he fell to coughing furiously.  It was a great memory for displacing some of the more gloomy ones as he grew old.

Last night the south westerly wind was in one of those strange moods where it simply blew hard and steadily, without variation, finding the tiniest cracks in the window frames and causing a continuous soughing noise.  We woke up this morning to rain, again the uncommon sound of a heavy and continuous shower, blitzing through the early sunlight as the sun rose over the roofs of the buildings opposite with a fine mist rising up in the intense brightness. All very Hardy-esque I thought. They call it synchronicity when events and thoughts seem to coincide. It happens a lot at the Potwell Inn.  The other memory to bubble up from the silt was the phrase spoken by (I think) Mrs Beetle – “This won’t buy the baby a new coat” – one of my mother’s frequent expressions.

Yesterday I glimpsed a newspaper headline suggesting that the government had decided to treat Extinction Rebellion activists as potential terrorists.  I’m not much of an activist but it amuses me to think that at my ripe old age I’m finally being taken seriously as a threat to the way we do things so badly round here. Good thing too, we need to shake things up a bit if we’re going to survive – this woebegotten bobbery pack of a government can stick their fingers in their ears and shout “lah lah lah” as much as they like but it hasn’t worked in Australia and it can’t work here.