Saturday, October 26, 2019

As the Day Flies

 Whitby Abbey - strong Goth game that day

Blimey, didn't September go fast? Likewise, as we're in the 3rd week of it, October is going much the same way. I used to think my parents were lying when they said that time moved faster when you were a grown up. As I watched summer days and wet Sundays crawl past at the speed of a snail on weed, I could only assume they were mad or lying. How could time go faster when every minute of the torturous game of Monopoly I was playing with my younger sister, because there was nothing else to do, was lasting an hour?

Mind you, Monopoly will do that to a person.

All the stone colours and a suspicious gathering of The Birds

But now I know what they mean. Whole weekends wink by, weeks barely have chance to nod in my direction and months wave as they scoot past, scurrying towards the end of the year. This is particularly frustrating this month as October is my favourite month of the year: the leaves are turning and falling, conkers shine from the undergrowth, pumpkins and squash are plentiful, and the air fills with woodsmoke, damp and general bosk. It's always a race for time for me to get out for a decent, long walk in this month but I suspect I'm not going to make it this year.  
  In past years, the Dog and I would be walking autumn every day, early in the morning when crows were still sleepy with their caws, the mist hung around the ground like an embarrassed teenager and the dew soaked our feet. Since he died and I couldn't face the pain of replacing him, it has required thought and planning to take myself out. This year, I have the allotment to force me.

My quest for weird graves and memorials 
continues - this couple had 12 - TWELVE - 
children and died on the same day as each other.   
We'd planted some baby plants, cabbages and the like, a few weeks ago and went back, after a particularly wet week, to find that slugs had done their work. Bastard things. Until I can find a tame hedgehog, or we build a wildlife pond and transport some frogspawn, then train the resulting frogs to eat all the slugs, we are cursed with the wretched things. The slow worms we found hiding out under the membrane don't seem to be doing much to help - have they started hibernation yet? Regardless, an actual encounter with slow worms is a rare treat: they are beautifully marked and a sign that we're managing to maintain a balance on the site, despite one plot holder's advice to "jes' put down loads o' weeeed killerrrr". No.

Anyway, a return visit today showed that the slugs hadn't eaten every single leaf, so I've left them, more in hope than experience, to fend for themselves and instead busied myself weeding, planting out onion bulbs and looking around.

The giant elder that borders our plot and the one next door has shed its leaves, revealing a silvery, crumply trunk and the faintest hints (if you squint) of mistletoe on the top branches. The brambles have also shed their leaves, although a few blackberries cling on - not even the mice want them at this time of year. The trees and undergrowth that line the canalside of the allotment are still in dense with foliage: it will be interesting to see what winter reveals when it really bites and we finally get to see the bones of the site.

The squash and the sweet potatoes have lost the will to live and mouldered away. Only the chard seems to be thriving. Thank god for the chard. Our neighbours on the left and left again have been served "non-cultivation" notices on their plots and, if it weren't for that, I suspect we would have been too.

Although 3 beds have now been uncovered and worked over, it's slow business taking over a site that had been effectively abandoned for 2 years: the sheer amount of work in clearing a space to grow anything in is overwhelming at times, not to mention our own ignorance of how to work it. But I paid close attention to advice received at the beginning of our tenancy: work a small bit at a time, don't try to do it all at one. Our left-hand neighbour didn't, rotavated the entire plot at the beginning of summer and then hasn't been near it since, except to stare in horror at the weeds that had multiplied in his month's absence.

On the left of him, they'd spent an industrious weekend clearing and burning scrub before disappearing off to Glastonbury for the weekend, returning to much the same scene of weed-takeover and despair. Allotments are hard work and it's easy to feel overwhelmed when you try to tackle the whole plot at once. So I don't: little and as often as I can fit in. Hopefully I'll be up there again before my op on Monday afternoon.

But it was good to be up there today: the air smelt of earth, rotting leaves and woodsmoke, the sounds of the city move further away and you become aware of a settling of the soul. The ache in your arms from hoeing is more real than any looming work problem and perspective on life is gained. If only vegetables were as well. But the chard is good, especially when cooked like this:

  • Shred finely and stir fry till beginning to crisp in sesame oil
  • Add sesame seeds, a little garlic/ginger/chilli/whatever you fancy
  • Squeeze in some lime juice and a small drop of fish sauce
  • Add cooked egg noodles and continue to stir fry until chard is crisp and your mouth is watering
  • Serve with soy or chilli sauce, coriander and, if feeling particularly greedy/in need of a cultural mash-up, some toasted sourdough. 
Gruff Rhys and Boy Azooga making our Saturday worth a train trip for: there was applause. 
There was dancing. There were monumental hangovers the next day...
Life hasn't been all work and delayed allotmentearing though: we managed to fit in a quick break to North Yorkshire where I finally got to fulfill a long-held dream and visit Whitby. We climbed the steps like Mina and Lucy (minus the nightgowns, it was far too chilly for that malarkey), sat on the bench overlooking the town and explored the abbey, swooping around with imaginary cloaks of darkness. Well, I did, especially when the starlings swirled in mini-murmurations overhead. 

There have been catchings-up with friends, some of whom are moving on to career pastures new; gigs in areas of Birmingham I've never explored before, nights of scrabble, games of pool and family gatherings. My walks to work along the canal have taken a misty-foggy turn where the leaves hang damp and sullen, and the sky is low around the ears.

There has also been the arrival of 2 cats into our lives, Thor and Loki, from the local rescue centre. They are big beautiful boys and, after 4 weeks, have the Boyfriend wrapped around their (rather large - Loki's in particular) paws. It's rather endearing. This is the place to come if you ever want to see a grown man spend an inordinate amount of money on a "cat tower with crawl spaces and specially designed scratching posts". Which they are absolutely going to ignore in favour of the sofa/antique trunk/carpet. Because, cats.

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