Friday, June 26, 2020

All The Small Things #4

When my sister and I were little, we spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents in their village house. Mornings were a time for second breakfasts, feeding the birds, making spice potions, exploring the gardens and farm over the road.  

Afternoons were for a trip to the little church where our parents were married, to the cemetery and then back where we were allowed to bother my grandad as he pottered around, seemingly bad tempered and impatient but never scarily so. 

By late afternoon, we'd retreat to their living room and watch cartoons or whatever Western he'd recorded to watch. At some point, the sweet tin would be opened. 

Ah, the sweet tin. I can see it now and recall exactly where it was kept in the 1950s sideboard. Once a week it was topped up with a giant bag of pick and mix from Woolworths. Every time, I looked for the chewy toffee sweets. Inside, it smelled of sherbet, chocolate and sugar. It was the tin of dreams and I wanted one when I was old enough. 

I don't have a sweet tin now I'm a grown up. I may be in my 40s but my self control around sweets is practically zero. For that reason, I hardly ever buy them either. But every now and then I succumb, this week to the incomparable mint chocolates from Hotel Chocolat. Promising myself, as always, that I'd have one a day and savour them. 

Reader, I ate them all. And they were good.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

June at the 'Lottie

Thank goodness for the rain, has been the recent cry around my house as it means we can neither go anywhere and face the crowds of ridiculous people, nor were our watering skills needed at the allotment for so long, my allotment neighbour sent me a message to check I was okay.

Another reason for being thankful is that the ground has finally softened enough for me to begin digging over the space where the fruit cage will go. The earth is full of roots - bindweed, bramble, thick tussocky grass - as well as bits of plastic, pottery and interesting stones, which bring a pause in proceedings as I check them out for fossils. No luck so far.

The great runner bean project is now well underway with the beans making their winding way to the top of the poles. Planted between each one is a beetroot. Truly, the boyfriend has an autumn of pickling ahead of him.

The squash and courgette I planted in early May has recovered from the frosts and there are now tiny yellow courgettes on the one below. I won't leave it too long before harvesting them as I prefer my courgettes small and tender, rather than large and tough.

The remaining potato plants are resolutely refusing to put out any flowers, so I'm not sure if they're ready to harvest yet or not. I figure they're not getting into any harm in the ground, so there they stay for the time being.

And the wildflower patch is buzzing with life. Last time I counted 10 bumbles going nuts amongst the purple blooms, wriggling and buzzing like children round a chocolate trifle. This makes me smile. The bottom of the plot does not. There are 2 downed elder trees that I can't chop up and burn as we still have a ban on it at the site, plus they are currently the only thing holding the Japanese knotweed at bay. This is spreading along the canal bank and I know, from my Dad's days as a landscape gardener, it's harder to get rid of than a boring (and toxic) guest at a dinner party. As we don't know when the council will be out to deal with it, I'm not in any rush to clear the area.

At home I have sprout, purple sprouting broccoli and standard broccoli seedlings on the windowsill. They'll be going in the potato plots once that's been cleared and fed. I'm hoping to grow a few parsnips over the winter too, as well as swede. The raspberries will go in the cleared fruit cage area and then I can turn my attention to the potential asparagus bed and orchard area (right where that troublesome knotweed is).

My birthday looms in mid-July like a big looming excuse to treat myself, take some time off and generally have a reason for eating all the things I like. I've asked for, and been promised by the boyfriend, a small shed for the allotment, so I no longer have to carry every tool up there. A shed! Can't believe I'm so excited by 4 wooden walls, but there we are. I have grown up, it seems, although I also got excited over a new boardgame at the weekend, so not that grown up.

I shall paint it blue with a yellow door, a cupboard inside with a camping stove and a kettle, and a curse on anyone who breaks in and nicks anything.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

All the Small Things #3

The minute, the very second, one of my potato plants at the allotment showed a flower on top, I was in there, carefully scraping away with trowel and fingers to reveal these golden wonky orbs of deliciousness. With skins so soft they came away with a gentle rub of the thumb, they tasted earthy and sweet, melting in the mouth with a satisfaction that comes from growing, and eating, your own produce.

By far the best potatoes we'd ever eaten. With butter (or butter substitute in my case - not the same at all) and mint from the garden, a corn on the cob so yellow it was almost indecent and thick slices from a baked ham, accompanied with my Mum's pickle and a glass of white wine.

We talked about how good they were, how the runner beans were doing, our next growing plans.

They were absolutely the best things we've eaten this year. Apart from the one ripe raspberry from the cane in the back garden at home. But I didn't share that.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

May Reading

A delayed catch up on what I read during May as it didn't seem right to plunge straight into it. I'm still processing what's happening right now, and that included a lovely, distanced, debate with my Dad yesterday after the toppling of the Colston statue. I think he expected me, as a museum person, to be against it but statues aren't history. 

Statues are what we put up when we think someone has achieved such greatness that they merit our attention. Slave traders do not merit our attention and they sure as hell don't deserve commemoration, no matter how much money they gave to a city. 

Bristol council ignored repeated petitions, letters and peaceful calls for it to be removed, and they ignored them. Which marks them out as moral cowards at the very least. Good riddance to the damn thing. I only wish they'd left it in the water. 

Anyway, books. Books are what I do, and here is what I did. 
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Tom's Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce
Letters from a Faint-Hearted Feminist by Jill Tweedie
Visitors Guide to Tudor England (for work) by Suzannah Lipscomb
Count Me In by Christine McDonnell
The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald
Sightlines by Kathleen Jamie
A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett
Equal Rites by TP

After reading Lucy Mangan's Bookworm, I was inspired to revisit some childhood favourites and then segued into non-fiction before coming to land on Terry Pratchett. 

I miss him and wonder how the insanity of the recent months would have played out in Discworld, incidentally the only sci-fi/fantasy series I can bear (don't. I've tried. But much like historical fiction, there is something about the way it's written that makes me grit my teeth). And, as I work my way through what copies of the series I have, I wish more than ever that second hand bookshops were open so I could top up my collection. 

After my previous post, I have been thinking even more about what I can do. Bringing out The Color Purple, as much as I love it, for a re-read isn't going to change the world. So I've made myself a pledge. Every month for the next 12 months, I'll be buying a book by a BME author, brand new and not from Amazon. Fiction or non-fiction. 

This month, I'm kicking off with Toni Morrison's last book of essays and meditations, Mouth Full of Blood (actually purchased just before lockdown) and David Olusoga's Black and British: a Forgotten History should be with me by the end of the week. 

It's a small step, and one with results that will probably change the world for only me. But maybe, by starting here, by being able to have the facts to hand the next time I'm in a conversation with family and friends, I'll be able to change their thinking, one sentence at a time. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Finding the words

It didn't feel right this week, to post my usual nonsense about allotments and general ramblings. I don't really have the words to articulate how I'm feeling about the current situation in America. 

I'm furious and tearful and frightened for those involved in the protests, while offering my wholehearted, yet inadequate, support to them.

I didn't turn my Instagram black because that felt like an empty gesture and I read several people of colour's thoughts about it. I thought long and hard about how I use my white privilege to support those who don't have it. I thought about how I don't feel like I'm doing enough, or the right thing. And I thought back to my first awakening to racism. 

Growing up in a small market town in rural Britain, it's fair to say that the population was not diverse. My brief encounters with other cultures were through tv. Despite standard childhood issues (irritating younger sister, hating school, wanting to be older or just left alone to read), nothing shook my intensely white view of the world. Certainly not our history lessons.

And then I walked into English class and was handed Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sing as a set text. My interior world was never the same again. 

Written with a clear eye and lack of sentimentality but with empathy, compassion and a dedication to telling her truth, Angelou wrote out her story and I read it in a night. Then went back to the teacher and asked if there was anything else by someone like her. 

From Angelou, and that one wonderful teacher, I met Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin. I learned about Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and more. Whole worlds of struggle, rage, injustice and a life limited, scripted, by skin colour. Scales fell away from my eyes and have never grown back. I don't let them grow back and that requires work, regular evaluation of my thoughts and processes.

I still have that copy of IKWTCBS, battered and dog eared, tea splashed and wrinkled from bath water. It has moved house with me 5 times and I know exactly where it is on the shelves. My penciled notes, in a hand just finding its way, are still there. I've underlined sections, some so deeply, the page is scored by it.  It's never been leant out to anyone - I buy copies for people instead.

If you're looking for a way to remove the scales from your eyes or to open your mind to why, why, some are so sick of waiting for our "progress" that rioting is a legitimate form of protest, start with the queen. Start with Maya.

Weather Advisory Service

On the way home from the train the other day, I took a shortcut through the dripping allotment grounds, the grass and earth squelching under...